After being a topic of conversation on social media for months, Ashanti sat down for a candid chat with radio journalist Angie Martinez about her IRL podcast. The Grammy-winning singer could have gone anywhere — most pop culture outlets were salivating for exclusivity. But she chose Martinez and, in doing so, set the tone for what was a must-have moment for black women and for hip-hop.
In August, Murder Inc. Founder and CEO Irv Gotti went on a press tour to promote the release of BETs. The History of Murder Inc, which chronicled the rise and fall of the famous record label. However, Gotti seemed to take the opportunity to talk about his past relationship with Ashanti as much as the show itself. And as the series unfolded, it became clear that he still had a lot of animosity toward the woman he once dubbed “the princess of R&B.”
Yet, while Gotti continued to speak, Ashanti remained silent. To be fair, that wasn’t new. Ashanti has always been private and determined to set boundaries around her life. If she wanted to air her grievances with Gotti, she could have done so years ago. “There are so many things I know. [But] I don’t want to expose certain things. I operate at a different vibration from his,” Ashanti told Martinez.
Despite being lied to, Ashanti chose to take the high road – the embodiment of former first lady Michelle Obama’s famous mantra, “When they go low, we go high.” And yet, there comes a time when silence is no longer an option and speaking up doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve stooped to troll level.
“I’ve been hurt a lot and I’m not intentionally trying to disrespect people and go out of my way to try to ruin someone,” she explained.
In a world where black women are constantly slandered, few popular media spaces exist to give us the opportunity to tell our stories safely. Many of them would have jumped at the chance to interview Ashanti – too many of them had already given Gotti the space to be reckless. But while they would have given her the chance to speak her mind, they would not have provided the empathy and care she needed. Ashanti got that from Martinez and that’s exactly what happens when women are intentionally safe spaces for each other.
The interview allowed Ashanti to explain her years of silence. In Ashanti’s words, she doesn’t “play in the mud”. She had done the work of healing the mistakes she had made in her past – trusting the wrong people, clinging to her naivety and allowing disrespect – and committed herself to operating at higher vibrations by as a 42-year-old woman than she did 20 years ago. The truth is that Ashanti never got to talk about her time in Murder Inc. and her relationship with Gotti, because she had some tough conversations with herself before and those are the only ones that really matter.
There were a few times, however, when it seemed Ashanti was more reserved than we might have liked. On several occasions, she refrained from saying more. Even then, she offered Gotti a grace he didn’t deserve. And although she has refuted Gotti’s claims that he “did it”, on several occasions, Ashanti has credited him with helping take her career to the next level.
“I definitely had true love for Irv because he helped me 100% change my life. I’ve had some of the most amazing times writing records, touring, making history, having chemistry with someone to write these records with, you know, being a woman in hip-hop and R&B, it was like a perfect fit,” she said.
Part of me wondered if she did that because as a black woman she had no choice. If it matched his energy, the conversation would have turned to his bitterness and somehow vindicated his behavior. As black women, we know this and often take it easy when we tell the truth.
But the gift of this interview is really that Ashanti is showing women that to stand in our power is to assert our own agency — to do whatever is best for us to live as our highest selves. And in doing so, we light the way for those who need a little nudge towards wholeness. In the midst of ugliness, we become strong. We become brave, and while it can be scary, we have nothing to fear when the truth is on our side.
And Ashanti told the truth. She bravely spoke of the verbal and emotional abuse she suffered from someone she trusted. She didn’t mince words when talking about how her boss would control and manipulate certain aspects of her career just because she was in love with someone else and didn’t want to be with him.
“It was scary because I realized he had power,” Ashanti said. “With Irv being the head of the label and providing all these amazing opportunities. When a person gets into this flex position[ing] their power – it gets scary.
In telling her story, Ashanti shared what so many women in hip-hop face. Whether they are artists, executives, media personalities, stylists or support staff, the women have detailed the sexism and coercive tactics they have endured that often make them unworkable. The not-so-hidden secret is how so many women are placed in manipulative situations where they are left with few viable options if they are to retain their careers.
What are you supposed to do when your boss thinks he has some level of ownership over you? How do you in your early twenties respond when he says the only reason you’re desirable is because he made you like that? What can you do when you need to finish your album but the CEO has banned you from the studio because you found love and it wasn’t with him? Why do women always seem compelled to find the answers to these questions?
Ashanti isn’t the only woman to be hurt by a narcissistic, controlling man. She’s not the only woman who has had to engage in years of therapy and self-discovery to heal from their time together. And she’s not the only woman who’s had to endure the pain of this man’s actions when he’s out of control. But if Ashanti – with all her wealth, status and influence – couldn’t escape it, what does that say about women with fewer resources?
There is no way around it. Black women need black men to be more accountable for the harm they cause. It means men standing up against each other and screaming madness when it happens. It means disassociating yourself from those who do harm – no matter how wealthy, famous or popular – until they commit to being and doing better. It means to love us fully — the kind of love that costs something.
Because, while it is liberating and necessary to hold on to the power of our truth, what good is it if the people and communities we hold dear continue to live in lies? In telling her story, Ashanti reminded others that she, and she alone, is the guardian of her power. Maybe now others will come forward to collect theirs.