Photographer: Robert Ector.
A little over four years in the making, Braveheart is Ashanti's first album for an independent -- technically her own Written Entertainment, distributed by eOne. This, her fifth album, went through a series of delays and revised track lists, including at least one with "The Woman You Love," a charting single the singer performed on national television back in early 2012. It didn't make the final cut. Perhaps the setbacks only fortified Ashanti's embattled warrior approach to her first album since 2008's The Declaration, which was her first non-platinum release and her last work with Irv Gotti. Braveheart begins with a theatrical monologue in which she declares, among other things, "Every uphill battle and every betrayal -- the fight in me remains." After that, the album settles into her finest assortment of distressed ballads with piano and strings, playful trunk rattlers, and window-fogging slow jams, with a list of guest appearances -- one including Rick Ross, French Montana, and Jeremih -- befitting a high-priority major-label artist. Nothing jumps out quite as much as earlier hits "Foolish," "Rock wit U (Awww Baby)," or "Only U," but the material, produced by a mostly new set of Ashanti collaborators (including Sharif Slater, Mansur Zafr, and Detail), is remarkably consistent and satisfying. Although it took longer to complete than Ashanti, Chapter II, and Concrete Rose combined, Braveheart doesn't sound like it. More importantly, The Declaration's lack of success -- relative to those previous albums -- doesn't seem to have changed Ashanti's direction one bit. ~ Andy Kellman