Jon Caramanica
April 26, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Ashanti made her entree into R&B the new-fashioned way: by lending coy hooks to jagged-edged rappers. She doesn’t stray too far from formula on her debut—duetting with Ja Rule on ”Leaving,” using an El DeBarge sample made famous by Biggie Smalls on ”Foolish.” But she should aim higher. Her voice is supple and pretty but rarely rises above a whisper, making it a background instrument even when it’s Ashanti’s turn to shine.

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