Jet-setting with hit machine Ashanti -- Murder Inc.'s R&B belle is killing fans softly with her knack for songwriting and gift for sweet talk
Credit: Ashanti Photograph by Nitin Vadukul

Ashanti should be a wreck. Two nights ago, she was in L.A. to perform at the BET Awards. She took a red-eye to New York to play Hot 97’s Summer Jam. She taped a segment for ”Today.” She’s about to sing on BET’s ”106 & Park,” then she’ll head to Baltimore. Somehow, amid a storm of hair, makeup, and wardrobe wizards, she’s calm.

Everyone wants a piece of the 21-year-old ingenue who shocked the industry in April, when ”Ashanti” sold 502,000 copies its first week and set the record for a female artist’s debut. Her first three singles ranked in the top 10 at the same time — she’s the first to do that since the Beatles — and now her album has gone double platinum. The heat is on.

”It gets ridiculous when I’m doing three states in one day with the travel and the entourage and the change and the security checks and the radio and the autographs and the smiling in the airport — it’s bananas!” Her cool fades for an instant, then returns: ”But I remember when I was on the couch watching everyone go to college while I’m watching ‘Ricki Lake.’ And it’s worth it.”

The couch sits in Glen Cove, Long Island, just 10 minutes from Nassau Coliseum, site of Summer Jam. Ashanti attended the concert as a fan, but now she’s on the bill with Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes. Early in her set, Fat Joe joins her for ”What’s Luv?” They cut a striking contrast: Ashanti looks gorgeous, slinking around in strategically placed shoelaces. Fat Joe looks…fat, stomping around in baggy shorts and a jersey. He barks lewd verses while she sweetly coos ”it should be about trust, babe,” her gentle succor turning his thuggish gravitas to gravy. This formula drove Ashanti to runaway success on duets with Big Pun and Ja Rule. On stage, only she can make ”I’ll be your down-ass bitch” sound tender.