Back when velour track suits, flip phones and Baby Phat defined hip hop culture, there emerged two artists who would define an era: Ashanti, a bubbly and beautiful singer from Glen Cove, Long Island newly signed to Irv Gotti’s Murder Inc Records; and Keyshia Cole, a tough as nails, soulful songstress hailing from Oakland, California and signed to A&M Records.
They each dropped songs that shaped the 2000s and carved out a signature sound. And this weekend, they’ll be hopping on the virtual stage to go hit for hit in the next installment of Verzuz.
Ashanti first got her big break singing background and writing hooks for rappers like Big Pun, Cadillac Tah and Vita. Her debut album, Ashanti, was a certified success, shooting to the No. 1 spot on the US Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. Just when the world thought they’d seen it all from the singer’s solo offerings, she continued to drop banger after banger via features for her Murder Inc. label-mates. Ja Rule’s “What’s Luv,” “Mesmerized” and “Always On Time” were just some of the records that received Ashanti’s melodic touch and blew up as a result. Still, her solo catalogue spoke volumes, and she boasted some timeless songs that the culture simply will never forget.
Cole stepped on the scene in 2004 with the Kanye West-assisted breakout single “I Changed My Mind” and immediately heads turned. Her gritty and unfiltered approach to love songs, along with a fearless vocal ability, made her a star almost instantly. After her debut album, The Way It Is, was released in June 2005, she was a supernova in music who couldn’t be stopped. Her song “Love” became one of the most relevant R&B ballads of that decade, and Cole began to rack up Grammy nominations for impactful categories like Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song. Throughout her career, she has been tapped for major collaborations with Diddy, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Nicki Minaj, Monica and others.
Both Ashanti and Cole have each sold millions of records, toured the world, and topped charts. But who will reign supreme when they both take the stage this Thursday (Jan. 21)?
Check out the below list of some of the two’s many hits in anticipation of their Verzuz battle. May the best chanteuse win!
This one is undoubtedly Ashanti’s most standout hit and career-defining record. The track samples Notorious B.I.G’s “Fucking You Tonight,” and tells the tale of a toxic lover who is just too hard to resist. This song held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts for ten weeks straight and received a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. It’s certain we’ll hear this bop in the Verzuz battle, but will she save the best for last?
2. “I Changed My Mind”
Cole’s hip hop infused debut single immediately set her a part from her peers. The raw and unadulterated essence of the Oakland native drew us in and became the first of her many hits.
You couldn’t go anywhere in the summer of 2002 without hearing this feel good record pulsing through the airwaves. This upbeat, lighthearted single featuring Ja Rule could naturally turn a frown upside down, and that’s exactly what we expect it to do when it’s Verzuz time.
Cole unleashed her vulnerable side on this 2005 debut single, and we haven’t forgotten about it since. This deeply touching ballad actually got her the deal A&M Records. “Love” has since been covered by artists like H.E.R., Queen Naija “The Voice” contestant Candice Boyd — not to mention O.T. Genasis.
5. “Rain On Me”
Ashanti dug deep for her single “Rain On Me,” which turned pain into memorable art. The track incorporates a sample of ”The Look of Love” by Isaac Hayes, and the video stars Larenz Tate as Ashanti’s jealous and abusive boyfriend whom she eventually finds the courage to leave. The single from her second album Chapter II is one that solidified Ashanti as a R&B force to be reckoned with in the early 2000s.
6. “I Should Have Cheated”
Expect this to be the record that has all the ladies side-eyeing their boos. As you can tell from the title, this song is all about the scorn of finding out you’ve been faithful to the wrong one. Once again, Cole nails it with the relatability factor.
7. “Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)”
This 2003 banger hit was exactly the type of song you’d have on repeat if you had just fallen in love (or deep like!). The song jumped to No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and the tropical Miami backdrop of the video solidified this song as another classic under Ashanti’s belt.
8. “Let It Go” featuring Missy Elliott and Lil’ Kim
Missy gave this single her signature boost with next level production, and Cole’s voice floated effortlessly over the beat that samples “Juicy Fruit” by Mtume. Lil Kim also blessed us with a verse that gave ladies some extra confidence to kick their inadequate relationships to the curb.
This 2002 hit from Ashanti’s self-titled album is a bop we’ll never forget. The simplicity of the hook draws you in, which makes it an unforgettable hit. It’s so unforgettable, in fact, that DaBaby recently tapped Ashanti for a reinvention of the single for his twerk anthem “Nasty,” which was produced by London On Da Track.
10. “Last Night”
Though this was technically Diddy’s track, “Last Night” is a club anthem that we can’t thank Cole enough for. The track was a single from Puff’s fourth studio album, Press Play, and it received an unbelievable amount of spins because of its catchy 80s-inspired dance beat.
11. “Only U”
This hard-hitting single from Ashanti’s 2004 Concrete Rose album was an example of her experimenting with an edgier sound and nailing it. The rock and roll-infused single produced by Channel 7 was alluring, dark, sexy and most importantly, catchy.
12. “I Remember”
On this song, Cole does what she does best: Perfectly capture the essence of falling in, out and back in love. The track had such an impact that Aretha Franklin performed covers in her live shows in 2008 and 2014.
13. “The Way That I Love You”
We can’t forget about this empowering and dramatic track, which perfectly captures the pain of accepting that your partner isn’t as devoted to the relationship as you are. The single was a standout on Ashanti’s fourth studio album, The Declaration, a body of work where Ashanti said she had more artistic freedom.
14. “Heaven Sent”
Along with “I Remember,” this Cole’s single landed in the No. 1 spot on Billboard — proving that R&B’s impact on the music scene was not dead. The serene love anthem is all about completely letting your guard down for a love that just feels meant to be. Vulnerability at its best!