If sold-out Vegas shows are any indication, the early 2000s are alive and well thanks to Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and Mariah Carey. So why not Ashanti too? In 2003, the New York Times claimed that she was miles ahead of Beyoncé. She spent 10 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts with her debut single “Foolish.” During a sold-out night at Los Angeles’s Club Nokia, she even informed the audience that her feats have landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records, and she has yet to be displaced. Paired with Ja Rule, the man whose Jennifer Lopez–led single “Ain’t It Funny” ruled the charts the week prior to “Foolish,” putting this concert together was a no-brainer. There was so much ticket demand that a second show was added that same evening. It seemed destined to be a nostalgic version of the On the Run tour. It was the day before Valentine’s Day, and I was more than ready to let Ashanti and Ja Rule’s assortment of love jams put me all in my feelings.
But, alas, this was not that show. The show was scheduled to start at eight. Ashanti didn’t take the stage until an hour and a half later. Perhaps she was being held up at the get-rich-quick scheme I saw advertised at the door.
Never mind that the redundant sign reminds you that purchasing a meet-and-greet will in fact lead to a meet-and-greet with Ja Rule and Ashanti, you also have to wonder if Ashanti’s manager Tina Douglas has heard of Square, a very helpful credit card processor. Douglas, of course, is the woman who coined the term “momager” and has managed her daughter’s career since the start. This makeshift sign, presumably printed at the local Kinko’s, conjures up the image of Douglas collecting coins while leading fans into the greenroom, all the while humming “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
When the show finally began, Ashanti was joined on the stage by a large amount of fog, two backup dancers, and … her mom. Douglas stood in the corner of the stage, recording Ashanti’s every move with an iPhone 6 Plus. This included moments when Ashanti performed her domestic-abuse-themed single “Rain on Me” while two actors performed a Tyler Perry–esque skit behind her, wildly punching and kicking at each other. Or when she launched into the sexual, come-hither number “Baby” and asked the audience, “Anybody ever had someone make you do crazy things? Like pick them up from the airport at four in the morning … wearing a trench coat with nothing on underneath? Or step out the shower and send them a pic like ’BAM!’ at three a.m.?” Or when she got her Sally Bowles on and dry-humped a chair to “Early in the Morning.” The latter song inspired the DJ to give a special shout in which he implored the audience to cop it from “that new Braveheart album.” Braveheart was released in 2014.
At some point, the restless audience started to wonder whether Ja Rule was actually there. Like when Ashanti vamped to a random DJ set in the middle of her performance, playing songs like Too Short’s “Blow the Whistle” and other songs for which Ashanti is not collecting royalty checks. When Ja Rule finally appeared after Ashanti was onstage for an hour and 10 minutes (maybe he was downloading The Life of Pablo, which Kanye happened to release in the middle of the concert), he was joined by Murder Inc. founder Irv Gotti, who performed hype-man duties as Ja rapped various songs that you might think Ashanti was on, but then you remember people like Lil’ Mo, Christina Milian, and Vita exist and sang many of Ja Rule’s singles with him. This is when you remember that Ja and Ashanti actually only have three songs together. This is when you realize that this was not a joint show so much as a show in which Ashanti opened for Ja.
Early in the night, before the show began, an audience member named Dominic walked in wearing a floor-length fur coat. He was joined by his girlfriend and another couple, all in fur coats. I asked him what inspired the fur coats, and he said Ashanti and Ja represented the “best years of [his] life,” and “Always on Time” gave him his “first boner.” Ashanti and Ja didn’t perform “Always on Time” until 11:18, while the audience for the second show waited outside for doors that were supposed to be open at 10. I looked around for Dominic to see if he was enjoying the night, but he was already gone. I hope he had a good Valentine’s Day.