The 7 Series

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An intriguing broadside by a major label intent on counteracting musical piracy, Island's 7 Series Sampler pruned down the running time (and retail price) of platinum records like Ja Rule's Pain Is Love and Cam'ron's Come Home With Me in hopes of luring in listeners who often download the music for free. The 7 Series Sampler on Ashanti offers seven of the best tracks from her 2002 self-titled debut, including four hit singles: "Foolish," "Happy," "Baby," and "Dreams." Since the original was a bit longwinded to begin with, this one's a good choice for those who don't mind the brief running time and lack of complete material. Young, pretty, sexy, stylish, and hip, Ashanti is everything a modern, post-hip-hop soul crooner should be. She looks the part, trucks with hitmakers -- at the time her eponymous debut was released, she was featured on a hit single by Fat Joe -- and even approximates Alicia Keys' visuals on the back cover. She can sing, but she's not showy; she never hyperventilates, she croons. Her first album sounds modern, with fairly fresh beats and lightly insistent hooks, and is just naughty enough to warrant a parental advisory sticker (though if you're just listening to this record, it's nigh on impossible to figure out where the objectionable lines are.) So why doesn't Ashanti play as greater than the sum of its parts? Largely because it lacks distinctive material, either in terms of the actual songs or the production -- and when that's combined with a singer who is good, yet not distinctive herself, the entire production sounds as if it's treading water or providing nifty aural wallpaper. It's not bad by any means, and it has its moments, but it all becomes a blur. A pleasing blur, one that shows promise, but a blur all the same.

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