Gradual slump

You know you’re in for a rough ride when an artist billed on the cover of an album takes 4 minutes to get around to singing.

Chapter II, Ashanti’s follow-up to her self-titled hit debut, begins, as most R&B albums are wont to do, with an introduction, a mood-setting throw-away track.

Instead of getting down to business, some loser who calls himself Chink Santana takes 3 minutes to introduce her again. That kind of stuff is great for a live show, but Chink? There’s something called a “skip” button on a CD player. You can shut the fuck up now.

Thankfully, Chapter II starts off properly with the album’s sultry first single, “Rock Wit’ U (Awww Baby)”. But it doesn’t quite dispel the feeling that Ashanti’s sophomore effort will eventually slump.

The key word, though, is “eventually”.

Once listeners skip to the third track, Chapter II actually moves at a pretty brisque pace.

“I Found Lovin'” tips a hat to the analog sound of the 80s. “Breakup 2 Makeup” and “Living My Life” further explore the mid-tempo, even-handed performances that made her debut remarkable, while “Rain on Me” indulges Ashanti’s more sensual side.

Then it all comes crashing down on “Sugar Shack”. The fake after-hours club skit doesn’t do much to introduce the rather plodding and predictable “Story of 2”.

After that, nothing much on Chapter II leaves an impression. It’s a sad thing to realize “Shany Shia”, a skit in which Ashanti and “Shia” practice old songs, is the most memorable track on the last half of the album.

What kills Chapter II’s last half is a series of unimpressive slow songs that possess little of the charm from Ashanti’s debut.

By the end of it, you’re almost relieved to hear Chink Santana on the “Outro”, mostly because he won’t ever have to bug you again. More unfortunately because an album that started off promisingly ends as a dud.