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Originally published Monday, May 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Ashanti, Tweet lose golden touch

How soon they forget. Just three years ago, Ashanti and Tweet were the new female faces of R&B, offering a light-voiced, nouvelle alternative...

New York Daily News

How soon they forget.

Just three years ago, Ashanti and Tweet were the new female faces of R&B, offering a light-voiced, nouvelle alternative to the heavy shriekers of soul like Mariah, Whitney and Mary J.

When their debut albums were released, on the same day in 2002, they battled it out for No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200 Album chart. Armed with better promotion, Ashanti took the top perch. Tweet sneaked in at No. 2.

Ashanti sold 3.5 million copies of her first CD and 1.5 million of her second. Tweet moved 860,000 copies of her debut, "Southern Hummingbird."

Fast-forward to today: Ashanti's latest CD, "Concrete Rose," has been able to move only about half what her last album sold (788,000 copies) after months in the marketplace.

Tweet's second CD, the sheepishly titled "It's Me Again," has plunged to No. 81 after four weeks, with sales barely breaking 100,000.


Tweet

Initially, radio gave Ashanti her props. The single "Only U" got to No. 13 on the Pop 100, and to 10 on the R&B list. But Ashanti wasn't able to sustain sales — for several reasons.

First, she has gradually worn down the initial buzz that hummed around her early collaborations with rappers like Ja Rule and Notorious B.I.G.

The thunder of that formula has been stolen by the singer Ciara, who married a similarly lilting R&B vocal to Lil' Jon's now-dominant crunk sound. Ciara's debut, "Goodies," has sold more than 1.7 million albums and stands at No. 12 on the Billboard Top 200 with 10 more weeks on the market than Ashanti's CD.

Ashanti also has lost ground to music's latest one-named R&B crush, Amerie, who boasts the Top 10 single "1 Thing." There's also a corporate problem. Ashanti's label, The Inc., has been besieged by the mounting legal issues of its boss, Irv Gotti. Last month, Gotti was indicted on charges of laundering more than $1 million of drug money through his company. With labelmate Ja Rule also on the sales decline, the very imprint is in jeopardy.

Tweet's album had its own corporate craziness. She was signed originally to Elektra Records, a label that was folded into the Atlantic Records Group last year. Right after that, most everyone Tweet had worked with got canned.

It didn't help that radio barely gave her a chance. The wittily smutty single off her first album, "Oops ... Up Over My Head," was a smash, but it was a novelty item that didn't auger well for a follow-up. The single from the new CD, "Turn Da Lights Off" only got to No. 39 on R&B radio. It didn't do squat at pop.

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Meanwhile, another equally small-voiced "diva" has had to do some fancy footwork to turn around her flagging sales. Jennifer Lopez's "Rebirth" has fallen to No. 30 in seven weeks. Its first single, "Get Right," goosed early CD sales, shooting to No. 12 on the Hot 100. But its next single, "Hold You Down," never got up, peaking at 64 on pop with no R&B support whatsoever.

J.Lo's label, Epic, is hardly giving up. It's offering a radically redone version of "Down."

A similar strategy worked for Lopez in 2001. The singles "Ain't It Funny" and "I'm Real" initially received a tepid response until they got sonic makeovers. That turned around sales of the whole "J.Lo" album.

Can the trick work a third time? Don't bet against it.

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