Ashanti debunks Irv Gotti’s ‘relationship’ claims: ‘He never tells the full story’

A woman wearing necklaces speaks into a microphone beside a photo of a smiling man wearing a black jacket
Singer Ashanti, left, addresses the audience during a ceremony in Hollywood on April 7, 2022. Record producer Irv Gotti, right, at the Paley Center in New York on Aug. 19, 2019.
(Chris Pizzello / Associated Press; Charles Sykes / Associated Press)

Singer Ashanti called out former record label executive Irv Gotti for talking about their alleged relationship and opened up about the real reason she left the hip-hop label he co-founded.

In her Tuesday appearance on the “Angie Martinez IRL” podcast, the “Foolish” singer slammed her former boss, who in August revealed that he had been in love with her while she was signed to Murder Inc. Records in the early aughts and has repeatedly claimed that he “made” her, which she also refuted by saying that he just “helped make her great.”

“Irv has flat out lied about a lot of things,” the 42-year-old singer-songwriter said during the hourlong interview. “And there are so many things I know. ... I don’t have the desire to expose certain things. I’m happy. I operate at a very different vibration than him. I don’t play in the mud. ... I don’t need to bring someone down to make myself feel like ‘Yeah!’

“It’s weird when you know you’re lying and you just keep lying. That’s when it becomes a little scary and a little mental,” she said, later adding that she thinks he’s trying to prove something.

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In 2019, Gotti told TV host Wendy Williams that he was in a brief relationship with the hitmaker while he was separated from his estranged wife, Debra Lorenzo. Then this year, during a now-infamous August appearance on the boozy “Drink Champs” podcast, Gotti talked about his feelings for Ashanti when she started dating “Hot in Herre” rapper Nelly, whom she dated on and off for about 11 years.

Frequent Ashanti collaborator Ja Rule also was a guest on the show.

The “My Name Is a Story” author said she later spoke to Ja Rule about that “Drink Champs” interview, telling the “Always on Time” rapper that she was grateful he defended her but that she felt he didn’t defend her enough. She also said he told her that the interview had been edited more than a dozen times and that what ultimately aired was a lite version.

“He never tells the full story, he never says why,” Ashanti said of Gotti, elaborating on the reasons that she left Murder Inc. “OK, yeah, me and Nelly were dating. Irv was salty. Irv would not let me come to the studio to record. Irv was telling everyone not to record with me. Why do I want to stay in that situation? How can I stay in that situation?”

She also accused him of blocking her success, like telling deejays not to play her records and threatening to cut ties with anyone who worked with her.

Ashanti alleged that Gotti told her if she wanted to be with Nelly, to “go sign with [his] Derrty Ent” label instead.

After years of keeping quiet about their history, the singer appeared to touch on the drama on Diddy’s new song “Gotta Move On (Queens Remix)” earlier this month, according to XXL. The two have not spoken for a decade, she said, save for a text message he sent her in 2016 apologizing for talking about their relationship in a radio interview and promising to never do it again.

“Let’s clear this up. We’re not going to say ‘relationship,’” she told host Angie Martinez. “We dealt with each other, but having a full ... ‘Was Irv my boyfriend, was I his girlfriend?’ Never. ... Never. Irv had several girlfriends. So I’m a little confused by the thought and the label and the description.”

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Ashanti, who got her first record deal at 14 and released her first album at 21, said that she had been gullible and naive about Gotti’s influence during her tenure at Murder Inc. She said that “manipulation played a heavy part in me and Irv’s situation” and alleged that Gotti made threats and sometimes death threats toward the people she “was dealing with.”

She suspects that Gotti’s “sudden surge of animosity,” including resurfacing their fraught history, was an attempt to drum up interest in his recent BET docuseries about the label and accused him of going out of his way “to paint a horrible picture” of her in the doc.


“For the record, I love Murder Inc.,” she said. “It’s very unfortunate how Irv decided to handle his documentary. ... I feel like the Murder Inc. legacy is so much bigger and we accomplished so much and made amazing history. And I feel like the way that he handled it tarnished and it cheapened the brand. We all worked so hard and for you to be that selfish and throw mud on the name because you might’ve got a check ... it’s so selfish. It’s so degrading.”

Gotti co-founded Murder Inc. Records — based on the short-lived supergroup composed of Jay-Z, DMX and Ja Rule — in 1997. The label was co-founded with his brother Chris under Russell Simmons’ Def Jam umbrella and produced records for Ashanti, Ja Rule, Christina Milian and Vanessa Carlton. Ashanti was among the label’s most successful acts.

But the company went into decline after a string of legal troubles and an alleged money-laundering scheme involving Gotti.

The “What’s Luv?” and “Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)” singer declined to participate in his five-episode “The Murder Inc. Story” even though “they definitely reached out.” But she saw bits of a few episodes, including the one she’s heavily mentioned in, and her phone kept ringing when Gotti brought her up in his “Drink Champs” interview.

“It was really bittersweet. The one thing is that it wasn’t surprising to me to an extent. Because I accepted a long time ago that’s the person that he is,” she said of Gotti. “To me I feel like Irv is mentally not in a good place. You see people that have narcissistic ways, you know. You see people that are very selfish, that are hurt and in pain. And as a grown woman, I feel like there is a difference between when men are hurt and when women are hurt and how we carry that hurt and how long we carry that hurt.

She also said that she thinks Gotti is in “a dark place” and feels that “he needs help.”

“Absolutely, definitely, I’ve been hurt a lot [in this process], and I’m not intentionally trying to disrespect people and go out of my way to try to ruin somebody,” she said, confirming that she believes that’s what he was trying to do.

The “Coach Carter” and “John Tucker Must Die” actor also said the motivation behind Gotti’s latest revelations felt different this time.

“When you come to a realization that you can no longer manipulate or control somebody, you just let go. You just vomit. It looks nasty, it smells nasty, and that’s a reflection of the person that you are. When someone is in pain, they kind of act out of character and I see a lot of feminine qualities,” Ashanti said.

“I think a lot of that pain is from not wanting to let go ... of the control. Sometimes when a man feels like he’s losing control and he can’t manipulate and he can’t dictate ... that gets to a man’s ego. So then he turns to bashing, he turns to intimidation and he turns to try to make you look bad to boost his own ego. It’s sad to watch that.”

Although she spent much of the hour refuting the producer’s claims, the singer still had a few kind words for him.

“I definitely had a genuine love for Irv because he 100% helped to change my life. I had some of the most amazing times writing records, touring, making history, having chemistry with somebody to write these records with, you know, being a female in hip-hop and R&B, it was like a perfect fit,” Ashanti said.

But she rebutted his claims that he “made” her successful or fashioned her into a sex symbol, instead saying that he “helped make her great” by “creating beats and coming up with concepts,” as well as giving her direction to help her write her records.

The Hollywood Walk of Famer said she always gave Gotti credit where it was due but alleged that he spent years discrediting her.

Gotti has not yet responded to Ashanti’s interview. But he previously addressed the backlash to his “Drink Champs” remarks.

“The one thing you gotta know about me, I am cool in my gangster,” he said. “I am cool with who I am as a person. That gives me the ability to talk about things that the normal person won’t talk about. I don’t care. It’s my truth. It’s my life. It’s my story. This is what happened.”