With hitmaker Irv Gotti at the helm, Ashanti blasted into the urban music scene in 2002, topping the charts with multiple singles at once. She quickly became a sensation, gracing the covers of magazines and dominating urban radio. Ashanti built her reputation with duets, where she would complement an already popular rapper -- Ja Rule ("Always on Time"), Fat Joe ("What's Luv?"), the Notorious B.I.G. ("Unfoolish") -- contrasting the tough-guy male perspective with her own.
As the flagship artist for producer Irv Gotti's Def Jam-affiliated Murder Inc. label, Ja Rule became one of the rap industry's most commercially successful artists during the early 2000s, working closely with the hitmaking producer and his stable of talent. Born Jeffrey Atkins on February 29, 1976, in Queens, New York, Ja Rule established himself with Venni Vetti Vecci (1999), a hardcore debut album similar in style to the rugged thug rap then popularized by DMX and the Ruff Ryder collective.
Whether she was singing pop-friendly urban soul or acting in her own family-oriented sitcom, Brandy's winningly wholesome persona helped catapult her to stardom during her teenage years. She scored the longest-running number one female duet in chart history (teamed with Monica on "The Boy Is Mine"), a testament to her mainstream appeal, and she spent several years as the title character on Moesha, the top-rated series on the fledgling UPN network during the late '90s. As she grew older, her music increasingly mined the middle ground between urban R&B and soft adult contemporary pop, and thanks to her consistent exposure in other arenas, it became more popular than ever.
Faheem Najm's singing ability was on clear display in the first notes of his breakthrough R&B single "I'm Sprung," yet his recurrent use of Auto-Tune created a widespread ripple effect that left his performing name synonymous with voice modulation. The Tallahassee, Florida native came up as a rapper in a group called Nappy Headz. As a solo artist, he went pro as T-Pain after he recorded "I'm Fucked Up," a personalized take on Akon's "Locked Up." Akon heard it, then signed T-Pain to the Jive/Zomba-supported Konvict Muzik label. The self-produced and self-written "I'm Sprung," T-Pain's proper debut single, was released in August 2005 and went Top Ten pop and R&B/hip-hop.
Best known as Puff Daddy's favorite sidekick, Mase secured his place as a Bad Boy label favorite through a series of guest appearances on hit singles by other artists. By the time he issued his debut album, the Bad Boy promotional machine had effectively already made him a star. His flow was slow and relaxed, and his raps often unabashedly simple, which helped make him especially popular with the younger segment of Puff Daddy's pop-rap audience (they could understand him and rap along).
Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, R&B vocalist Mario developed his natural talent while singing along with his mom using a karaoke machine at home. Discovered at the age of 11 in a local talent show, he later traveled to New York City to establish a career and scored a contract with Clive Davis' J label. Following his contribution to the Dr. Doolittle 2 soundtrack and a captivating performance of Stevie Wonder's "You and I" at Davis' Grammy party in February 2002, the newcomer was primed for stardom. At the age of 15, Mario debuted with the release of "Just a Friend 2002," produced by Warryn Campbell and based on rapper Biz Markie's hit "Just a Friend." His self-titled album followed in July, featuring contributions by Grammy-winning Alicia Keys. Turning Point, released in 2004, went to number two on the R&B album chart, hoisted by the ubiquitous smash "Let Me Love You," a single that also helped launch the career of Ne-Yo, the song's writer.