What's different about her, then, is much subtler than her spectacular success suggests. Whereas Ashanti's own role model, Mary J. Blige, still connects her hip-hop-informed-R&B to a gospel and blues tradition, Ashanti's crooning is all about lightweight baby blues. Aaliyah got there first, but Ashanti takes thumb-sucking infantilism to new extremes, with pitter-patter beats, softly cooed vocals, plush production, and a surfeit of the word "baby" itself, all neatly brushed or artfully crumpled like velvet. Her style is toughened by a steely gray undertone, but it's still so smooth, you hardly notice when she starts ratting on her lying-ass thug lovers, moving effortlessly from being "Foolish" to "Unfoolish" 12 pleasant tracks later. Who would have thought a government bigwig would actually know what he was talking about?