Originally published: 12/22/2014
I can vaguely remember sitting up in my bed late one night back in high school when I heard someone on TV say that they were going to present the next Eminem. Being the Stan that I was (ok, still am), this certainly peaked my interest. This was the pre-Hip Hop Speakeasy era, so I was fairly into hip-hop, just not knowledgeable and opinionated enough to write about it. But the prospect of a fresh new talent being compared to Slim Shady already? And this guy was in college no less. I was all ears.
Really by the “next Eminem,” the reporter meant the next mainstream white rapper. How cliché.
But there he was – some new rapper named Asher Roth. That name was so easy to remember because it was so unique. I remember going to school telling my friend about this up-and-comer, thinking I was ahead of the curve. But it was the winter of 2009 and eventually “I Love College” dropped and Asher Roth was a hit.
Asher Roth’s “I Love College” Sets The Stage
Now it should be known that this friend of mine introduced me to a lot of great hip-hop in high school, so I felt compelled to one-up him and introduce him to some fresh, new hip-hop. I was somewhat disheartened when he told me how awful he thought Asher Roth was, joking how corny “I Love College” sounded while simultaneously mocking the hook:
“Drink my beer and smoke my weed/
But my good friends is all I need.”
I thought Asher Roth was a unique voice in hip-hop. This is 2009 – when Soulja Boy, T-Pain and Flo Rida were still a dominant force in mainstream music. To hear the lackadaisical flow of this Pennsylvanian rapper, coupled with his undeniable mainstream appeal – I was rehearsing the rapper’s famous hook in my head over and over again.
Then “Asleep In The Bread Aisle” dropped and I listened to all of what Asher Roth had to say at the time. Songs like “As I Em” detailed the incessant Eminem comparisons Roth understandably received at a time when Mac Miller, Macklemore and others were still working in the underground scene.
Asher Roth was essentially the only one who could be compared to Eminem at the time, albeit simply because of the complexion of his skin. But “As I Em” spoke to not only the Shady comparisons, but also to Roth’s life as a rapper up until that point and his history idolizing the Detroit emcee:
“Now don’t get it twisted, I’ve definitely benefited/
It’s like suddenly everyone wants to hear what I be spittin’/
It’s so different, the image they don’t get it/
It’s simple, I’m just a kid who wants to rap to make a livin’./
But Em was in it way before I committed/
And his lyrics were the shit, so I really gotta come with it/
But each critics be pickin’ apart my writtens/
If it isn’t up to par then Asher’s Paul is just a gimmick.”
The self-awareness was enlightening for an artist labeled as a frat-rapper. I felt that there was a lot more to Asher Roth on “Asleep In The Bread Aisle” than people believed, but due to me respecting my friends’ opinion and knowledge about hip-hop so much more than my own, I stopped listening to Asher Roth in 2009, thinking he wasn’t what I had hoped. He wasn’t the next Eminem.
Asher Roth’s Comeback: An Artist Finding Himself
Fast-forward years later. It’s around 2011. The Hip Hop Speakeasy is up and running and I’m constantly on the hunt for new hip-hop to post.
I hadn’t heard from Asher Roth in over two years, thinking he was practically a one-hit wonder at that point. Then I found “Seared Fois Gras with Quince and Cranberry.”
Stumbling upon “Seared Fois Gras” was the best thing that could happen to me in terms of reigniting my fandom for Asher Roth.
The mixtape found Asher rapping over some pretty crazy instrumentals, from RZA tracks to Kanye and everywhere in between.
Roth had a different air about him; on this mixtape, a lot of the time, he seemed to just rap for the sake of rapping and his nonchalant demeanor was felt through every track. There were songs where meaning was implied very explicitly, but for argument’s sake, “Seared Fois Gras” was Asher just flexing his rap muscles while getting comfortable with his voice, and his laid-back vibe – not taking rap so seriously – really showed.
With my interest peaked once again, I began backtracking through his discography, later finding the “Rawth EP,” a project released in 2010 by Asher Roth and Nottz. This project easily grabbed my attention after just one or two spins.
The heavy drums combined with light, soulful samples curated by Nottz Raw presented Roth with a whole new landscape to lay down his rhymes. “Gotta Get Up” was fun and catchy; “Break Bread” had Asher Roth rhyming about the double-edged sword that is fame; “Nothing You Can’t Do” was a powerful closing track inspiring people to chase their dreams and live their lives.
It was then that I could reassert my fan-hood. Asher Roth was dope, I knew it from the beginning. I let my friend tell me what was good music and what was not good music. I was such a cornball. I put “Asleep In The Bread Aisle” back in my rotation and jammed out to “Lark On My Go-Kart” and “Be By Myself” many times. But as much as thought Asher Roth was a solid emcee, I recognized that others did not feel the same.
That was until the undeniable milestone that is “Pabst & Jazz“ hit the web in 2011. Roth linked up with production team Blended Babies and some other notable producers to draw up a super jazzy hip-hop record not worthy of being called a mixtape. This was an album, a grand LP. No longer was the young rhymer a mainstream frat-rapper. “Pabst & Jazz” was raw, underground hip-hop and it featured a slew of underground talents – Action Bronson, Pac Div, Casey Veggies, Blu and more.
Rebound: The Impact and Importance of Asher Roth’s “Pabst & Jazz”
Asher Roth found his voice on “Pabst & Jazz.” A defining style of a chilled flow, multiple rhymes per line and a funkier beat selection all found their place on this project. At that point, the mainstream spotlight was shining on other rappers, leaving Asher Roth the freedom to be as quirky and unique as he wanted. The creative freedom paid off and the result flowed naturally – hell, he even made a song in the kitchen.
His rhymes portrayed a carefree artist expressing himself as he pleased: in a joking manner as on “Useless,” or through narratives like on “Insurance.” His vibes portrayed a maturing artist with his own sound.
Finally, Asher Roth was getting recognized for the lyrical skill he possessed, as well as his ability to make great music in general. But there was still a problem; no matter how much praise he was getting, most anyone I tried putting on to Asher Roth still said he wasn’t good, citing “I Love College” as a reference.
This reminds me of an article penned by Lucas Garrison for DJ Booth titled “Yo, When Did Mac Miller Become So Dope?” because essentially, I’m making a very similar argument for Asher Roth. The one exception is that Mac Miller has seemed to turn the tide from his frat-rap days and evolve into a darker, more personable and conscious emcee accepted by many the whole time.
On the other hand, Asher Roth can’t seem to shake his preppier past and it plagues his image as a formidable emcee. In a very applicable manner, Garrison writes:
“Humans are a stubborn species. Once we get an idea in our heads, there is very little that can be done to change our opinion; just ask Galileo, Darwin or the thousands of otherwise rational people who don’t believe in global warming. Bottom line, if someone doesn’t want to believe something, they will find every reason not to. The same holds true for hip-hop heads. We are a stubborn lot and once we develop ideas and listening habits, they are hard to break.”
The same holds true for Asher Paul Roth. Once he expressed how much he loved college, people wouldn’t let him hear the end of it. We base our opinion of the guy on one song. His album may not have been as good as many had hoped, but his others have been unequivocally and unfairly dismissed.
Despite his change, his growth, and his output, listeners still pin the hit single on the rapper as a reason to not entertain any more of his music. It’s time for people to open their minds, and their ears.
Say It With Me, “Asher Roth Is A Good Rapper”
I’ll say it again – Asher Roth is dope. He’s retreated from the mainstream, left his college campus and distanced himself from much of the styles we heard on his debut. Asher Roth is an emcee. He’s not a pop artist, but rather a rapper with a knack for being as witty as he is deep, and his latest release, “RetroHash,” is a testament to that fact.
“RetroHash”‘s lead single “Tangerine Girl” is obviously a feel-good, summer hit, and it may even solidify people’s notions about him being out of their scope of listenable music. But like so many albums before “RetroHash,” the song sounds that much better in context. Trust me.
Remember when Kendrick‘s “Backseat Freestyle” dropped? How weird was it to hear this leader of the new west-coast drop such a track. But when we played “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” for the first time, we realized the context and “Backseat Freestyle” worked, and it was dope.
Sure there is no overarching dialogue that “Tangerine Girl” perpetuates as on “Backseat Freestyle,” but it certainly makes more sense around the wavy, summery jams featured on the sophomore effort. Besides, Blended Babies helped produce this album just as expertly as they did “Pabst & Jazz.”
Roth capitalizes on his successful “Pabst & Jazz” style for a sunny album full of life, easy-going flows and a bunch of stand-out tracks. “Parties At The Disco (feat. ZZ Ward),” “Fast Life (feat. Vic Mensa),” “Pot of Gold” and more make this album a summer album through and through.
Even more importantly, though, “RetroHash” solidifies Asher Roth as your atypical rapper. He isn’t a dud, he isn’t a gimmick, he’s his own man. What has worked for Asher Roth is to ignore trends, ignore what’s expected of him and just make music he’s feeling at the time.
From “Asleep in the Bread Aisle” to “RetroHash,” Asher Roth has been around the block. From becoming an overnight, chart-topping star to a forgotten emcee to a one-of-a-kind, practically reborn artist, Asher Roth has a unique history in hip-hop.
He appeals to many different styles, whether he’s rapping hardcore with Don Cannon & DJ Drama on his “GreenHouse Effect” mixtape series, or floating through instrumental cosmos with Blended Babies, the versatility of this once pigeonholed rapper is incredible.
What’s Asher Roth Up To Today?
In 2016, I happened to see Asher Roth at a surprise performance in Philadelphia. Seeing him perform his single, “That’s Cute” live further drove home the notion that no matter what you think, Asher Roth always feels home on stage and behind a microphone.
Nowadays, Roth is working on his next album while hosting dance parties and small shows in Philadelphia. It’s only a matter of time before he drops another project that only solidifies his status in the hip-hop realm.
Few could come back as well as Asher Roth did. He started off as a kid spitting rhymes and came back as an artist with several, great hip-hop projects under his belt, all slept-on and all deserving of great praise.
It’s about time that Asher Roth gets the attention and praise he deserves. An artist with so much to say (from his career to his life, in general) and so much creativity (in lyrics and beat selection) should get more appreciation that is currently afforded him. I believe it’s not a matter of if, but when people let go of his “I Love College” days that they can really marvel at a truly spirited and capable emcee.