Stop dissing Asher Roth, because you were probably a tool in college too. Even if you threw hella ragers, had spicy frosh groveling for dirty sex, and whipped a Saab convertible, you likely thought you were much sweeter than you really were. Contrary to those glorified memories, you were nothing like Van Wilder or Elle Woods. Chances are you were goofier and less self-realized than the Blow-Up Doll in Old School and Pennsylvania's Dutch-twisting suburban rap phenom combined.
BONG APPEAL To collegiate sheep and high-school kids who think CBGB is a T-shirt brand, Asher Roth is the coolest frat boy since John Belushi.
Roth might seem like a poser nerd to post-adolescents — what with his touted beer-pong skills, "College" sweaters, and Saved by the Bell references — but to collegiate sheep and high-school kids who think CBGB is a T-shirt brand, he's the coolest frat boy since John Belushi. Although it's understandable that Generation X sensibilities might be offended by Roth's gratuitous Super Mario nostalgia mongering, he's no cornier than any thirtysomething yuppie once was with his Clockwork Orange posters.
If Roth's rhymes seem corny and superficial, that's because, like all noteworthy MCs, he depicts his environment — which those two adjectives describe superbly. To call him a "white rapper" is to imply that all college kids are white. As with students of all shades, his world is one in which clowns are rewarded for lengthy kegstands, and where women are eager to undress for Joe Francis. Of course, there's all the jealous trash talk: he sips booze, pulls tubes, diddles dames, and fiddles with arcade games on the regular. And that was dude's routine before he was a famous rapper.
"Of hip-hop artists and college students, I'd have to say that college kids smoke more weed," Roth claims over the phone from his tour in LA. "My experience in college — and maybe this is one of the reasons that I took a leave of absence — was that blunts started killing my lungs. I had to switch to joints. I mean, I was smoking like five or six blunts a day."
Although he studied education at West Chester University in Pennsylvania for two years before moving to Atlanta in 2007, Roth, who's now 23, was far more dedicated to the craft than are most token campus rappers. He began recording in his glory days at Pennsbury High School, where he claims to have once sold 250 mixtapes in just three days. He never paid true dues per se, but — to his credit — he was discovered on MySpace rather than on a reality show. (It's remarkable how low my standards are getting.)
"People can say whatever they want, but, as far as I'm concerned, I've been in the game since I was 15," says Roth, whose major break came in 2008, when Atlanta DJs Drama and Don Cannon helped orchestrate his debut mixtape, The Greenhouse Effect. "And there's more than that; I crafted Greenhouse Effect in my basement, and even when I got signed, my label was prepared to write me off on their taxes. Still — I put out an album using a producer who had no prior credits and made it this far, so that's how I look at things."
In a move designed to continue wooing the same impressionable fan base he'd tapped with the apropos Velveeta single "I Love College," this past April 20 (do the math) Roth dropped his proper full-length debut, Asleep in the Bread Aisle (SRC/Universal Motown). Even haters were amazed. In my survey of predictably stubborn critics, only Pitchfork's Ian Cohen was callous enough to deny that Roth had surpassed all reasonable expectations. The disc elicited vitriol from such antagonistic MCs as Copywrite, but it mostly silenced on-line trolls and knee-jerk haters. Mostly.
"Even though I've put it all out there — in my videos, and in interviews, and in my music — there are always misconceptions," he points out. "The biggest mistake people make is that I'm a rich kid. I'm from a comfortable home — don't get me wrong — but my family is definitely not wealthy. And I'm not Jewish, either." (His father is.)
That's not to say Roth's music doesn't fit some stereotypes. The kid might not be a Greenwich gangsta, but he's certainly a poster child for Pennsyltucky post-teens who conduct themselves with Chris Klein optimism and use football analogies to describe life. In other words, he's just like any other carefree middle-class college bumpkin.
"I'm just trying to stay grounded through all this. I don't take myself too seriously, even though I know that I have opportunities to have a voice and a role in this world. It doesn't matter how all these other people talk about me. I'm like Jerry Rice — I'll just keep catching the ball and returning to the line of scrimmage."
ASHER ROTH + KID CUDI & 88 KEYS | House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | July 14 at 8 pm | $25-$35 | all ages | 888.693.BLUE or www.houseofblues.com