Sunday, April 05, 2009
Asher Roth Guardian Interview...
Here's me Guardian Guide interview with Asher Roth, that ran yesterday.
Beause of space restrictions, I had to cut the original down, so here's the piece in all its, er, glory!
Oh, and who read the great feature in there about dude contacting Biggie etc., about being unhappy with their biopics? Was funnnnnny!
Hip-hop's Bill Murray
Nerdy by nature, Asher Roth emcees about loving college, comedy stars and his favourite female cartoon characters. Hattie Collins logs on with blog rap's great white hope
It may be his first time in the UK, but Asher Roth is unimpressed by the landmarks whizzing past the windows of his blacked-out people carrier. “Tower of London, yeah, um, cool. Anyway,” he coughs, keen to continue the conversation, “to me, the line was drawn when everybody started ‘Making it rain.’” Roth is referring to the art of chucking cash over strippers, popularised in songs like Fat Joe’s imaginatively titled Make It Rain single from 2006. “Is this where our priorities are at? Are we really throwing money on woman and glorifying this? To me, that’s probably the silliest thing you can ever do. Why would I sit here and talk about my money and say ‘You're not as cool as I am because you don't have what I have.’ Like, who cares? How many people in the world live off a dollar a day? No one wants to hear that shit any more.”
If you want cash and ass in your raps, then Asher Roth probably isn’t the MC for you. This isn’t to say there isn’t the odd mammary lurking in his music, but Roth has a different agenda to your average rapper. “My album is driven off the idea of individuality, of being comfortable in your own skin. I rarely glorify ass and titties, although there's going to be some pornographic elements to my music because I'm a 23 year-old heterosexual male,” he concedes with a grin and perfect timing as the car pulls up to The Sun newspaper, where his next interview awaits. But he’s right; you’re far more likely to find reference to beer, George Bush, Harry Potter and Pampers in Roth’s raps. “A lot of it is pop culture based, and other than that, it’s just the conversations I have with my friends every day.”
Part of a new school of spitters that includes KiD CuDi, Charles Hamilton, Drake, B.o.B and Wale, Roth and his brothers-in-beats are generally bookmarked in the ‘blog rapper’ tab. Think backpack but online; boombap ’09, if you will. Their freestyles, interviews and mixtapes are enthusiastically dissected by rap geeks, with Roth, alongside CuDi, the standout star so far. He recently joined the aforementioned on the cover of hip hop magazine XXL, and has been name-checked by Kanye West. The Greenhouse Effect, his first and only mixtape, was one of the most downloaded of 2008, while his right-on remix of A Millie, which berated rappers for boasting about their Benzes, solidified him as a certified one to watch. “A Millie was the tipping point,” he says of redoing the Lil Wayne song. “That’s when people really looked at me seriously, because they knew I had something to say. Can I change the world? Probably not, but if I can get people to ask questions, open up their mind and stop being ignorant, then that to me is a real good step in the right direction.”
Roth is reluctant to label himself a ‘conscious’ rapper though. “That’s up to you guys to decide,” he shrugs. So what then? Kanye 2.0.? The Rap Bill Murray, as he says on Greenhouse’s humansirkme? “Well, it's more not taking yourself too seriously; Bill Murray is a smart-arse, he's a jerk, sure, but he's respected. Like, I don't take myself too seriously. I just go about my business and I don't get caught up in all the blah blah. People can categorise however they want, but to me, this is who I am,” he insists, gesturing to his scuffed-up Vans, plain grey sweatshirt and jewellery-free wrists. “However they want to label it is cool.”
The other comparison is obvious; it’s impossible to read about Roth without the 'M' word cropping up. They don’t just share a mutual shade of melanin; Roth sounds like Eminem too. The flow, the delivery, the nasal-inflections, they’re all there. But that, he insists, is where the similarities end. “I laugh at myself, that’s what I do. Eminem, he never really laughed at himself. And I’m a huge, huge Em fan, but that’s where we’re different.” Pre-emptying the comments he knew would be coming, there’s an entire song on his debut album, Asleep In The Bread Aisle, which addresses the subject. “It’s called As I Em and I pay homage to him, but I also say that at some point, people have to stop having these preconceived notions about what you think I am, or who you think I want to be,” he argues. “That’s the challenge of a new artist, I get that, but it shouldn't be about race anymore. It's almost uncomfortable for me to even talk about it, because the kid I made music with when I was growing up was black. I've been around black people my entire life. So I just don't see it. A person’s colour isn't in my realm.”
Born and bought up in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, Roth had by all accounts a normal, if uneventful, upbringing. “Hanging out on the baseball field and going to the pool was pretty much my entire childhood,” he says. But after falling in love with Jay-Z’s Hardknock Life: Volume 2, (“It opened my mind to the limitlessness of hip hop”) the amateur rapper teamed with his friend, Brian, and began making music in his basement. Later on, at High School, he joined a hip hop workshop, although Roth was left out of their end of term performance. “It was messed up that they didn’t put me in it. But it went really badly,” he chuckles. “People were walking out.”
Undeterred, he continued writing raps long after he and Brian had gone their separate ways to different colleges. A degree at Westchester, where Asher was studying to become an elementary school teacher, was put on hold in 2007 after hooking up with his manager, Scooter, on MySpace. Roth spent his last $500 traveling to Atlanta to record The Greenhouse Effect with Scooter’s friends, mixtape maestros DJ Drama and Don Cannon. The buzz began to build and before he knew it, Roth was being whisked off to meetings with the likes of L.A. Reid and Jay-Z. “I was wearing moccasins and a stained t-shirt,” he laughs of meeting the Jigga Man. “But I’m happy I didn’t have on a pair of Jordans and a baggy white T. He got to see me in my real state.” Despite being impressed and even agreeing to appear in Asher’s Roth Boys video (a take on Jay’s Roc Boys single), Jay was unsure of signing a rapper with so little material. Luckily, Steve Rifkind, the man behind Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep, jumped at the chance. “Obviously when you rap for Jay-Z, you want him to give you a hug and for him to tell you you're the best thing ever. It would have been cool to sign with Jay, but at the end of the day that's not what was best for me and my career,” he muses. “Steve understood, and he's an executive. He's not an artist trying to tell another artist how to be an artist, which is super-important. Signing with Steve was a no-brainer.”
Rifkind, along with half of hip hop and many in the blogosphere are all excited about Asleep In The Bread Aisle. The album, which features Estelle, Lil Wayne and Cee-Lo and is produced mostly by an unknown called Oren Yoel, will set out Roth’s stall as one of the new generation of rappers picking up on Lupe and Kanye’s lead of keeping it really real. “I give my opinion on the education system and the way this country is run is. I owe it to my fans to speak on how I feel. There's a lot of stuff that people won't talk about because it’s just too touchy,” he says of Asleep’s lyrical content. “I want to talk about the stuff that no one wants to talk about it. It will be interesting to see how people respond.”
Slightly at odds with that then is the lead single, I Love College. “It’s probably the worst song on the album,” sighs Roth of the soon-to-be student anthem, as Scooter, who has until now been busy on his Blackberry, groans. “No, it is, they get bummed out when I say it, but that was a chess-move,” he insists, ignoring Scooter’s protestations. “Sometimes you have to compromise, because in the music business, you have a responsibility to sell records. But there's much more to me that I Love College.” It’s actually a pretty good track, but Roth is confident the rest of the album is much better.
The chances of it being a hit are pretty certain, so is this quiet, slightly nerdy kid from the ‘burbs ready for fame on the scale of an Eminem or West? He points to the responsibility he has being in the public eye, with more flip-cams and camera-phones than ever recording celebrities every cough and splutter. “It's scary; there's a lot of pressures that comes with it, I have no idea what's going to happen years down the line, I'm absolutely making it up as I go along,” admits Asher, before heading off into the Sun where the Em word is bought up within 2.5 seconds. “It's going to take baby-steps, but I think it's going to be way bigger than me,” he concludes of his campaign to bring reality back to rap. “Em and Kanye opened the door for artists like me; I hope I can do the same and that people can open their minds to my way of thinking.”
I Love College and Asleep In The Bread Aisle are released 20th April. The Daily Kush
SCHOOL YOURSELF ON THE NEW CLASS OF RAPPERS:
Charles Hamilton: Signed to Interscope via Pharrell’s Star Trak label, this Harlem rapper has a love for Sonic The Hedgehog and can, says Complex mag, ‘Rap his ass off.’ Hamilton
Bluu: Roth’s favourite rapper, this Californian MC has spent years as hypeman to Steve Spacek and Slum Village. Maybe 09 will see him bask in his own spotlight. Bluu
Drake: An actor from Degrassi: The Next Generation, this super-talented Canadian has a Lil Wayne co-sign and the hottest mixtape of the year so far, So Far Gone. MySpace
B.o.B: This respected Southern rapper counts Ludacris and Andre 3000 as fans and is signed to T.I.’s Grand Hustle. B.o.B
88 Keys: The latest addition to Kanye West G.O.O.D. music stable, this producer-turned-rapper looks likely to follow in his boss’ sizeable size 9’s. New single Stay Up (Viagra) is really rather great. MySpace
Kid Cudi: He’s already had a No.2 with the excellent Day N Night, a sure sign this space-age rapper is about to go stellar. MySpace
Wale: Lindsey Lohan loves him, but don’t let that put you off. This DC rhymer is signed to Mark Ronson and name-checked by Jay-Z. MySpace
Pacific Division : Pac Div, as this Cali trio are also known, are the favourites of Pharrell, ?uestlove and even the big boss dawg, Snoop who shouted them out on the song, My Peoples. MySpace