Hate him or really hate him, you're probably on the fence about Ash Roth; his single is huge and unbearable and his light pigmentation means he'll be more famous than his more proven contemporaries. He also has grown men in their 40s with millions of dollars riding on his success.
But unlike unworthy predecessors, Asher Roth knows this. He's focused and hungry and ready to meet, greet, eliminate the legions of hip-hop haters. South by Southwest's breakout hip-hop act (shit is pre-written, people), was a crucial one-on-one we had to arrange to see what all the fuss was about.
ATG: Are you still jointly signed to Scooter with Schoolboy and Rifkind with SRC?
Asher Roth: Yep, we're signed with Scooter, and I'm the mainstay on that label. We'll be released on Loud Records. It's definitely a relationship. We're gonna be dropping a bunch of albums, quality over quantity. I'm not gonna drop 50 albums. I want to drop albums every two years, so they're appreciated. You know how sometimes people drop albums and there'll be a gap. The first album will be dope, and the second and third, nahhh, but the fourth is dope . . .I'm not gonna do that. I'm gonna vibe out and do stuff naturally.
ATG: My impression of what your doing is that you're drawing themes and stories from personal experience that appeal to a broad group of people. But the subject matter of your raps has been described as "middle class minutiae." To what extent are these personal experiences, Morrisville (pop. 10,000) and college, different from the more traditional "rap" experiences?
AR: I like this music. For the most part I'm writing it for myself. My music essentially is me making sense of the world around me. I'll sit down and ask a couple questions and all that. It turns out I raise my hand and ask a question, and a lot of people who've been silent will be like yeah I feel the same way. I write really for myself, and a lot of people start to relate to to it. I can't do anything else but write about my personal experiences. My story can go outside of myself. Telling other people stories from my point of view. But when it comes to the first album, right now, I understand what's going on now. That's been the biggest asset to my career, understanding that this is music business. I've gotta introduce myself: Hello I'm Asher Roth, I'm from here, yada ydadd yada. Once I've said that, and people are like, "OK, that's Asher Roth," then they're like "what the hell is he gonna rap about." Then I go off. I can rap about anything. I could rap about a traffic jam. On the album there's this track "Bad Day," and I'm just talkin to people about a horrible airplane ride I had. People think that all they can rap about I how great they are and what they have. But if you need insipriation, just look out the window. There's so much going on.
ATG: Your come up is completely different - no battles, no public performance, straight to a CD in your boys basement. I'm not hating, after all it's arguable that this is the new model for aspiring rappers, but what influence has it had on your rap skills?
AR: The list goes on, for battle rappers who can't write a song. The list goes on, homie. Have I been in a couple battles, yeah, but I was never into it. That's not my cup of tea. I never really was interested in tearing something down. Battling is supposed to be harder than front, but you're supposed to shake hands and kinda "peace" after. But now people are getting shot, everything's a dispute, and I don't want that kind of negative energy in my life. I was concentrating my career around a message and creating songs. That's what's helped me. The list goes on for people who have the hip-hop culture backing, but when it comes to creating an album they don't know whats going on. There no content in their music that makes it timeless or worth listening to. That's cool and all, and I'm not knocking it but it's not what I do. For me, it's all about cypher rapping, and parties with DJ's, bringing it back to what hip hop was built on. I understand the competitive edge and it can be super super dope, but for me it's about delivering a message.
ATG: Has the scene in Atlanta, beyond helping you make of contacts like Drama, helped you to progress with your raps?
AR: Listen man, I've been living out of a bag for the last 6 months. I get my four or five outfits that I wear and pack em up and hit the road.
Everybody knows that Atlanta is popping off, but this is a business. It was a business decision to feel myself out and get connected and meet a lot of people down here. There's a lot of music down here, you've got New York cats are down here, southern cats are down here, there's people from all over.
Also, there's no scene in Morrisville and Westchester. There's a rap influence, but there's no solid nightlife. Every single night in Atlanta there's something going on. There's a scene here.
I mean, I'm a huge Outkast fan. I think everything they put out is incredible. They're one of the few acts that everything they do is ill. Every album they've dropped has gone platinum. You can listen to the evolution, from Southernplayalisticadillacmusik to Love Below/Speakerboxxx and you listen to that and you can hear the way they evolve.
ATG: What are you doing for SXSW? Where should we look for you?
AR: I'll be down there for all three dates, showcasing with guys like The Knux. We're just rockin'. We're not bringing the whole band down, so it'll just be the drummer and the DJ, but it's an ill set. I mean, the Ying Yang twins have a band now so I wanted to do something different, but there's always a live element to my music. I'll be introducing a lot of the albums tracks there, so people won't know the words but they'll walk away like, that was ill.
ATG: Next projects? Asleep in the Bread Aisle? What should we be looking for from Asher Roth?
AR: My main focus right now is Asleep in the Bread Aisle, which drops on 4/20. I want to drop two-year albums, so I want to be able to push this album for two years. I really think I can do that. I think there will be 6-10 singles off this album, for real. "I Love College" is probably the worst song on the CD. The labels hate when I say that. But people will buy the album, they'll pop it in and be like aiight word, but they're gonna have to listen to it again.
Also, there's music on this album. You've got guitar solos and harmonicas, people bring up Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison when they hear the album. I'm trying to bring a new perspective to hip hop, moving forward, but at the same time it's very cyclical, bringing it back to having fun. You've got to enjoy this time on earth cause you come in with nothing, you leave with nothing, and it's your time here that you make your mark. There are specific instructions to roll up and burn something before you listen to the album. We'll be wrapping the first 1,000 CD's in the clear jay papers so you can actually smoke the CD.
ATG: And what about comparisons to Eminem:
AR: When this album comes out, that's all going to go away. It is what it is man, that's how people categorize it man. It's just natural, that's how people make sense of shit. You hear something new, and your boy asks you, like, "Who does it sound like." But I'm 100% positive that people are going to hear this album and be like, that's Asher Roth.
- Cass Luskin