Interview: Asher Roth Talks New Album, Old Stereotypes

It’s been five years since the chant of “do something crazy, do something crazy” echoed through college halls across the world. Freshmen have since continued to chug beers and rock keg stands, but what happened to the poster child of fratboy college debauchery? What happened to Asher Roth?

Asher Roth on the Journey After his Breakout Single

It’s 2014 and most of you probably haven’t kept up with the Pennsylvania bred white boy rapper since the release of “I Love College” off of his debut album, Asleep In The Bread Aisle. For those of you that have, you know that he’s dropped his fratty appearance, grown out his hair and has been consistently dropping dope project after dope project. And now, after leaving Def Jam Recordings, Roth is gearing up for his second studio album, RetroHash.

On Saturday night, Asher Roth took to the stage at the small but intimate venue off of New York City’s Westside Highway, appropriately called The Westway. With a full band behind him and a choir of fans in front, he took the crowd on a journey through RetroHash, with past favorites sprinkled throughout. He opened with the Curren$y infused “Dude” and threw it back to his Pabst & Jazz mixtape “In The Kitchen” and “Common Knowledge,” before returning back to the new album.

Throughout it all, the energy at The Westway was unreal. I knew people kept up with Asher Roth, but these fans might have been the most passionate I had ever seen. Every lyric, every beat, it seemed as though everyone was in on the performance. Even the new songs, which hadn’t been performed before, commanded the audience into a groove that couldn’t be shaken by any stereotype from Roth’s past.

He continued with the recently released single “Fast Life” featuring Vic Mensa, before throwing it back to 2009’s feel good anthem “La Di Da.” Eventually, the band kicked into the wavy production of “Tangerine Girl” a song that can barely be classified as hip-hop, but might as well be called the “Asher Roth sound” now, during which Roth attempted to stage a “Soul Train” dance-athon that melted into an all out dance party in the middle of the crowd.

He finished with “G.R.I.N.D.,” leaving us all in a state of near-complete satisfaction. He left the stage for a brief moment, as the crowd began to chant “Do something crazy! Do something crazy!” And almost on command, Asher Roth, man of the people, reemerged and fulfilled his 2009 stereotype with a mic in his hand and a smile on his face.

We had a chance to sit down with the L.A.-based rapper before the show, where he talked about the new album and old stereotypes. Read below:

Rukkus: RetroHash. What does that mean?

Asher: It’s an anagram of my name actually. Olivia’s actually responsible for it really. We were probably like 60 percent done with the record and we really kind of figured out where the sound was going and kind of how it was pretty much genre-less for the most part. And she sent over as a joke just, like a list of anagrams of my name and there was one like ‘Rather Hos.’ So I always joke how the album was almost called Rather Hos. But yeah, when I saw RetroHash I was like ‘Wow, that’s perfect. Like that’s exactly what the record sounds like, it sounds like RetroHash.’

Rukkus: It’s been 5 years since your debut, Asleep In The Bread Aisle. Your projects since then have definitely shown an evolution in your sound, even between Pabst and Jazz and Greenhouse Effect Volume 2. Where are you at now with RetroHash?

Asher: I mean…I don’t know, man. From a sound standpoint, it’s just making what feels right and working with people I’m connected to at the time. Because even with friends… for instance, you’ll be connected with people in school, college, high school and stuff like that and then you’ll fall out of touch with them. I think the same thing goes with music. I think music is very reflective of what I’m wearing, who I’m hanging out with and what I’m doing at that time. so RetroHash is one of those… the sound of that record particularly is like, you know hanging out, in Los Angeles, on Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays, early morning sessions, smoking some weed and just writing about what we’ve been experiencing since moving to Los Angeles and all of the experiences before that.

Rukkus: Since this album has basically been what – 3 years coming? – does the sound of RetroHash represent that evolution? Does the album represent a lot of different sounds recorded over different times?

Asher: No, no. If something doesn’t manifest itself naturally, we just kind of bag it. It’s just one of those things where we have certain sounds… and I’m huge on cohesiveness. You can feel it, man, if you’re listening to a record and you’re like ‘this is supposed to be here, this is supposed to be here,’ and then you hear a song and it’s like ‘that doesn’t make sense on this record at all.’ We stay away from that kind of stuff. That’s why I’m big on one producer. I usually link with one producer and just do one full project with them because cohesive sound is more important to me than a single. You just hope that at some point in that record there’s something that’s accessible, that people want to listen to over and over again. But for the most part I think RetroHash is a top-to-bottom album.

Rukkus: Pabst and Jazz was dope as fuck (one of my favorite mixtapes ever) and I can only imagine what RetroHash is gonna sound like with B.B. in the mix. Are Blended Babies basically your in-house producers now?

Asher: I mean you can label it whatever you want, but they’re friends man. And all these guys that I work with whether it be Oren on Asleep In The Bread Aisle – that’s my homie. Chuck Inglish, Blended Babies, these are guys that I literally hang out with. Sometimes we don’t even make music, we just hang out, eat food and go bowling. Those relationships are really special when you also get to make music with people like that because you trust each other, and you have a personal relationship, so when you are making something as personal and intimate as making music, that trust really starts to resonate. And you’ll be like, “I’m gonna try this because I trust you.”

If you’re in there with a producer that you don’t know or you’re just meeting for the first time, chances are you’ll probably be a little bit more reserved. It’s just like when you’re meeting somebody for the first time or hanging out with people that you don’t really know that well, you’re not as comfortable to be yourself. So working with the Blended Babies and creating RetroHash is like, I’m comfortable with them and it allows me to take a little bit more risks and just be myself.

Rukkus: Is that why there aren’t too many features on RetroHash?

Asher: Yeah. And we’re always going to do stuff new. I don’t ever wanna be in a space where it’s like ‘oh man, there’s an Asher project, we already know what we’re gonna get, we already know who is on it.’ Once people have you like penciled down and figured out, that’s the beginning of the end. I just wanna continue to grow, continue to progress, and the same thing is gonna’ come with the features. As I go through life, I’m gonna meet new people and if I really resonate with those people, I’m gonna’ bring them into my world.

Rukkus: But you have experienced typecasting more than other artists; how do you deal with that when you’re coming out with music to show people you have more to offer than just a college party anthem?

Asher: I think you just do it… you just do it. It’s one thing to be aware of it and have people say ‘this is who you are blah blah blah,’ but you can’t let that dictate your music. I’ll dedicate moments like, for instance, the ‘Pearly Gates’ on Greenhouse Effect Volume 2:

Yo they thought I made a million dollars off I Love College
Got a model for a bride and then retire to Bahamas
I probably should’ve, my goodness, no idea what I have put up with
Bunch of lame excuses from the suits up in the music biz

Those are my opportunities to say ‘I’m well aware of what you guys think happened or I’m well aware of your perspective,’ but at no point do I want genuine offerings to fans and family and friends to be me complaining about the music industry or me complaining about the perceptions of what people think I am. So, to answer your question, to deal with that you just do what you’re going to do, do your thing. I wrote about it in the open letter to XXL and the one thing people kind of picked-up and started passing along was this one moment where I said: ‘Don’t be scared of the fear of criticism. You already know what people are going to say. You know, just do your thing, do it unapologetically.’ And I think that’s what I take into life in general and making music.

Rukkus: Do you ever wish things went differently with ‘I Love College’?

Asher: No, I really don’t man. It’s easy to say ‘yeaaah’ or have somebody else think that ‘Man, if Asher didn’t get penned with the ‘I Love College’ stuff he’d be on the top right now.’ I think it’s easy for fans to say that because they know what I’ve gone through. But from an experience standpoint and lesson standpoint, I wouldn’t change a thing man. And I’m still young; you look at all these other rappers and the best rappers out there, really, genuinely, are like 35 plus. You really don’t get into your groove until kind of late when you start figuring out who you are. So I’m not like ‘ohh man,’ I understand we’re kind of pushing 17 year olds out the door saying ‘you’re famous now!’ That’s tough man. That’s a tough world to live in, especially in the entertainment business.

So it’s like, I think with my progression and my pace, I have a really solid foundation from ‘I Love College.’ Especially with the 5 years that it’s been, the people that don’t want to be on the boat anymore have jumped ship and the ones that have stuck out are really happy to be like ‘I know Asher now, I’ve connected with him through his music, through these interviews,’ and we get to share in this experience together rather than just me making hit singles. The perfect example is Flo Rida. Nobody knows who that dude is. Do you know anything about Flo Rida? Do you know his stances on the world or what he cares about? I have an opportunity to really let people know who I am and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with who I am.

Rukkus: Tell me about the major label drop and the decision to move to an independent label.

Asher: Yeah it’s just, I want to do my thing, I don’t want to compromise. I’m stubborn, I don’t think I’m stubborn in a bad way. I just have firm beliefs you know what I mean? Am I absolutely open minded? For sure. I’m very willing to listen and open to being swayed, but when it comes to my music and the expression of myself… it’s funny because when I make one or two compromises, those always end up being huge. It’s like you know ‘you give somebody an inch, they take a foot’ or whatever that line is. And it’s just like, you find that’s really true, so when it comes to my music and when it comes to the entertainment world, I just want to do stuff that I 100% believe in. And I found myself having to have more conversations about compromise in the major label stuff and a lot slower of a process.

You would have an idea, you’d create that idea and want to put it right out. But you’d have to wait for permission; next thing you know that permission comes from somebody else; next thing you know three months have gone by. And now, more than ever, time is of the essence. If you haven’t put something out in two weeks, if people haven’t heard from you in two weeks, you fell off. We need to be quick. If we have an idea, we want to be able to put it right out. That’s the world we live in.

Rukkus: Did it take dropping your major label to finally get this album on its feet?

Asher: Yeah and commitment. It’s nice playing with house money; it’s nice to be able to play with somebody else’s money and if you fuck up its like ‘woops, it’s not a big deal.’ But when you’re playing with your money you have to make decisions and you have to stand by them. And that’s where I’m at in my life right now; I’m making decisions and standing by those decisions even though sometimes it’s like ‘ahhh, this isn’t going as well as I planned.’ You gotta just keep going.

Rukkus: What’s next after RetroHash?

Asher: A lot of live music. A lot of live shows. I really want to travel. I’ve never been to Portugal; I really want to go to Portugal, I don’t know why. I want to eat sushi, I want to eat some ramen in Japan; I’ve never been to Japan, I want to go there. And music gives me an opportunity to do that. So a lot of live shows.

Rukkus: And you’ll be rocking with a live band?

Asher: Always, always. These are literally my friends; people I’ve been hanging out with for the past 3, 4, 5 years. And you can really feel that when we’re on stage. It’s not just me with some guys behind me, it’s like a family. I would describe it as my right hand, my starting 5, my offensive line. Those processes… a basketball team can’t win with one guy, a football team can’t run the ball without the offensive line. Same thing with music. That’s it man. A lot of live music and a lot of music in general. Once RetroHash comes out we’re gonna do that, then I also have the Nottz project with Travis Barker. Chuck Inglish and I have an EP together. A lot of stuff.

Rukkus: Looking forward to it.

Asher: Righteous.

Article by Arpan Somani

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