If you know Asher Roth only as the rapper who had his day in the sun with I Love College, prepare for a surprise. With sophomore full-length RetroHash, the (long overdue) follow-up to 2009's Asleep in the Bread Aisle, the Keystone State representative showcases the fruits of five years' worth of artistic and spiritual growth.
Previously-featured singles "Dude," "Pot of Gold," "Tangerine Girl" and "Fast Life" offer a hint of the innovation in store on the LP, which finds Roth joined on the mic by the likes of Chuck Inglish, Curren$y, Vic Mensa and ZZ Ward.
Beat crew Blended Babies (the set's sole producers) help forge the LP's sound, which is informed by Roth's recent move to the West Coast.
Retrohash Album Review
As my friend got in the car, the first thing she says was "finally, no more country music" (she had been staying with a mutual friend who likes country music too much for her own good). She was right, this was definitely not country music, but RetroHash has splashes of just about every other genre of music you could imagine. In fact, I found that the the first few spins through the easy-to-burn-through album were mostly adjusting to the different, diverse sound. Based on his past work, I was expecting something much more rooted in hip-hop. So it was an adjustment, Also, to be fair, I wasn't entirely focused on the album since I did have a friend to talk to. Still, the album was good background music. It might not sound like a ringing endorsement, but I really do mean it as a positive. The album has a laid-back vibe throughout it and I think it fits well with talking to a friend while driving to the airport, or talking to that cute girl in a sundress at the first barbeque of summer. This is a great album for when you need something to set the mood, but don't want it to take over. Anyway, once I dropped my friend off, it was when the real listening began.
Now that I was focused on the music, how would it change my perception of the album? Well, for the first part of the the album it didn't. Maybe I still haven't given it enough listens but despite the immaculate production and unique vibe, there are bits and pieces that didn't work; not ZZ Ward's guest spot though,she's amazing. On Dude, Curren$y makes an appearance, but before he raps, Asher feels kind of flat as he spits some seemingly random bars. His flow is interesting and he hits each lien flawlessly, but the whole time I kept thinking, "What is he rapping about?". It didn't seem like there was any clear direction, but he just sort of rapping to rap and the result had me going in and out of focus; there is not a lot to see on the Dulles toll road and if he can't keep me focused there, it did not bode well. The first half of the album was a little lackluster. It seems like Asher was experimenting for experimenting's sake. Pieces of it work really well (credit Blended Babies) but sometimes it feels a little flat. However, the second half was much better and just as the album started to pick up pace I hit a dead stop.
On the way there, looking across at traffic, I was optimistic; everything seemed to be flowing. So, naturally when it came time to go back, traffic had started to build (note to self, rush hour now starts at 2:30 in Virginia). At this point, I had just started the Vic Mensa-assisted Fast Life. To me, this was when the album really hit it's stride. All I wanted to do was light up a J, roll down the windows and cruise, but instead I was stuck behind a car with a billion bumper stickers and a pick-up filled with crap; I couldn't even put down the windows because it was raining (but that isn't Asher's fault). Even though I couldn't enjoy it like I wanted, I still really dug this section of the album.
On the home stretch though everything was on point. Fast Life deals with a drug-addicted girl but the vibe is still sunshine and smiles; Asher does a great job of putting a smile on your face while still dealing with a heavier issue. On Be Right we get some J. Cole-like honesty and insight on his career and where he stands musically as the breezy beat saunters along. Pot Of Gold and Keep Smoking are less lyrically oriented, but (shades of early Cudi) they are strangely intoxicating and end the project on memorable, unique note. After a full-focused listen, I basically shuffled around for the rest of my trip and the album was just as effective. You can, but certainly don't have to think too hard about this album. It flows nicely from whatever point you start listening to and even if you are just shuffling around, casually listening, it isn't hard to pick right up and vibe out. It certainly made my trip easier so at the very least I'm grateful in that sense.
Honestly, I would have liked to hear a little more pure hip-hop (like Turnip The Beat), but I'm certainly not mad. If you go into this wanting a boom-bap, fundamental hip-hop you will be disappointed. I was excited to hear Asher as the rapper he wanted to be, but I'm beginning to think he doesn't want to be a rapper. I mean, of course he can still rap (and well), but this album showed me that he is much more experimental than I thought. There is literally every kind of style on this album; I heard shades of Kid Cudi, Frank Ocean, and even The Weeknd ( the middle part of Pull It). Of course it is still distinctly Asher (his voice, cadence, and creativity are unmistakable) but it is much more than I thought. If that's his new style I am totally on board. It may not work all the time and in every way, but I'm happy to see him doing what he wants, taking risks, and trying new things. This might be a comeback per say but I'm starting to think we never really saw the true Asher. This feels more like an introduction to the artist he wants to be than a rebirth of the one we used to know who was hammered down by what can be a soul-crushing route; the major label
The album is fun, enjoyable, and well-done, but I'm more excited for what it means moving forward that what it means for the next summer party (although I'm excited for that too). I see the start of a career filled with projects that bend genres and experiment with sounds for better or for worse. The next album might be a little more hip-hop or it might be completely the opposite and I'll enjoy the ride either way. you might not get exactly what you want each time, but I'd rather have that than the alternative; a whole album of I Love College.
Here's to the start of something new and most importantly, different.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net and RefinedHype. He does not have a beard. You can tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @Lgarrison88.]
DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins