Asher Roth Interview
|Next Project:||Asleep in the Bread Aisle|
|Twitter:||Asher Roth on Twitter|
|Website:||Asher Roth's Website|
It’s a well-documented fact that one of hip-hop’s biggest audiences resides in America’s suburbs, yet you’d be hard-pressed to find an emcee willing to speak to these listeners’ day-to-day lives—even artists who grew up in these settings are quick to market themselves as products of the streets. Asher Roth, on the other hand, makes no secret of his unconventional background; a West Chester University graduate born and raised in Morrisville, Pennsylvania (a suburb situated roughly 10 miles northeast of Philly), the up-and-comer’s chosen to rap what he knows rather than erecting a hard-nosed facade, and, judging by his speedy ascent to buzzmaker status, he occupies a lyrical niche that’s long needed filling.
Thus far, most listeners know Roth as the artist who brought us hard-partying hit single “I Love College,” but, as he’s demonstrated on the follow-up, “Be By Myself,” and recently-featured iTunes bonus track “Perfectionist,” his artistic vision extends far beyond the frat-house walls. With the 4/20 release of debut album Asleep in the Bread Aisle, hip-hop fans everywhere will get to know him as a rising star with a unique lyrical perspective and an abiding love for the genre.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Asher Roth steps into the Booth to discuss the liquor-soaked story behind his LP’s title, whether or not he’ll be able to find an audience in the inner-city streets, and how he plans to put the Eminem comparisons to rest once and for all.
Listen to the Interview
Asher Roth Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on everybody? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a Westchester University elementary education major who is excitedly preparing for the release of his debut album, Asleep in the Bread Aisle. From the ‘burbs all the way to our Booth, please welcome Asher Roth—how you doin’?
Asher Roth: Yes, yes! How you doin’, man, how are you feelin’?
DJ Booth: I’m feelin’ great; you’ve got to be feelin’ great as well.
Asher Roth: I’m good, man, the sun is shining. I’m in Los Angeles, I just get to hang out for a day. I’ve been doin’ shows, I’ve been on the road, I’ve been riding around, so finally I get six hours to kinda kick it. So, life is tremendous.
DJ Booth: Well, I appreciate that, in your six hours of free time, you chose to spend part of that on the phone with me, I really do.
Asher Roth: I got you, man. You know, that’s what it’s about.
DJ Booth: Well, I feel it’s only right that we kick off this interview swapping one college story apiece. I’ll start: senior year of college, got home at about three, four o’ clock I’m already in bed, got the crusties already in the eyes, and I see a shadowy figure in my closet. Who is it? It’s my roommate, mistaking my closet for the bathroom and taking a piss on the floor. That’s my story.
Asher Roth: Absolutely, I have a couple of those. My homie pissed in my clean laundry—my laundry basket was right at the bottom of my bed, and he just went right up to it and pissed in it. No more clean laundry.
DJ Booth: Asher, the image being portrayed to consumers is that you are this beer-drinking, weed-smoking college frat boy who just simply likes to have fun—and, might, I point out, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Asher Roth: For sure. I mean, there’s an element of me that likes to have a Miller Light and roll up a J and enjoy life, but there’s a lot more going on. So, for people to base their entire opinion of me off “I Love College,” it’s cool, I understand that it’s the only thing really out in the mainstream, but, for the most part there’s a lot more going on in my life, and I think Asleep in the Bread Aisle will really convey that.
DJ Booth: How long do you feel that this buzz concerning this image [with this lead single] can successfully get you out to the masses?
Asher Roth: Well, there comes a point where the talent is going to have to overtake the marketing. It’s really not about the marketing, it really is about the music; I think that’s what’s different about this project, is that there’s actually some really dope music here, regardless of what’s being portrayed.
DJ Booth: Asher, you were discovered thanks to a MySpace account, you built up your buzz thanks to hip-hop blogs, and your debut single, “I Love College,” is currently killing it at iTunes. So, if it were not for the Internet, what do you think the chances would be that you would be grading homework right now, instead of conducting this interview with me?
Asher Roth: Much greater chances of that happening if it weren’t for the Internet, but that’s what the Internet did: it kinda crunched the space between consumers and knowledge, and suddenly we didn’t need the music industry and all of their promotion and distribution—although they are really hella important in distribution, the control is much more in the artist’s hand now. Absolutely, without the Internet it’s a whole different ballgame, a much longer, harder, grueling road.
DJ Booth: Understanding what the Internet has done for the start of your career, how do you feel when you hear about labels and label executives, who are upset at what they feel has been destructive?
Asher Roth: Well, I mean, that’s conflicting priorities. It’s what you get when you mix music and business, and that means you’re mixing business and pleasure, and there are people in this world that do it strictly for the music, and when people want nothing but record sales and don’t really give a f*ck what the music is, that’s when it gets a little interesting. But it’s now more about the music than it’s ever been, and you can see that because people aren’t really buying records, and the record industry has never been more in trouble than it is now—it’s absolutely morphing and changing into something completely different.
DJ Booth: It is in a state of flux, and hopefully you will be one of the torchbearers to carry it out of this emergency situation, if you will. We’re going way back—I read that your folks didn’t really support you listening to rap music as a kid, so how do they feel now that their college-educated son is an emcee?
Asher Roth: They’re cool, they’re my biggest fans. They were supportive, just not, like, “Hey, drop out of school and become a rapper.” But when I was saying, “Hey, I’m gonna kick it down at my buddy’s house and make music,” they definitely weren’t like, “No, you can’t go!” It wasn’t always like, hey, I’m gonna make a living off hip-hop music—even I was like, “Oh, sh*t, is this really gonna happen?”
DJ Booth: Your debut album, that we’ve alluded to several times, dropping appropriately on April 20th, is entitled Asleep in the Bread Aisle. Is this title based on reality—have you actually fallen asleep in the bread aisle of a grocery store?
Asher Roth: One of my homies, Alec Eagan, when I was exchanging drunk stories with him, just like I was at the beginning with you, he was telling me about his buddy who fell asleep in the bread aisle after a long, long night of drinking. So we were talking about galleries, painting galleries, and it made perfect sense, ‘cause here I was just being who I was, being myself in a world of money and this and that and “Who’s he dating?” and “What’s she wearing?” and blah blah blah, and I’m just kinda chilling and hanging out.
DJ Booth: I noticed that there were only six guest features on this album, only one of which is a rapper, that being Busta Rhymes. Is this a conscious decision to avoid collaboration, or simply how it all shook out in the end?
Asher Roth: That’s how it all shook out in the end. I created the album, wrote pretty much the majority [of it], and we were like, “We need a girl to sing this, we need a verse on this, and we need a hook on this.” So when all that shook out, at the end of the day, that’s where it went.
DJ Booth: According to a finalized track listing that your label so kindly provided for me, track eight is entitled “As I Em,” not “Am” but “Em” as in “Eminem.” I know a lot of people, all they wanna do is compare the two of you, obviously, the main factor being that you’re both white. Can this record, though, help put to rest the comparisons, or do you anticipate having to tackle this hurdle for the rest of your career?
Asher Roth: No, this is absolutely supposed to put that question to rest, so people don’t have to get caught up in that nonsense. After they hear that joint, I can simply answer the question with, “Refer to song eight.” That was the last thing I wanted the album to be about, and the funny thing is, people are probably going to [make] this album about that. Everywhere I went, people wanted to talk about it, so I said, “All right, let’s talk about it,” I put it out on a record, and hopefully we’ll never have to talk about it again.
DJ Booth: Have you ever had the pleasure of speaking with Eminem?
Asher Roth: No, sir.
DJ Booth: If you guys were to just sit in a room and chop it up, what do you think you’d talk about?
Asher Roth: I don’t know—I think that Em’s a very intelligent, very smart, charismatic dude; I think it would be interesting to have a conversation with him. I don’t think he’d be aggressive towards me in any manner. I don’t think there’s any reason to be. So, I don’t know.
DJ Booth: Well, let’s focus a little bit more on the album. Our New York DJBooth correspondent, Mikey Fresh, was at your listening session a few weeks back, and in his coverage of the event he pointed out how grateful he felt you appeared for the opportunity that’s before you. Would “grateful” be the accurate choice of words there?
Asher Roth: Absolutely, man. I feel very blessed in the sense of [I’ve been] given this opportunity, and understanding the responsibility that is now before me. There’s a lot going on, and I’m just happy that I’m cognizant of that and aware of what’s going on, and can actually start to push it towards that. So absolutely, I’m very grateful for this opportunity.
DJ Booth: Asher, it seems like—and this is just from my own personal experience either doing interviews or listening to other people interview artists—that when a white rapper conducts an interview, the prospects of their career are put in terms of, “Oh, well I’m misunderstood.” Do you feel like you are at all misunderstood?
Asher Roth: [laughs] Not at all, man. I think people understand exactly what’s going on here, and they either like it or they don’t like it. They don’t know everything about me, they don’t understand me completely yet, but that’s because it’s still very early on, and I’m a 23-year-old kid just coming to the table now. Success to me is longevity and respect, so hopefully I can garner those two things and also have a good time, and enjoy this whole journey.
DJ Booth: We’re gonna go deep now. Millions of white kids all across the country listen to African-American emcees despite not being able to truly identify with the cultural experiences of growing up in a “ghetto” area. Do you think that your music can transcend the suburbs of America and have a place and an audience in the hood?
Asher Roth: If they can relate on not a lifestyle, but a more emotional or humanistic level then yes, absolutely. People talk about being products of environments and stuff like that, but I find in my travels that I can really relate to people from all walks of life. If they can relate on that level then sure, there’s no reason for that not to be an audience no matter where you grew up.
DJ Booth: In any of your encounters while on the road, or at label meetings, have you ever felt any hint of reverse racism?
Asher Roth: Not to an extreme where I felt uncomfortable, but there’s stereotypes and this and that all over the place. There’s definitely been some resistance, but nothing that sticks with me to this day, right now.
DJ Booth: The other day I was looking through my old CD collection, and I spotted some really random choices—one was the First Lady of the ROC, Amil, you’ve got Bad Ronald, and the classic duo Smilez and Southstar. When you look back in your old catalog, what are some random choices that you might pull out and think to yourself, “Why did I get these again?”
Asher Roth: Man, I’m tryin’ to think… never “Why did I get these?” I remember having the Nature CD and AZ CDs. It’s just crazy for me to look back, like, “Man, what happened to this stuff? Where is this stuff at?” But like I said, I started out with Oasis’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and then started to venture into the Rage Against the Machines, the Evil Empires, and stuff like that. I don’t know, I guess when it branches into the R&B stuff, I might get a little sensitive, but it’s all good—I’m proud of the fact that I listen to R&B music. Like Joe, the sexual stuff. D’Angelo’s one of my favorite artists of all time.
DJ Booth: D’Angelo needs to make a comeback; you need to call him up and be like, “Look, we need to collaborate, and then you need to get into the studio and make a new album.”
Asher Roth: He might be [making a new album]; I’ve heard rumblings. But D’Angelo’s one of the most talented men—I love D’Angelo, that’s all I’ll say.
DJ Booth: Asher, I did some Twitter stalking and I noticed that on March 16th, you posed the following question to all your followers: “If you could have one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?” Now, I’m sure you got some great answers, but I did not notice you revealing what your choice would be, so I’m posing the question to you.
Asher Roth: Two tacos, hard-shell, rice and beans.
DJ Booth: What about the drink?
Asher Roth: Water.
DJ Booth: Water to wash it all down, huh?
Asher Roth: It has to be, has to be. I encourage my listening audience to drink copious amounts of water. Water is so necessary, so, so necessary to life, to health, to happiness—drink more water!
DJ Booth: Absolutely. It’s great for your body, eight glasses a day will do it good, and it’s a magical cure if you don’t wanna be hungover in the morning, as I’m sure you know well.
Asher Roth: You know!
DJ Booth: Of course, as you mentioned, on 4/20 your debut arrives in stores. If somebody is on the fence about whether or not they should invest their hard-earned money and time into what you have to offer, give ‘em a reason why.
Asher Roth: It’s good music. Right now, in a time when people can’t really splurge and take themselves on vacations, it’s a way to kind of reward yourself: just listening to good music and hearing some fun ideas and fun concepts. I don’t wanna give this whole speech on why you should go spend your money on me, I’ll take away the money from it, but if you’re just tryin’ to listen to some good music—no matter how you get the album, whether you burn it from your friends or download it off the Internet, I just want people to listen to the album and have it provoke thought and encourage conversation.
DJ Booth: Asher, give everybody a website or a MySpace page, something so they can find out more about what you’ve got goin’ on.
Asher Roth: Absolutely. You can follow me on thedailykush.com, that’s the main site that we have going on, it’s a social network online, and you can also find me on myspace.com/asherroth, I’m on Facebook and I’m also on Twitter: “asherroth.”
DJ Booth: And if they don’t get their fill on all of your websites, they can certainly check out more of your stuff on DJBooth.net. Asher, thank you much for takin’ the time to join me inside the DJ Booth, my friend.
Asher Roth: DJ Z, peace to you, man. Thank you.