They say first impressions matter, and as anyone who was even slightly cognizant in 2009 will remember, “I Love College” was Asher Roth’s introduction to the world.
The lead single from his debut album Asleep In the Bread Aisle, “I Love College” broke on MySpace (feel old yet?) and went on to become the unofficial frat party anthem of ’09. Despite its popularity in dorm rooms and on the charts, though (the single peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100), the song was almost universally panned by music critics and hip-hop heads alike—basically, anyone who wasn’t doing keg stands and ferociously “woo!”-ing about it afterward.
However, they also tell you not to judge a book by its cover.
In the years following his mainstream breakthrough, Asher Roth quietly graduated from a corny college kid to a shaggy-haired hippy and began making legitimately good music, even if the world wasn’t quite ready to embrace his new identity and sound. “People haven’t really allowed me to grow out of that typecast,” he toldHipHopDX in 2014. “It’s just like, ‘Oh, Asher’s just that party frat boy.”
Once the buzz from “I Love College” began to fade, Roth found himself disillusioned with the music industry he was thrust into and decided to take it back to basics. In 2010, he released Seared Foie Gras With Quince and Cranberry, an exquisitely titled mixtape that found him jacking beats from the likes of Dilla, RZA, and Pharrell (“stuff that I gravitate towards"). Later that year, he linked up with respected producer Nottz for the Rawth EP, which unearthed a hidden tenacity in the white boy from Morrisville.
Both were received well, but no project quite captures Asher Roth, misunderstood poster boy for party rap who’s actually a good rapper, like Pabst & Jazz.
Released five years ago yesterday, Pabst & Jazz is Asher Roth’s most consistent and complete project. After moving out to L.A. and falling into a slump, thanks in part to his stalling career in the midst of Universal’s restructuring, Roth channeled those blues into a free, 16-song mixtape, featuring friends like Chuck Inglish, Action Bronson, Pac Div, A$AP Twelvyy, Phil Ade and Casey Veggies, as well as a young Vic Mensa and Nico Segal (formerly Donnie Trumpet). Some of those names have flourished, others have fallen off, but Pabst & Jazz remains an important piece in the rap blog history.
Trading in the Miller Lites and party rap for Pabst and jazz, Asher sounded more mature, more refined and more thoughtful on the project. “Lost and faded though, a Miles Davis flow / Lots of soul, la semoule, how’s he know? I suppose / In the cold without a coat, it’s so cold, kid is froze,” he raps on the opening title track, floating over Kenny Keys’ groovy chords with a cool finesse. Five years later, you can still picture him in the booth rocking a gown, pulling from a blunt in one hand and sipping an old fashioned in the other.
Asher still had his beer-chugging, weed-smoking, head-getting fun, though—he never lost his dinosaur. For every serious, contemplative song like “Not Meant 2 Be” or “Dope Shit,” Pabst & Jazz embarked on a stoner adventure like on “In the Kitchen,” which really was made in the kitchen, and “Bastermating,” which spanks your speakers harder than…well. It’s not like Asher Roth was a changed man on Pabst & Jazz, he just found his sound and grew into his voice. “I think that’s when I realized, I can do this,” he said during an appearance on ItsTheReal’s podcast earlier this year.
In the last five years, Asher Roth hasn’t quite managed to build on the foundations of Pabst & Jazz. The mixtape convinced Def Jam to give him a shot in 2012, but all that really came of it was the painfully regressive “Party Girl" single with Meek Mill. The following year, Roth finally escaped the major label system, but his subsequent releases—GreenHouse Effect Vol. 2, RetroHash and this year’s Rawther EP with Nottz and Travis Barker, which you probably didn’t even know about—have failed to deliver on the expectations that his creative independence promised.
As 2017 approaches, Asher Roth seems content living the indie rapper-slash-hippy activist life. He’s currently working on getting his I Love College foundation off the ground while prepping a new album for next year. The recently released “Oops,” featuring D.A. Wallach and Oren Yoel, finds him adopting the same philosophy behind Pabst & Jazz: making fun music with friends. But nothing quite compares to Asher Roth's Pabst-sipping, jazz-listening prime.
By Andy James. Follow him on Twitter.