Hip-Hop as music and culture has since its inception constantly been in a state of flux. Someone had to decide that toasting over breaks was cool, but recording them would be even better. Someone had to decide that a turntable could play those breaks, but could also become an instrument itself. Someone had to decide that rapping about parties was cool, but that rapping about social issues would make an impact. Someone had to bust a new move, create a new scratch, create a new burner style, and keep the cycle going. It is the very fluidity of hip-hop that has the tendency to keep the arts innovative and commercially viable. There's no shame in having a favorite year of rap, favorite subgenre of artists and records, favorite style of dance, living whatever definition of hip-hop works for you. The conflict comes when someone professes that only one of these things is "real" hip-hop and that all other variations are excluded. If that were the case hip-hop would have died out as a culture a long time ago.
Every now and then an artist like Asher Roth comes along that causes turmoil for those who like to "keep it real." He doesn't have the pedigree that we tend to expect from hip-hop artists, even the ones who are conspicously absent in melanin. To some degree the Beastie Boys and Marshall Mathers of the world get a pass because they have an urban background and spent time in the right peer groups growing up to be "real" rap artists. Then the franchise of "real" gets pushed a little further by artists like Bubba Sparxxx. He's not so urban, but he grew up poor and hard, so real recognizes real. Then the realists have to content with similar sounding Southern rappers who may or may not have had it hard but SOUND like they fit in. Keep it real purists must feel like they've been stretched to the breaking point, which is why so many of them just SNAPPED when Asher Roth came out. He's not urban, he's suburban. He's not poor, he's quite comfortably middle class. He's from Morrisville, Pennsylvania. If you really want to pour salt in their wounds, point out that Asher Roth didn't even grow up listening to rap. He's your typical white kid who spent the 90's listening to records by Dave Matthews Band and Bruce Springsteen. There's so little in Roth's background that screams "real hip-hop" you'd have to break out an electron microscope to find an iota of it. Yet here he is, dropping a highly anticipated rap album called "Asleep in the Bread Aisle" on April 20th of all days. What does a guy like Asher Roth rap about?
"I wanna go to college for the rest of my life
Sip Bankers Club and drink Miller Lite
On 'Thirsty Thursday' and 'Tuesday Night Ice'
And I can get pizza a dollar a slice
So fill up my cup, let's get fucked up
I'm next on the table, who want what
I am cham-pion, at beer pong
Allen Iverson, Hakeem Olajuwon
Don't even bounce, not in my house
Better hope you make it, otherwise you naked
Time isn't wasted, when you're getting wasted
Woke up today, and all I could say is"
"I Love College." That's right - Asher Roth may go down as the first Frat-Hop rapper in history. Somebody somewhere is screaming right now that this is not what real hip-hop is all about. How dare this white kid from Pennsylvania rap about drinking and partying... oh wait, didn't the Beastie Boys do that over 20 years ago? "Brass Monkey, that funky monkey!" Oh yeah. "You gotta fight, for your right, to parrr-tay!" Sounds familiar. So why are so many people so mad at Asher Roth anyway? I think there's a perception he takes rap for a joke without letting everybody in on it. Nobody's mad at The Lonely Island because they all admit it's a spoof, and go out of their way to be totally absurd. Yet here's Asher Roth - he's got a good flow, the beats are aight, but the topics aren't very serious and the title of album DEFINITELY isn't. Should he be trusted? Does he really love hip-hop or is he mocking the culture in a negative way - for a joke only he's in on? I don't get the impression Cee-Lo thinks so on "Be By Myself," and when it comes to hip-hop soul he's about as good an authority as they come.
Roth: "Ash is young, attractive, handsome bachelor, awesome rapper
Got a knack for vernacular when I perform spectacular
I'll have any girl that I want, I'm a take the girl in the front
Boobs bounce when I tell the crowd jump, honey, come backstage I just want to have fun
But I'm too young to be locked down, not now
Need a new car, drive around with the top down
New broad with her bra and her top down
Chillin' in the backseat screaming out loud"
Cee-Lo: "She wants to be my lady... but I don't see her
She wants to be my lady... but I'm a free bird
I gotta be by myself, gotta be by myself this time
I gotta fly by myself, go get high by myself this time"
Maybe, just maybe, it's time for another one of those paradigm shifts in hip-hop. A lot of people have tried to justify Asher Roth by comparing his vocal style and sound to Eminem, to the point he even recorded a song called "As I Em" for this album in response. The problem is that this comparison does neither justice. Eminem's gimmick has always been that he's a funny guy who's a little bit crazy - one little push from going off the deep end completely. Roth on the other hand seems incredibly well-adjusted. He's happy to sit around playing video games for fun - ready to go for a "Lark On My Go-Kart" at any time. He raps about eating Cheetos and hitting on your hot mom. As he says on "La Di Da" produced by Don Cannon, "They want a killer instinct and I'm just that type/But if the fight's not mine, I won't fight that fight." Why stress? Even Asher Roth's "Bad Day" is a lot less aggravating than some REAL hood drama, yet Jazze Pha's down to sing on it anyway.
"An aisle seat, fine by me
But the guy that's inside's always tryin to pee
With a wild child behind me, he's cryin and keeps
flippin out and kickin at me while he violently screams
So I silently plea, oh God, please
Let there be a honey sitting 27B
But of course some morbidly obese
beast is in the seat that wheezes when he breathes
Dude sitting D is at least three deep
And he keeps telling me what is wrong with his briefs
Ash could slaughter, just need water
But for a bottle they charge two dollars
And when I thought it couldn't get worse
I forgot my iPod!"
As bad as Asher Roth's "Bad Day" on the airplane is, you never get the feeling he's really capable of going off the deep end - he's just singing an almost monotone hip-hop version of the blues about how lousy it all is. "I guess it could be worse" is Roth's response to it all. Maybe that's why everybody really has a beef with Asher Roth - he just doesn't seem to ever get angry... at ANYTHING. It's just not hip-hop to never be mad, not for a single solitary second, is it? Well maybe it is if you're Asher Roth, and maybe there's room for his new unapologetically white bread rap style. He's suburban, laid back, actually not that bad on the mic (the one reason the Eminem comparison is apt) and if you're open-minded to his style it's not hard to see he's a funny cat who actually IS serious about writing good rap songs. With beats provided largely by newcomer Oren Yoel that are more hit than miss, "Asleep in the Bread Aisle" is that new kind of 2009 hip-hop you either have to learn to live with or jump off the bandwagon altogether. Times change, hip-hop keeps evolving, and while I'm not saying I want every MC to be like Asher (I think one is enough for now) there's room enough in the culture for his Frat-Hop style. He's mellow, he's funny, and he can flow. I might eventually get tired of his shtick but for now "I Love College" and I love Asher Roth. Just one question though Ash - what's up with all the cat people?
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 7.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 7.5 of 10
Originally posted: April 21, 2009