Asher Roth: The Hangover

posted September 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM CDT | 45 comments

April 2009 was a poignant month for 24-year-old Asher Roth. His debut offering, Asleep In The Bread Aisle (Universal Motown), peaked at #5 in the charts boasting features from the likes of Busta Rhymes, Chester French, Cee-Lo, Beanie Sigel and more recently Keri Hilson. The Eminem comparisons were easy [and lazy] but the Shady co-sign was official [At the end of the day, I think he's dope.]; all was going well for this up-and-coming rapper riding on the wave of glory from being hailed as one-to-watch on the cover of XXL magazines Hip Hops Class 09 December issue.

However, April was almost a key month for all the wrong reasons - four months ago Roth found himself at the centre of blogosphere-consuming controversy as a result of a tongue-in-cheek tweet about hanging out with nappy headed hoes. He explained soon afterward that the statement had been an immature attempt to poke fun at an infamously moronic joke. The incident now mostly forgotten, he speaks to HipHopDX about the impact of blogs despite the fact that he doesnt read them, the impact of celebrity despite "not being one" - and the subsequent need to watch what you say when friend networks are no longer limited to actual friends.

HipHopDX: Youve spoken in other interviews about it taking you a while to get into Hip Hop. Did performing come naturally to you?
Asher Roth:
The performing aspect came naturally. I wasnt even an avid show-goer and the shows I was going to were The Wailers, The Roots [click to read], I wasnt going to these live underground Hip Hop shows you know where KRS-One [click to read] was performing. I wasnt in that scene, I wasnt in New York in the early 90s/late 80s. So for me, Im getting to a point now at 24 - and really started at 21 - really starting to be able to really appreciate it and really understand what was going on. Because at 13, 14, 15, yeah youre listening but a lot of its just Top 40 stuff, a lot of its just the stuff theyre telling you to listen to, but now Im actually cognisant and old enough to be like, "This is what I wanna listen to, this is why I wanna listen to it, this is what I like."

You get to learn about samples and what theyre actually sampling, when you hear Busta Rhymes [click to read] figuring out that its coming from [Al Green's] Love & Happiness like wow, I heard this completely before [hearing it] on The Coming and youre thinking the whole time its a Hip Hop song but really is a soul and R&B song theyve jacked. Learning how the whole thing works is something thats been awesome for me. [Editor's note: Busta Rhymes' "Turn It Up" sampled Al Green's "Love & Happiness" appeared on When Disaster Strikes]

DX: That re-discovery stage.
Asher Roth:
Absolutely, thats where Im at right now because I got into it late, I started to appreciate it [when I was] around 17, 18 years old when I kinda started messing around, but even then I didnt get it and now at 23, 24 Im like "Wow, this is what they were basing their stuff off of," because at 13 youre listening to 24, 25 year old minds. Youre not there yet. So now I can listen to Jay-Zs [click to read] Reasonable Doubt and see where theyre coming from.

DX: What else are you listening to these days?
Asher Roth:
See Im not even listening to Hip Hop right now. Like indirectly I am, but Im listening to The Meters, Eddie Kendricks - different stuff like that. Taste buds change like every seven years. Right now Id say the immortal Otis Redding, Bob Marley, Blus Below The Heavens [click to read] has been bumping, Mos Defs The Ecstatic [click to read] has been killing it right now and Id say the Black Milk ELEC [mixtape] [click to listen] is pretty much what Ive been rocking with and Dillas Donuts; always.

DX: Were you pleased with the critical response to your album?
Asher Roth:
Can I be 100% honest? Earlier on in my career, I definitely paid attention to that stuff, but I dont pay any attention. Its so funny because I do all these interviews and all these tapings and I never see them. When it comes to music, when it comes to art, when it comes to expressing myself - I just dont see how I could pay any attention to anybody elses opinion of it. Theres certain opinions in the people in my circle that are more than enough like for instance my father: straight-forward Stanford graduate, like when I was rapping about titties and blunts, he was the first to tell me, "You need to grow the fuck up." I dont need some dude from the New York Post telling me "grow up." I didnt surround myself with a bunch of yes-men, so in my life, my surrounding cast and myself have a good grasp of how I want this thing to shape up so I dont pay any mind to the critics. Im sorry keep critiquing, you can keep telling me that, you know, youre not into it but for me I just gotta keep it natural. Cause [if] you get caught up in all that stuff, it starts to affect the music and I think its something that you dont wanna do.

Once we started using the Internet as the main marketing tool, I started to realise that all the sites Id check up on, I kept popping up on them, so I dont web-surf anymore. Honestly, I go to 49erswebzone because Im a big American football fan and I go to My Yahoo - and thats it. Then I have my Twitter and thats on my Blackberry. So my Internet-surfing game has gone way down the tubes and Ive just kinda found other ways to spend my time. Im completely cool with the fact that some people hate me. I have no problem with it, it is what it is. You cant please everybody. Like whats the reason for hating somebody like me? Im pretty non-threatening, Im just kinda doing my thing. I think Jay-Z said it best either love me or leave me alone, I think thats the realest shit.

DX: Earlier in the year you experienced a big backlash from your tongue-in-cheek comments on Twitter, the extent of which reinforced just how important blogs are right now. Has it changed the way you view them?
Asher Roth:
When that whole thing happened, and the response to it, I was like, "Whoa, I need to clarify myself." And that happened in five minutes. Imagine trying to get it pressed in a magazine, that takes months that shoot I did for Playboy about three months ago isnt coming out for another three months, so the press publications go through so much... but with the blogs its just bang-bang-bang and its out. Twitters absolutely crazy, the information.

DX: Has it made you paranoid or more wary of what you say?
Asher Roth:
Just in general I think its important that people appreciate and respect different ways of life. Theres a delicacy to how people were raised and theyll react differently to different things. People need to appreciate and respect that but for me, I think its important to get conversation out there so the way I feel about life, I dont think its wrong or anything like that, I just think its open for discussion I think its just, we need to get back to the basics of treat others how you want to be treated and, you know, talk about some things.

Its a long road of history and present and I think stuff like Twitter and the Internet is hella important because it allows you to have a foundation for instance coming off MySpace was a foundation built by myself, there wasnt a machine behind me - and with Twitter, its very personal, you can allow people to get to know who you are. Shaq has a sense of humour; you can see that in his Twitter. Who would've known?

DX: Did that experience suddenly labour you with the downside side of being an artist watching what you say in public and in the media?
Asher Roth:
Dealing with media its funny because, two things, one: dont act like a celebrity and people wont treat you like one, and I try my best to do that. Two, you cant let the media dictate your life. Once you start doing that, youre not living your life anymore. I was talking about Lily Allen earlier - I adore her because she just lives. Shes not worried about anything else. I totally appreciate that about somebody who even with the cameras in their face can totally just be themselves. But it just goes to show that as an artist and as a public figure you need to be on all the time.

DX: Dont you need an element of celebrity to sell?
Asher Roth:
Im not motivated by that shit at all. When I was talking about removing ego like, "Why havent I sold more records" but with I Love College in the States they were like, "Why dont you go into the studio and make 'I Love Vegas,' 'I Love Miami,' 'I Love California,' and do it all for these markets?" I was like, "No, thats absolutely not happening." Would it have gotten me more spins on all of those radio stations? Absolutely. It probably would have helped overall, but at the end of the day, thats compromising music thats already close to a parody already. And that automatically makes it that song, and it already almost is that song [laughing] so I didnt wanna go there. There are so many times Ive been in that situation where you do this and sell more records and I just dont wanna compromise my character - you know, who I am as a person.

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