Asher Roth Laments Being Typecast With "I Love College"
Exclusive: Asher Roth says, "There is no relationship with Def Jam," and details how his artistic intuition led him to go the independent route.
Asher Roth may have been the champ of beer pong four years ago, but since then he has grown into an emcee who experiments with live instrumentation and is adamant about his integrity. Getting ready for the release of his LP Retro Hash, Asher has severed the ties with Def Jam and is aiming to create music that is original and completely honest.
Asher speaks on the fellow artists featured on the XXL “Freshmen Class” list in 2009 also going through similar tribulations with the major labels and adds that there is a strong pushback in Hip Hop because of it. No longer dictated by labels or radio, he’s hoping RetroHash will gain him the respect as well as allow him to continue to grow as an artist.
Asher Roth Shares Hopes For Artistic Growth On “RetroHash”
HipHopDX: You’re gearing up to go on tour, right?
Asher Roth: Yeah, we just did an initial run through Philly, Boston and New York to get the live show together and play some of the new music. For me, a live show is super important, what I love to do and separates me as well. I think when people see me in a live show they really connect, so it’s been important for me to get out and about.
DX: “Pearly Gates” is a provocative track, and you mention Rick Ross and Drake. Can you elaborate on the line, “Bunch of lame excuses from the suits up in the music biz?”
Asher Roth: “Pearly Gates” is cathartic. I wanna be here for a while…not sure if it’s the same line, but [I say], “I don’t wanna live forever, but I sure hope it lasts long / Never underestimate the power of a Rap song.” That’s kinda on the same vibe of just really wanting to be able to take this next step, be here for a while in music, hang in and make music and have the luxury of having it be my job or my career. I felt like “I Love College” was so polarizing and people haven’t really allowed me from a prospective standpoint to grow out of that typecast. It’s just like, “Oh Asher’s just that party frat boy” or whatever it may be. And if I wasn’t making party frat boy music, then it wasn’t right, and that’s totally a generalization, but especially when I was making that record, that kinda stuff was weighing on me. It’s just one of those things like, “Yo man, I’m out here being myself—being genuine. All I ever did was tell you I was champ at beer pong.” I’m not out here lying and making shit up. I’m really genuinely just being myself, and that’s all I ever really wanted to be. I hope with this next record RetroHash and the same sentiment that I shared on “Pearly Gates,” kind of allowing me to grow up and progress.
How Asher Roth Balances Commercial Success & Experimentation
DX: Listening to The Rawth EP it’s obviously in a completely different place from “I Love College.” How do you appeal to the casual listeners who don’t listen to your mixtapes and haven’t witnessed your growth?
Asher Roth: It’s tough. I mean, I think about that a lot. Mainly because when you go over to Europe, they’re not dictated by radio, and they’re liking what they’re liking. I can go over there, perform stuff off the Rawth EP, and they’re right there with it. Whereas, if I do it in the states, I might have like five, six, seven fans in there that actually know what I’m rapping. That’s alright with the casual listeners, because it’s kinda dictated by hit records. And they feel validation when they hear you on the radio, and they’re like, “Alright, well I’m allowed to like it.” But for the most part, I wanna talk to my fans—the ones that are down to ride along and go with it. And if I’m lucky enough to score another hit that goes on the radio, and people wanna follow along from there—if they’re willing to dig deeper and they can see there’s a larger discussion here than just like, “Hey I’m popular.”
DX: “Low-brow talent is profound.” Knowing all this from feeling the “I Love College” triumph as well as stigma, how much interest do you have in being on the charts and/or radio again?
Asher Roth: It’s always nice; it’s validation again. If someone say’s, “Hey, you have a top-five selling album,” word. That’s clear, hard evidence of success, and that’s always nice. So if that happens, that’s great. More so for me, the focus has been on really doing stuff that makes me feel good when I’m up there, and I’m proud about it, instead of, “Hey Asher, here’s a song already written by one of our guys. If you just rap some verses on it, it’s a hit record.” It’s like entering in a cheat code, and I don’t feel like it’s that fun. It takes the fun out of the game. More so my focus has been creating really creative, original stuff. “Tangerine Girl” is nothing like anything I’ve created before. Did I try to do that because I wanted to be on the charts or anything like that? No, I just wanted to do something that was new and fresh to me, so then it will feel fresh to my audience.
DX: You have a rather unique and innovative perspective when it comes to your fans and their experiences with your music. You want them to be involved in terms of selecting live material for shows, track listing and cover art. How will those things come into play with your next release and tour?
Asher Roth: I launched “I Love College” on MySpace. So the Internet has always allowed me to talk to the fans. If we don’t have fans and they’re not engaged, I don’t have a job. As much as I wanna be selfish in the way that I create my stuff, if nobody likes it, and I can’t pay the rent, then I’m working at Coffee Bean. I’ve always been mindful of the opinions of the fans. I want them to feel engaged, and I want them to be part of the creative process. I’m a fan first at the same time. So if I’m listening to music and someone puts out a couple pieces of artwork and says, “Which one do you like best?” I get to say, “Hey, this one. I like this one.” And the next thing you know, the person you’re responding to says, “Hey, I appreciate that.” Not only does that make me feel amazing, it makes me feel like I’m a part of something. I think that’s something that’s cool about Hip Hop and Hip Hop communities. Something I’ve always held dear to is certainly the community-style things—people all together for the same reasons of just being good people. That’s why I’m geeked about the live show in the same thing…just trying to forge a genuine connection with my fans, because if they’re interested in my stuff, typically they’re gonna be probably interested in what I’m interested in. If you form those relationships and form those bonds, you’re stronger together than you are apart.
Asher Roth Credits His Current Sound To Knowing Himself Better
DX: You’ve experimented with Jazz, Rock and other genres that use live instrumentation. How did you get to this point?
Asher Roth: I don’t know. I think it’s the influences around me, the people that have come into my life and the conversations that I’m having. Obviously with the quiet time, I’ve been trying to get to know myself better. I think that relationship with self is super important. You have people telling you what to like, telling you what to wear and telling you what to eat. And so we’re going at a mile a minute. A lot of my friends wake up and they go to their jobs, they come home, they eat and they watch TV. They go to bed and they do it all over again. You don’t have a lot of time to feel a lot of stuff or have the opportunity to really get to know yourself.
I think getting to the point where I’m at now is taking the time, making the time to get to know myself and doing stuff that feels right. I feel like it’s super important to trust your tummy. Females have it; they call it that maternal intuition. That maternal gene like, “Something’s not right here. I don’t like this. I gotta get outta here.” I think it’s really important for people in general to just listen to themselves. If that’s the case, then you can start to do things that you can be happy about. Just where I am now is a sentiment of having a better relationship with myself and allowing me to branch out and meet some amazing people.
DX: It’s interesting you speak on that, because I feel like that’s really reflective in your music. It’s really your life journey, as your fans grow, you grow as well.
Asher Roth: I guess that’s my main gripe with the music industry in general and especially the people that I was working with. It’s like they constantly want you to talk to 13-year-old white girls. I don’t wanna always have to speak that language. But there’s so many fabulous, amazing people that I’d rather have a conversation with than just selling shit to 13-year-old white girls. That shit gets boring and played. I was very lucky that “I Love College” appealed to a diverse audience and especially a very young one. But to force me to stay there as a person—I think that more so than anything was the most aggravating thing—because all I wanted to do was grow and continue to grow. And like yes at one point I was there, but I am no longer there, and that should be okay.
DX: It’s so stifling.
Asher Roth: Yeah, you get it all the time. It’s really unfortunate that they don’t allow artists, and it’s not saying they don’t. I hate to say the word “they,” but a lot of the complaints are usually on not creating something. I’m talking more so in the modern music industry; it’s like selling singles and things of that nature has become kind of disposable. And if someone doesn’t wanna do the formulating song, they’ll get someone else that will. And it’s just a bummer, because music is super powerful and fuckin’ awesome, and to treat it like it doesn’t matter or it’s just a product is a bummer. But I honestly think that from Hip Hop and all these other genres, there’s a push back. The Internet has been amazing and blogs like yourself—even though it might not be the popular belief at the time—continue to support what they believe in, in time it comes back to the genuine, raw shit.
The Origins Of Asher Roth’s Cross-Genre Influences
DX: I agree. The Hip Hop scene is really incredible, and that’s because artists are really pushing the box of what they can do creatively.
Asher Roth: I feel like myself, Cudi, B.o.B. and a lot of those guys on the ’09 freshmen cover, I think we went through it. I think we did the major label stuff, and we actually saw how unfulfilling it was. I think the kids that came up after us saw the situations we got ourselves into and they were like, “Yo, fuck it ain’t even worth it. Let’s just do our thing.” That’s my mindset now, and I’m pretty sure everybody else’s. And it’s just do your thing, have fun with it, do what you believe in. With the Internet, if you have talent and work ethic, the cream will rise to the top.
DX: Moving forward with your music, how will RetroHash get you the genuine respect earned you spoke about on Sway in the Morning?
Asher Roth: I don’t know. I hope it does. It might not even be just RetroHash, it will probably be plethora of things. But I definitely think RetroHash is the first step in the direction of just being genuine, and this is who I am. I just think whether I’m talking to someone who’s having girl issues, like, “Oh, how did I say this?” Anybody that has to be brutally honest or is in an uncomfortable position, you can never hate on someone for keeping it 100. You can never hate on someone for being honest. It might not be what you wanna hear. It might not be what you need to hear, but if it’s honest, and it’s coming from a genuine place, you have to respect it. I just think that I’m putting out something that’s so genuine and so honest, that regardless if it goes number one, I think people are gonna hear it and be like, “Wow, I’m getting to know Asher. I feel like I know Asher better than I knew him beforehand.” Again, it’s about those relationships and forming those relationships with people who relate to the things I’m talking about and feel the things I’m talking about. And if we all can be in this together, I bet we can do some incredible shit.
DX: How much of the sound on RetroHash features the blended genre you and Nottz developed on The Rawth EP?
Asher Roth: Obviously the boom bap is still there, and the core is in Hip Hop. But I would say that RetroHash is more similar to Pabst & Jazz, because Blended Babies did the whole project. It’s very California, and it has a lot to do with me moving out to L.A…having that quiet time. It’s reflective about past relationships that were very superficial, but more so confused so to speak. Talking on that confusion, working through it, growing up, working though growing up and being okay with who you’ve become. That’s kinda what RetroHash is about. It’s almost this transformation. It starts out very reflective with “Party At The Discos,” and it kinda goes into who I am with the “Dude” record. Then hits this transformative portal if you will, with “Tangerine Girl,” “Pull It” and “Something For Nothing.” The vibe is I start to have these experiences that I’m pulling from, learning from and come out the end with “Be Right” and “Keep Smoking.” And this is gonna continue to grow. Gunther is actually gonna come out later. That’s a project that I’ve been working on with Travis [Barker] and Nottz. I think the parallels between RetroHash and Rawth would be the themes more so than the sounds.
DX: You take influence in production and sound from Indie Rock and obviously boom bap and Jazz sounds in your music. Does that reflect what you listened to growing up, that diversity?
Asher Roth: Yeah, for sure. And I’m always trying to listen to new stuff and get inspired by new stuff. When I get into my real Afro-beat stuff, you’ll know what I’m listening to and what I’m really connecting to by my music. I think it’s impossible for your influences in your life to not influence something as personal as music. That’s almost why I try not to listen to mainstream Top 40 radio. I try to check in now and then to see what’s up, but I’m not really attracted to it, so it’s hard for me to really go that route. The other stuff that I’ve been making—not to say it’s indie or anything— but it’s just so me. It’s so unique in its own way, because it’s really coming from me and not really anything else or me trying to do anything else except me trying to be as real as possible.
DX: Who specifically influenced your love for Hip Hop and overall sound?
Asher Roth: There’s so many. You can pull up that collage of Hip Hop artists and they’ve all done a little something that have allowed me to be here. The ones that pop up a bunch would be The Roots and the Wu-Tang Clan and Black Star. I just think The Roots obviously coming from Philadelphia, I will never not check out something that they’ve done and their contributions to music. And then listening to ODB rap—it’s like what? So dope and so fuckin’ raw. I remember Method Man saying on that track “The Ol’ Dirty Bastard because nobody fathered his style,” just like so true. Then the Talib Kweli Mos Def Black Star album. I remember “Brown Skin Lady,” and just the feel of that record. Just like, “Holy shit. Let me roll the windows down, and let’s go be outside and go down and be around women...beautiful women.” That’s the kind of stuff that I try to attract through my music in the same time…just fun, having drinks, being outside, beautiful women. That’s the kind of stuff I feel like my music reflects and is my interests.
DX: It sounds like the new project is going to have a lot of that good lovin’, good vibin’ feel.
Asher Roth: Yeah, and it’s cool because it’s talked about a lot. There’s moments where it gets a little darker and a little moodier, but I think that’s all a part of growing up. No one’s gonna be happy go lucky their entire life.
DX: Absolutely. On Sway you also mentioned that the hardest question to answer is: What do you want to accomplish? What is your answer to that question, where have you found clarity in your career?
Asher Roth: Shit. One thing for sure, I’m just trying to maintain my health, and it’s a tough game to do it. You gotta sacrifice sleep, you gotta sacrifice food and that kinda stuff is the pillar to it. I definitely want to maintain my health. I would not mind accumulating a little bit of wealth at the same time. For the most part, I definitely want to be able to do this for a while and just continue to progress. And it’s not anything too complicated. I’m just really happy right now, because I’m in an atmosphere where I get to eat good meals, and in the afternoon get to be around people that I love. I still get to have a drink, and I’m making music that I want to be making. I’m just really happy right now, and I just hope that money doesn’t become a factor where it’s like, “Yo Asher, you’re making this music and only 25 people are showing up. So you gotta go work at Coffee Bean.” It’s just like it’s a little bit of fear in that because of the relationship between music and money. When you are just doing your thing and you’re not necessarily in the business of music and playing that game, it’s up to you and it’s up to your relationship with your fans. I think that’s why my relationship with my fans is so important to me. What I want out of this is to maintain my health and keep having the experiences for sure.
How And Why Asher Roth Chose To Release Music Independently
DX: RetroHash is being released completely independently. You talked about money a little bit, but what are the financial ramifications of presumably making an album on your own dime?
Asher Roth: I don’t know if people really realize how much you have when you’re a major label artist—even if it’s just $500,000—which is typically a small budget for a major label artist. Working with even $250,000, what that goes into with lawyer fees, looking over contracts, shooting music videos and all that stuff. When you’re independent, you’re not playing with house money, so you don’t really have the opportunity to make a lot of mistakes. I know firsthand being around some of these major label artists, they’ll shoot a $750,000 music video and then just shelf it…obviously the high ends is in the million dollars, but $750,000? Like Nah! If you’re an independent artist, that’s not happening.
It teaches you how to budget. It teaches you to put your best foot forward and really don’t be wasteful…be very efficient, be productive. To me, I think that’s amazing. Obviously it sucks because your like, “Shit, I gotta work my ass off.” I’m not gonna fool myself. I’m sure you feel the same way. Who doesn’t wanna be on the beach, drinking a Corona, hanging out with their babe? Who doesn’t want to be doing that? No one wants to be grinding in the rain in New York City nonstop. But if you’re very committed to your way, you’re gonna have to sacrifice the beach for the rain sometimes, and it’s gotta be okay. That’s gotta be okay. It’s just a mentality at this point. From a financial standpoint, I totally wish we had a little bit more help, but it also helps with relationships with people. You have to learn that those things are more important than currency sometimes. Some people are like, “Hey Ash, you’re my dude. I’ll shoot this video for free, or I’ll do it for the low.” Whereas somebody else comes a long, and the same dude will charge $50,000. You start to see in the independent world how far being genuine and how far relationships with people and how far those things go over the dollar.
DX: Was that your choice to embark on this independently?
Asher Roth: Absolutely. I mean, I can’t even call it independent, because like I said, those people that do shoot music videos. Even the conversation I’m having with you, the fact that you were even interested enough to wanna write up on it. We’re so interdependent upon that. I just try my best to be self-sufficient and play my part, because there’s are so many other people who their hard work, and their dedication goes into this. It was absolutely my choice; I call it the scenic route. Obviously, you gotta walk around a little bit more. I just feel like it’s more fulfilling. I feel like it’s more fun for me, and I feel like all of those new experiences are gonna happen on this route. I’m absolutely gonna have my moments where I’m like, “Fuck man, this is hard. But it’s just like that age-old saying, anything worth having, is gonna be hard, should be hard.
DX: What is your current relationship with Def Jam?
Asher Roth: There is no relationship. I respect the label and obviously it’s history. What they’ve contributed to Hip Hop is undeniable. I have the 25 years of Def Jam [Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label] on my coffee table, and they’ve obviously brought some amazing artists into the world. But there’s no relationship there anymore.