Can a white suburban kid change the face of hip-hop?
Still, the debate over Roth’s career in hip-hop circles rages on. Right now there’s a thread on Okayplayer.com—the 10-year-old hip-hop forum started by the Roots—titled, “So … um … Asher Roth sucks.” It sparked a newer thread, “So … um … Asher Roth is a fresh breath of air.” Both threads have fans going back and forth about the positives and negatives of Roth’s rise to fame—his detractors saying he’s a marketing gimmick and nothing more, his supporters patting him on the back for being who he is.
And it’s not just on Okayplayer. Every time Ahsmi Rawlins of Nah Right posts a Roth video or song to his popular hip-hop blog, commenters are bitterly divided for and against, Rawlins told the Wall Street Journal. The primary criticism? “He sounds like Eminem.”
Wilson sees the Eminem problem: “Even though Eminem has opened up a lot of doors of proving that a white emcee can be really credible, I think every time a white rapper emerges, the hip-hop audience is kind of skeptical at first no matter what,” he says.
Roth has found himself in the shadow cast by Eminem long enough to write a song about him. Track 8 on Asleep, “As I Em,” deals with the ever present elephant in the room. He raps, “Every interview I feel like I say the same thing, like ‘Em was great, he paved the way for me/ He was an inspiration for everybody from A to Z’/ But they keep relatin’ me ... and now the masses think that Asher wants to be a Marshall Mathers/ They say ‘Asher’s not a rapper, he’s just an actor’/ ’cause we have same complexion and similar voice inflection it’s easy to see the pieces and to reach for that connection/ Each second of every minute, each hour of every day/ I’m constantly on the defense defending my own name/ Explaining we’re not the same.”
Considering Em is releasing his own album less than a month after Roth— Relapse on May 19—the comparisons won’t soon stop.
Still, besides their identical delivery, there’s not much the two have in common.
The creation myth of superstar Eminem has always centered on his growing up poor and in a broken home on the wrong side of the tracks in Detroit. Conversely, up-and-coming Roth happily admits he grew up in relative comfort in suburban Morrisville and that he profited from his time in college.
There are also differences in marketing strategies.
“I see him being marketed as this college kid, the frat kid. I hope the industry doesn’t push him into that because it really isn’t him,” says Carolyn Rees, a junior at Penn State who dated Roth for two years at West Chester and has known him for eight years. “When I first went to Penn State, he made me promise—he told me to never ever date a frat guy … but that’s who I think he’s being sold as.”
“It’s going to happen regardless. I couldn’t stop it if I tried,” Roth says of the marketing machine. “I want it to be about the music. I don’t want it to be about the marketing or the fact that I’m white or whatever. Anybody who wants to come along on the journey because you relate on an emotional level or a humanistic level, let’s ride.”
Musing about similar issues in an interview with MTV, Roth said: “I don’t want to build my career off ‘I Love College.’ It’s a concept record. It’s almost a novelty record. Did I expect that it would launch my career? Absolutely not. I wrote that song for me. I was sitting on my couch thinking about college and how I loved it. Next thing you knew you had a bunch of people being like, ‘I feel that same exact way.’”
The year is 2006 and Asher Roth has just decided to give up on hip-hop. He’d rapped throughout high school, funded the release of one album, and had another put out by a small label, but he didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. He decided to refocus, start pursuing a degree in elementary education and become a grade school teacher.
Then the phone rang.
On the other end was Scott “Scooter” Braun, a major player in hip-hop marketing and party promotion who’d happened upon Roth’s MySpace page after Roth requested Braun’s friendship. Braun listened to Roth’s songs, and thought he had talent.
Roth’s friend Tom Boyd answered the phone.
Having grown up in fairly close proximity to Morrisville, PA, up there in Lower Bucks County, it seems to me that nothing much good, bad, or otherwise has happened in or come out of Morrisville (except for super-duper journalist/publicist Howard Wuelfing, but that’s a bit “inside baseball,” sorry…). Until now, anyway, with the lightning-fast rise [...]
PW's music editor followed some of Philly's best musicians to Austin for the music festival. Mr. Lif, Amanda Blank, The Death Set and Asher Roth all made the scene. Here's how they sounded.
There are a few things you notice about Bucks County rapper and soon to be mega-star Asher Roth when you meet him. 1) He’s tiny. Like Hobbit small. And when he shakes your hand, says “Hi, I’m Asher,” you feel you could break every tiny bone in his little tiny hand with just a modest [...]
PW's Music Issue 2014