Asher Roth hasn’t cut his hair in two years. You can see photos of him with his “hair like a troll doll”—as he rapped on “Lark On My Go Kart”—in the PW story from April 2009 when we put him on the cover, fresh off the explosive success of “I Love College,” an anthem that celebrated the carefree days of keg parties and crawling to the cafeteria the next day with a hangover. (The West Chester University Lawrence Dining Hall, to be specific.) Five years later, the Morristown native’s sophomore album, RetroHash, due out April 22nd, reflects his new Californian sensibilities: it’s a chill hang suite with jazzy melodies and trippy atmospherics. And the press photos make him look like a vegan who’s just found Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
We’re not mad. Roth ended up in L.A. by virtue of staying in close proximity to the producers and co-conspirators with whom he most enjoys making music. What they’ve come up with for RetroHash is pretty far off from his 2009 debut, Asleep in the Bread Aisle, while being obviously akin to it. There’s less hard rapping yet still some strong flows, with more attention paid to vibes and sincerity. Roth, like most musicians, was aiming at timelessness, something that could be enjoyed in all contexts for years to come.
“I’ve always been about feel and content,” he tells PW, musing on how versatile LPs are the ones he’s always loved, albums anyone could “throw on in any era: in the car, in the living room, something I can make breakfast to. I don’t want it to be a record I can only listen to working out or whatever.” There are clear strains of distinctly jazz-tinged hip-hop that made its mark in the ‘90s on this one, and the mention of some all-time favorite acts from that mix—like The Pharcyde and Digable Planets—seemed to hit home with Roth. He’s pumped to hear that RetroHash sounds like it culls from those talents.
Since Asleep, Roth’s collaborated on and put out a handful of free mixtapes—Seared Foie Gras with Quince and Cranberry (2010), The Rawth EP (2010), Pabst & Jazz (2011) and last year’s The Greenhouse Effect Vol. 2—but RetroHash is basically his second LP for sale. For a minute, Roth stupidly shunned the idea of playing the buzz-earning hits from Asleep, but wised up pronto. “My shit jumped off really quickly, and I had to really get my ego in check,” he admits. “I was … very impressionable and still a kid. I tried to do that with Pabst & Jazz and was very stubborn. Like ‘I’m just gonna play this new shit and nothing else.’” Needless to say, his stance didn’t go over very well. “People are there to vibe out and hear what’s familiar to them,” he knows now. So he and his band “vibe it out” to “Blunt Cruisin’” and “Sour Patch Kids,” he claims—and “it still goes off.”
By the way, just ‘cause Roth’s got a band doesn’t mean he’s got a crew. “I do somewhat keep to myself,” he confesses. “All these guys have their cliques, and I’m not really a part of that. It’s interesting because I’ve become an observer. These kids are rolling eight or nine deep, and I show up with my girlfriend.” It’s his lack of drive to fit in, to strive towards a marketable package, that’s working in his favor now. But he’s also fully aware that every unknown artist with a SoundCloud page is one hit away from stardom.
The fresh video for “Tangerine Girl” offers an encouraging glimpse into what Roth’s future holds. It’s funny. It’s a little psychedelic. But it’s real—the story of a fly roller-skating girl who gets picked up at the rink and wrangled into mediocre sex (that the dude is clearly more into than she is)—and it’s approachable, something that earned Roth his biggest and best fans.
“I think the relatability of that record is part of what I do,” he says. “I’m unapologetically white, and we never really had a distinct voice in hip-hop. Even when [Eminem] came in, he was still a voice that didn’t necessarily rep kids from Bucks County. The ‘College’ record definitely gave me a foundation of fans that want to relate to hip-hop music.”
Speaking of records and hip-hop, Roth still doesn’t understand why Philadelphia doesn’t get the hip-hop love it’s owed. “I romanticize Philly like crazy,” he says. “I don’t really know what the deal is; I don’t know why it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Why aren’t the Roots the first name out of someone’s mouth when they talk about hip-hop?”
Loyalty-bred frustrations aside, a ready-for-anything Roth says he’s “in a great place. I’m in a much better position out of the major label hierarchy of approval and permission. I’m just way less concerned with what everybody else thinks.”
Wed., April 2, 8pm. $12-$15. The Barbary, 951 Frankford Ave. 215.634.7400. thebarbary.org