Forget Asher Roth. Mr. Lif is the Real Face of Hip-Hop

A suburban kid does not rise to the top. But here's somebody who might.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted May. 12, 2009

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Fear, loathing and dred: Mr. Lif’s new album paints a vivid portrait of our current ills.

Grand opening/grand closing: Just a month ago we here at PW Hip-Hop Labs Co. Inc. put fresh-faced 23-year-old Morrisville, Pa., youngster Asher Roth on the cover with the subhead: A suburban kid is poised to become the new face of hip-hop.

It seemed a reasonable statement at the time. Roth was everywhere—all up in your MTV, Vanity Fair, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, XXL. The lead single off his debut Asleep in the Bread Aisle, the hedonist ode to youthful carnality “I Love College,” was already a certified hit, selling close to 1 million downloads on iTunes.

Just days before Asleep hit store shelves on 4/20, Asher was at the eye of a perfect storm of press; a tsunami of hype; a cyclone of interest; an earthquake of marketing. This kid, it seemed at the time (way back, 28 days ago), had legs. And considering he’d been cosigned by some of the biggest names in rap—Beanie Sigel, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, Cee-Lo, DJs Drama and Cannon—it was reasonable to assume that Roth could finally give the white suburban youth that grew up devouring hip-hop a face.

Tom Breihen, former blogger for Village Voice and current staff writer for Pitchfork, predicted on Gawker that Roth’s first week would be huge, and that he’d sell 300,000 copies of Asleep.

Reality: 70,000.

So what happened?

A few things: That perfect storm of press sunk Roth’s ship. One of the biggest criticisms against Roth from the hip-hop community was that he was an industry invention, pieced together by manager Scott “Scooter” Braun like some modern day B-boy Frankenstein to sell to suburbanites interloping in a genre loved (and protected) by millions. Fans of hip-hop aren’t teenage girls pining for the new Jonas Brothers, and took offense to being treated as such. Especially from a guy named “Scooter.”

Second: Twitter.

Roth, on a college tour stop, let forth with a much misguided Tweet: “At Rutgers ... hanging out with nappy headed hoes.”

In that Tweet—and an interview with the AP in which he essentially called the last 15 years of hip-hop a minstrel show—Roth had managed, just a few days after his debut release, what both the Beastie Boys and Eminem avoided their entire careers: stepping in a huge, steaming pile of racially insensitive doo-doo.

It came to a head when Eskay of Nah Right—just named top hip-hop blog by Vibe magazine, for what that’s worth—banned Roth from his site until he either got an explanation or apology.

He’d get both. Roth issued a statement—after the chorus grew so loud he could no longer ignore it—about being “immature” and, at 23, “an imperfect human being.”

“I don’t think Asher’s a racist,” Eskay told me from his home in New York City. “The mistake he made is something that I could definitely personally forgive him for, but I felt like he needed to say something about it. He’s someone who I, as a black blogger, supported and he’s a white hip-hop artist and now I feel like I’m in an awkward position. I felt like [his tweet] was something that needed to be cleared up,” says Eskay of the artist his readers accused him of being paid by Roth’s label to write about.

Now the hip-hop blogosphere is treating Roth like someone who’s handing out free AIDS, avoiding him completely except for the occasional “Fuck is this guy’s problem?” As such, Roth’s career seems about as over now as it seemed promising just a few short weeks ago.

There’s a point to be made here about new media—both of the power of one man’s blog and artists digging holes for themselves via new media apparatus Twitter–but I’ll leave that to someone who’s not a six pack of Schmidt’s tallboys into his Sunday afternoon.

Anyway, Roth’s in town Friday at Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, N.J., a stones throw from Rutgers. D’oh! See “Week’s Worst” for show details.


Lif’s sobering gift: It’s hard to think of someone in rap today as antithetical to Roth as Philly’s own Mr. Lif, whose moody, dark new album I Heard It Today is the polar opposite of the sun-baked, marijuana-fueled happy haze of Asleep.

Mr. Lif is pissed. And don’t think, as he says at Today’s opening, that just because Obama is president that everything is suddenly hunky-dory. (I’m paraphrasing that last part, obvs.)

The album takes such a hard-line stance against the failure of the American dream and the obstacles designed to keep a brotha down, it reminded me of a statement made recently by KRS-One and posted on YouTube, that Obama being elected president just means “the New World Order now has a darker face.”

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1. Amy said... on May 13, 2009 at 09:14AM

“So basically you're retracting your Asher Roth hype as soon as it started. How could you NOT see through that bullshit the first time? The first time I heard "I Love College," I threw up in the back of my mouth a little bit. I'll be booing the hell out of him when that asshole plays the Roots picnic.

Mr. Lif has been around forever - but good to see you give him props.

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2. Rick said... on May 13, 2009 at 11:53AM

“Hahaha. Trueeee... Asher is waaaaack. That is not and never will be hip hop!”

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3. Hater said... on May 13, 2009 at 12:29PM

“Here's an Idea, "PUT MR LIF ON THE COVER!"”

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4. Cole said... on May 14, 2009 at 12:37PM

“Asher roth has no one to blame except himself for being a hip hop fabrication, a fantasy of greasy old white record exec's who only see dollar signs and not talent or creativity when looking for the 'next big thing'. not to mention hes just shitty at rapping, i don't think I'm particularly good but I think I could out battle that hack.”

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5. Steady said... on Nov 18, 2010 at 11:51PM

“Nice post. Boo to Rosh, props to LIf, what I like to hear.

But "Philly's own?" I thought Lif was from Boston.”

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