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Asher Roth interview

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Hailing from a small suburban town with a population of just over 10,000 called Morrisville, Pennsylvania, the white, college dropout Asher Roth is far from your average rapper. He is hotly tipped for big things in '09 according to most industry insiders which has included gracing the cover of leading Hip-hop magazine XXL as one of the top 10 freshmen. Lead single 'I Love College' from debut album ' Asleep in the Bread Aisle' has surpassed 3 million hits on YouTube within a month of being uploaded and was recently selected as record of the week by leading Radio 1 tastemaker Zane Lowe.

Being hearalded as the hottest white rapper since Eminem has it's pros-and-cons, most notably the comparisons drawn. However, Em' wasn't the person who inspired the new white rapper on the block to pick up the mic. Asher bought Jay-Z's 'Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life' after hearing the Annie sample in the single of the same name. He name checks artists such as Mos Def and A Tribe Called Quest as artists he admires.

To mark the release of 'I Love College' (6th April) and 'Asleep in the Bread Aisle' (20th April), caught up with Asher Roth to find out why he hopes to go head-to-head with Eminem, if he's just a white guy trying to exploit black music and why he isn't a rapper. I Love College is the first single, what would you have been if you weren’t a rapper?
Asher Roth:
Well I was in school to become an elementary school teacher. I still have a passion to do that but in a sense this is an opportunity to educate more than 25 school kids in a classroom. How would you describe your character when you were in school? Asher Roth: I wouldn’t say I was the class clown, but I always got needs improvement grades on speaking at inappropriate times. I kept it light-hearted and fun. Teachers either loved me or absolutely hated me. I was a smart kid. I was a pretty good student but only when I wanted to be. I was stubborn in a sense where if I didn’t like a teacher, I just wouldn’t learn.

I have a lot of problems with the educational system as far as what they are teaching us. I feel like we are totally programmed for the cubicle and they almost discourage us from thinking outside of the box and asking why and why not, and if we ask why and why not they just reply “‘cos”. It’s a little strange.

I was always impacted by the teachers who closed the book and talked to us on how we wanted to learn. Kids learn visually, audibly - it’s all different. I feel it is like radio. Teachers get into it for the passion of teaching, and radio DJ’s are passionate about music, but then they are just told what to do and they can‘t go outside of that or they‘ll get into trouble. What drew you to Hip-hop opposed to another genre?
Asher Roth:
Coming from the suburbs I wasn’t involved in Hip-hop, I wasn’t in the scene. I was always on the outside looking in. I guess right around 13/14, my most impressionable ages, I started to gravitate towards the fact it was different, edgy, my friends were listening to it and that’s just group theory, if your friends like it you like it.

It was the only type of music that wasn’t in my household. My parents were listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Bruce Springsteen, Motown... my sisters were listening to the pop sensations. My parents didn’t really want me listening to it, so the rebellious side of me just got drawn to Hip-Hop. Your friends are more influential than your parents are gonna be. Which is your favourite era?
Asher Roth:
We were having this debate yesterday that it’s hard to compare MC’s because they are basically playing different games. Probably the early 90’s, ‘90-94. But that era when it was still about the music, when it wasn’t about ringtones or any beef or anything like that - I mean it was still prevalent but the dopest MC’s were live, everything was just fresh.

But then around the turn of the millennium is when it got confused and weird and started to talk about ‘Oh I got this and you don’t got this’ and east coast, west coast and got caught up in all the wrong things. Music is cyclical and it looks like its coming back. For the first time, there is actually a youth movement where there’s new MC’s coming in and the old ones are just calling it a day.

No one really wants to rap when they are 40 years old, your priorities change and you get to a point where you have your money and it’s time to settle down and have kids. I say all the time that if I’m rapping when I’m 40 then I’m pretty bummed out. I did it wrong. You’re only one mixtape deep [Greenhouse Effect] as opposed to those who have recorded many before getting signed. You’ve also got strong Internet fan base. A lot of older artists complain about the Internet - how have you used it to your advantage?
Asher Roth:
My fan base is going to be kids and that’s who are buying Hip-Hop albums. Like when I got into it at 12, 13, 14, I was pressing my parents for these albums and I was the one who was into it, my parents weren’t into it. Yes, you want the respect from the older generation, you always want to impress a 45 year-old with your words and be like ‘this kids actually wise‘, but in essence Hip-hop music is for the kids.

With the Internet - Facebook, Myspace and even Twitter now - people get a chance to not only buy into the music, but buy into the personality and the lifestyle. That’s what we were able to introduce through, the Facebook, people were getting an entire presentation, rather than just basing the whole thing off the music. They got to see pictures, videos, this and that, and people were able to see what was going on outside of the music. If you think about the superstars, the superstars are the ones who were able to introduce themselves, rather than just their music.

The reason why I think my project is so successful is because I’m able to introduce a perspective that’s nothing brand new, but its a perspective that’s been neglected in Hip-hop, like what’s a white kid from the suburbs got to tell me. With ‘I Love College’, it’s just a celebratory song like let’s get together and enjoy ourselves. All I want is for people to be comfortable in their own skin, you don’t have to wear Nike and drink Gatorade to be cool, and you have to enjoy yourself while you’re here ‘cause life is so short. The media and society put a lot of pressure on kids to “be cool”. You’ve graced the Freshmen cover of XXL [along with Kid Cudi, Wale, B.o.B, Charles Hamilton, Mickey Factz, Ace Hood, Cory Gunz, Blu, Curren$y]; from the last top 10 freshmen by XXL only Lupe Fiasco and Plies made anything of themselves. What distinguishes you from the pack?
Asher Roth:
Well, for one I’m white! Everyone wants to know what the wild white boy will say. Everyone talks about the Eminem thing, but I have this one song on the album called ‘As I Am’ and it addresses all the comparisons. At the end of the day, being white and in Hip-hop, if you can breakthrough - I mean there are a lot of white MC’s, don’t get me wrong, but they are “underground MC's” - to the mainstream see success, mainly because they are white - it’s just the way it is.

There are a lot of white kids buying Hip-hop and of those kids - I’m not going to throw numbers around ’cause I don’t know statistics - but I’ve heard numbers like 80% of consumers are white kids from the ‘burbs. When they can see a rapper, because they are so influenced by Hip-hop, they see a rapper that they look like they are immediately attracted to that.

Right off the bat, it’s being the one white MC out of 10 that immediately set me apart. But at the end of the day, my music is very warm and light-hearted, and like I said it brings a totally different perspective. I’m not trying to make anything up; I’m just giving myself on a [CD].

That’s what I think ‘Asleep In The Bread Aisle‘, which comes out in stores April 20th in UK, April 21st in US is. It’s music which I think is important rather than rapping over rap beats. Not saying there is anything wrong with that, it’s just that I feel it is important to incorporate music into what you do: guitar solo’s, harmonica’s - there’s all different instruments on this album. And content man, I think that’s something that’s important to say something. Why waste anybodies time telling them how great you are and what you have and what other people don’t?

People don’t wanna to hear that. For a while the whole bling era was cool, but you have a roundtable discussion with your friends and everybody’s like “I can’t relate to that”. I’m trying to bring not an MTV reality series because that’s not reality, but just some reality to Hip-hop. Obviously, it helps you greatly being white but have you noticed any obstacles with being white?
Asher Roth:
Absolutely, there’s pros and cons with everything. For me, like you said, there haven’t been many white MC’s that have broken through to the mainstream, you can count them on one hand, so immediately when you come out as a white kid rapping it’s like “ah, that’s just Eminem’”, or “that’s just a Beastie Boy”. Your job as an artist is to distinguish yourself and differentiate yourself. That’s my job now because that’s just how humans get down, for them to make sense of it they compare it to something else. That’s not just because I’m a white kid rapping. If I was Latino, they’d compare me to B-Real because when someone asks you [you describe it as] “well, its like...” and you’re constantly comparing stuff to what it is.

The uphill battles are it’s still black music. Hip-hop will probably always be considered black music, so some people consider me just being a white kid trying to exploit make money off black music which just isn’t the case, because being young, yet, yeah I didn’t grow up in Hip-hop, but when I was in my most impressionable stages, [Hip-hop] is what raised me. This is really just what I know. I never wanted to be a rapper, I was just doing it, it’s so who I am, it’s not really what I do.

It’s interesting because the whole connotation to rapper and the whole white kid rapping is almost a joke. You see how it’s glorified with the big chains and baggy jeans, and it’s almost like a mockery. I’m not trying to fool anybody; who you see in videos and on records is who you’re getting right now. There’s no celebrity. With David Bowie, everybody knows the celebrity but they don’t know David Bowie. With me it’s just Asher Roth 365 days a year. There was a label battle which included rapping for Jay-Z.
Asher Roth: Yeah, that was fun, especially because that was the first CD I bought, and he was so inspirational with me getting into Hip-hop, so that was really cool. That was just starting when the whole MySpace campaign launched, I started to do the run around and we went to around everybody’s offices. It was wild in a sense of we didn’t have a demo out or anything. The music I was doing before with one of my sister’s friends from school didn’t really take any legs and it wasn’t who I was, so I wasn’t going to play that for executives.

All the stuff off the MySpace is what we were running with, but that’s not a demo; a demo of original music isn’t rapping over other people’s beats. I really had no music at the time. So these execs. had to base it off of just straight raps. Some people got it, some people didn’t, some people wanted to hear real music, but everybody was interested. You couldn’t deny that there was talent there, but potential and talent are very scary words, you have to turn that into something.
When you get into the music business, you have to sell records. There is probably a million rappers better than I am, but there are tangibles in what I do as far as being outgoing, being well-spoken, being able to sit down and talk to people. There are some celebrities and people who can’t do that. Performance - there’s a lot that goes into being a straight rapper and that‘s why some people breakthrough to mainstream and not.

Rapping for Jay was my test to see if I could be here or not. It was very impromptu to go rap for Jay-Z. My friend Shakir Stewart, RIP Shakir Stewart, said he would like me to rap for one of his friends, so I thought it was going to be a female intern, I make a hard right and I’m in Jay’s office. He’s all glowing and got his aura going on, it was like whoa! Some people would have shut down. When Steve Rifkind signed me, he put me through a series of tests. It was like a make-or-break moment. How comes the Jay-Z thing never worked out?
Asher Roth:
No music or he may not have been feeling it. Who knows? [laughs] But really like, from my take on things is Jay was like there’s no music to base it off. Yeah this kid can rap but it’s like what we were talking about before, there’s a lot that goes into it. You’ve stated how important it is to be someone the fans can relate to, but if this album blows up and sells a lot, how do you intend on staying grounded?
Asher Roth:
That’s going to be another battle, man. I mean, it’s so important for me to speak honestly and have integrity and actually be a spokesperson for a lot of people that don’t have a voice. It’s like we should have a voice. That’s not just white kids, its kids, people my age: black, white, Latino or Asian. We have an opinion, like you saw with the election in America. With the election of Obama, that was because of the young people, because there’s still the whole of middle of America that are like “I ain’t voting for Barack Obama because he’s a black guy".

It’s ridiculous that people still think this way. That’s why this youth movement is so important, I have a lot of black friends, so for me, I don’t even see that shit. Hip-hop is very influential, so it’s important for this movement to say “Look we have to get over that. We’ve got bigger problems” and Hip-hop will be very pivotal. I’m excited, 2009 is going to be a good year for Hip-hop and moving forward, because there are some fresh stuff coming in. It’s about aligning our priorities and making good music rather than making money.

If money changes me then I am not the person I thought I was. I have pretty good people around me that won‘t let me start to slip like that, and I think that’s super important. You need good people around you. Like you said, if and when you start seeing success and seeing a lot of money, things can start going left real quick, and you can start feeling yourself. My whole approach is to keep it honest and as real as possible. The costumers smart and they’ll sniff that out right out. Eminem’s long-awaited return album is scheduled to be released near yours. Do you see it as a hindrance?
Asher Roth:
It’s going to be interesting. It might be the best possible thing that happens. If Em’ drops the same time as me he’ll probably sell much more than me. It’s Eminem, look at ‘Crack a Bottle’ it went straight to number 1. He’ll probably sell more records than me, but it will drastically change the perspective because people will be like “they’re two totally different artists. Listen to Em’s album [then] listen to Asher’s album. There’s really no resemblance.” That’s what I always thought was interesting.

Of course growing up being 15/16 and rapping, you are emulating what you are hearing whatever you think is cool at the time. Everybody was listening to Em and I’m a white kid so Em was like our hero. At the same tip, I couldn’t relate to what Em was talking about. Lyrically he was a demon, the problems with his wife, his mother, the fact he had a child; I couldn’t relate to any of that.

Yes, we’re both white but the content is totally different human beings. If Em drops at the same time it’ll bring clarity to the situation, so I hope it happens. I know the label will be mad because they live by numbers, but I don’t live my life by numbers. I was meditating one time and numbers were running through my head like the matrix and the message was clear that I should stop living by bank account numbers, dates and times, and just live. I feel bad for the label. Concentrate on the message and the movement rather than how many records we’re selling. How did you come to naming your album ‘Asleep In The Bread Aisle’?
Asher Roth: I was sitting there talking to my friend, he’s a dope painter, and we were talking about some drunken stories. He was telling me about his buddy who woke up real hung-over at 10 o’clock in the morning, and was like “Man, I really need to get some Gatorade and some food”. He’s in the grocery store and they are running around getting whatever and they can’t find their boy, they’re like where is he? And he’s asleep in the bread aisle.

It was so contusive to what I was doing because the bread aisle, essentially, is money and money makes people do really ridiculous things like sell-out. We’ve seen it with people like Vanilla Ice to whoever. It makes them put on a character to sell records. With me, rather than trying to conform I try to respond by not showering wearing basketball shorts and just chilling.

‘I Love College’ is my world, I was there for like 2 and a half years, but for me that song was written in retrospect. I wish I could go to college for the rest of my life, but I’m gone from it now. Now my whole battle is everybody thinks I’m a frat boy rapper. I wasn’t in a frat, I’m out of college. My battle now is really introducing myself. Last question, on your MySpace you say you aren’t a rapper, at the end of Roth Boys, you say “Rapper of the year and I ain’t even a rapper”, yet on The Lounge you say you can’t define a rapper. What are you?
Asher Roth:
I would like to consider myself a songwriter, or a lyricist, or an MC or something of that nature. The reason why it’s just the connotation it’s picked up within the last 10 years. It’s just really that word. Like why is there be like 5 different words, MC, lyricist, rapper... like why are there different words?

I was waiting tables in college and I told one of my customers that I was leaving and I was going down to Atlanta to go pursuit a dream, and he goes “Oh what do you do?” I said a rapper and he just got up and left. Can I blame him? Not really. The connotation rapper has picked up is just negative. Rather than try to change this whole word rapper, I’m just gonna not consider myself a rapper. One of my girls was like “you’re making Rap music; you’re a rapper”, which is cool. You can call me whatever, but if I was to call myself something, it wouldn’t say I was a rapper. Not even to discredit that word, but I am not in that world. So is the writing on the wall for Gangsta rap in your opinion?
Asher Roth:
I think it’s about that time. It will be around, but if you look at The Game for example who was the last person to really come out talking that kinda stuff. Was he successful? Yes, but were people relating to it? No. You go to Los Angeles and Mexico that stuff gangs and stuff still exist but is that what we should be glorifying, no. People can disagree with me because there is a struggle in this country but rather than glorify gangs and make kids wanna join gangs I think we should concentrate on building and teaching rather than destroying shit.

April 6th I Love College
April 20th Asleep in the Bread Aisle
For more info and FREE Greenhouse Effect mixtape link go to:


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