With "I Love College," Asher roth has the biggest smash of '09. It just might ruin his career. The misrepresentative single is an awful introduction to a clever, witty rapper. For one, he doesn’t really rap in it. We rang up the 23-year-old MC on the eve of his album's release to talk backlash and blunt cruisin'. And, yes, believe it or not, more intellectual topics.
Time Out Chicago: Your record came out on 4/20. So, did you finish it eight months ago and sit on it for the weed holiday release date?
Asher Roth: It’s been done for a while, yeah, and I hoped things would linger a bit. Sure enough, I was like, “Yo, 4/20.” It works perfectly.
TOC: On your Twitter you mention how your publicist, Dana, scored you a free Wii and Mario Kart. Is this the power that fame brings?
Asher Roth: I’m just a kid. So, I’m in New York, driving around in a van. I think, Man, it would be so dope to get a Wii right now. I holler at Dana. Next thing you know there’s a Wii at the hotel with Mario Kart.
TOC: On “Lark in My Go Kart” you brag about your Mario Kart skills. I’m not a big gamer, but I think I can take you out on Mario Kart.
Asher Roth: We talking N64 or Wii? I gotta get my Wii game up. On 64, I’m disgusting. I’m getting’ better. I’m not… see, I didn’t single out which edition on the song. However, the artwork has it as Mario Kart Wii. I’m still getting there on that system.
TOC: How much are you keeping up with your recent press coverage?
Asher Roth: I try to ignore it for the most part. For me, the press and the marketing, all that is not what’s important. What people think about me is not what I want to focus on, but some stuff gets through the barriers and the shields that I put up. I pick and choose what I want to check out. There are definitely some opinions that I respect. I’m not a big jerk. I want to see how some people perceive it, but at the same time I can’t be bothered with every blog.
TOC: One particularly harsh review of “Lark on My Go-Kart” bitched that “there are too many pop culture references.” Are they aware of hip-hop lyrics?
Asher Roth: Pop culture references are what connect people from all over the place. When I mention stuff like that, people form Missouri will be like, “Yeah! Kelly Kopowski! Hell fucking yeah!” For someone to be bummed out by that, man, I don’t even want them to be following the project.
TOC: So how sick are you of constantly being compared to MC Serch?
Asher Roth: [Laughs] It’s getting annoying, man.
TOC: The white rapper “controversy” kills me. It’s been almost twenty years since 3rd bass Young Black Teenagers.
Asher Roth: It’s pretty interesting to see the evolution.
TOC: On the record, you’re well aware of the discourse, and addressing it.
Asher Roth: Look, I know where I’m from, I know what my place is. I know where my lane is. Some people get it, “This dude is playing himself.” The consumer is smart. I am very much a fan first, and that really helps in my presentation.
TOC: Does it bother you that “white rapper” is still an issue?
Asher Roth: Absolutely. But we have to be patient. It’s something that is delicate, politics and race lingers. I can’t just be like, “C’mon guys, everything is cool, right? We’re fucking cool, right?” There’s definitely some touchy subjects. We need to get to a point as humans where it’s like, “Alright, there’re more important things to talk about.”
TOC: It seems like more white people have an issue with it.
Asher Roth: I’ve been getting that vibe too.
TOC: You’re playing with the Beastie Boys at Lollapalooza. Did you grow up listening to them?
Asher Roth: I didn’t know about [playing with them at Lollapalooza]. I really appreciate the Beastie Boys. The Roots, too. Just having fun and making dope shit—the Beastie Boys are the epitome of that. Having fun and making dope shit.
TOC: “I Love College” brings to mind the License to Ill material the Beasties later disowned, no?
Asher Roth: As far as getting fucked up and having a good time—that’s where my priorities were. But at the same time there’s other stuff going on as well.
TOC: What are you more proud of, your mixtape [2008’s The Greenhouse Effect] or album?
Asher Roth: The album. Definitely. It’s more of a statement. It’s a different presentation. The mixtape, I didn’t even know it was going to be that popular. I was just in the basement, going, “Doing jumping jacks / With flapjacks,” just goofing around and having a good time. With the album it’s like, let’s continue to have a good time, but not waste people’s time.
TOC: Will you still make mixtapes?
Asher Roth: Mixtapes never helped much with careers until Lil Wayne. The Clipse, too. The mixtape morphed recently with the internet. They’re a way to get some points across without a major label. I’m sure I’m gonna mingle on stuff that’s not album presentation, absolutely. Will I release a 23-25 track Asher Roth mixtape? I don’t know. I’m really more about quality over quantity. There’s a lot to do.
TOC: “Quality over quantity”—sounds like a slam of Lil Wayne.
Asher Roth: You can take it how you want it. A lot of people don’t really care about what they’re putting out as long as their name’s on it. I choose my words carefully, I pick my battles carefully. When I put my name on something I want it to be no regrets.
TOC: Have you battled before?
Asher Roth: I was never in Summer Slam or Jam or blaze battles. Coming up in Morrisville, PA, there were definitely circuits and people messing around.
TOC: Never crossed over to Trenton?
Asher Roth: Nah. There are battle MCs who do that for a living. There are battle MCs who could never write a song. I realized that at an age when I focused on writing and collecting my thoughts.
TOC: Do you keep a journal?
Asher Roth: I do. It’s morphed these days. I keep a video journal on a Flip. But I need to keep writing down. It’s important to not turn everything into digital. It’s a bummer. I can’t lose that cold, hard writing with a pencil and book.
TOC: Every article on you mentions your audition with Jay-Z and the freestyle you presented him. Have you ever used that freestyle on a record?
Asher Roth: No, it was just a verse that encompassed my feelings at the time. It’s irrelevant now. I’m not in college anymore. I talk about wanting to get a deal. It goes on for a long time, just four minutes of straight rapping. It’s about the frustrations of paying attention in class, being forced to make a living. The education system is programming people. The Jay-Z thing gets blown out of proportion. It was not a meeting of the minds. It was just a business decision of whether to sign me or not. I had no real music. It’s being perceived as I walked in and had tea and crumpets.
TOC: I’ve always just read it as an audition.
Asher Roth: That’s what it was. An audition. I was kickin’ it in moccasins and chillin’.
TOC: Let’s go back. You think college programs people?
Asher Roth: Well, high school, public school. More money is being cut for physical education, music, art and everything that allows people to think left. It’s disturbing how they’re programming people for the cubicle. Some teachers come in with good intentions. But then they put parameters around what they can teach and how they teach. Occasionally, we got those teachers who closed the book and talked to us about how we wanted to learn. Educational system really ignores that. That’s really why I started to rap.
TOC: Why do you not work any of these deeper thoughts into “I Love College”?
Asher Roth: Because that song’s what college is really about. If I came out trying to preach that shit, people would be like, “Are you serious? Shut the fuck up! I’m trying to smoke and drink.” I’m one of those kids. I understand that. What’s funny is this music biz is so much like high school. If you have the least bit understanding of psychology and sociology, the game’s not easy, but like… you get it. You understand whom you’re supposed to be talking to. It’s not rocket science, let’s just say that.
TOC: If college is so fun, why did you leave it?
Asher Roth: At some point you gotta grow up. I feel like a lot people agree. When you’re 18, you’re partying until 100 o’clock in the morning. At some point it gets tough.
TOC: Do you not still live that lifestyle?
Asher Roth: I go in, but not seven days a week, that’s for sure.
TOC: How have you dealt with overnight success? Did you expect it?
Asher Roth: I get it. I understand why the song is successful. I wrote the song for me. However, my entire career is not about college. There’s a lot more that’s going on. Asleep in the Bread Aisle is going to show there’s a lot more that’s going on. I might have screwed myself, dude. It definitely has its pros and cons. Because there’s much more going on.
TOC: What did you study?
Asher Roth: Elementary Education at West Chester U.
TOC: Was that a passion or something you did just because you have to pick a major?
Asher Roth: No, if I were going to be anything else, I’d be an elementary school teacher.
TOC: There’s another anecdote that sounds too good to be true, about how you were pondering quitting hip-hop, and at that moment a manager called you on the phone.
Asher Roth: I was putting a lot of energy into it, but I was getting to the point in life where I had to decide if I was going to take school seriously or if I was going to be successful at what I was doing. The call came literally that night when I had to decide if I was going to take my music seriously or take educational career seriously.
TOC: What, were you at your desk, head on your fist, staring at the wall?
Asher Roth: Seriously! I was sitting on the edge of my bed thinking, “Man this sucks.” I had just broken up with my girlfriend. It was one of those days. One of those days when everything in your life is starting to reset.
TOC: Will you ever go back and finish college?
Asher Roth: I like to think I would.
TOC: You’re working with unknown producer. How’d you hook up?
Asher Roth: JDate.
Asher Roth: No, it’s a Jewish dating site.
TOC: Right, I just couldn’t tell if you were joking. Was there label pressure to hook up with the Neptunes or Timbaland?
Asher Roth: No one gave a shit. It was awesome. There was some of that, but at the same time we were like, look at where the dope shit is coming from. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
TOC: Going back to JDate, are you Jewish?
Asher Roth: I’m not, actually. I’m at war with religion currently in my life. Religion and I are currently conversing. My mother is a tarot card reader and yoga instructor. She’s the coolest. She comes from a Presbyterian background. My father comes from a Jewish background, but he didn’t practice. In my household it was believe what you want to believe.
TOC: Are your parents fans?
Asher Roth: They’re my number one fans.
TOC: Even though they’re well aware of the sex and drugs that you’re doing and talking about?
Asher Roth: I’m 23 years old. I’m my own person now. They know that. They did the best they could. They don’t agree with a lot of stuff I’m talking about, when it gets pornographic. But I’m a 23-year-old heterosexual male. I get down. If parents can’t accept that, how did they conceive me?
TOC: Do you play music for them, or do they seek it out on their own?
Asher Roth: My dad bumps my shit all the time. He cleans the house to it and shit. My mom’s all into it, too. She told me her favorite song is “Blunt Cruisin’.”
TOC: Does she practice blunt cruisin’?
Asher Roth: Not at all. Not anymore.
Asleep in the Bread Aisle is out now. For our article on Asher Roth, click here.