Songwriter Interviews

Asher Roth

by Shawna Ortega

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He raps about his dad, about the college party life, and he questions the political agenda. He's articulate, open, and has solid family values. People love to compare him with that other white rapper, whose talent he respects, and acknowledges in one of the tracks off his debut CD Asleep In the Bread Aisle.

In a frontier most predominantly viewed as "black music," Asher Roth is among the minority: a white kid from the suburbs. Rapping his way up the hip-hop ladder, Roth has no story, no childhood abuse, no gunshot wounds, no gang-related violence, not even a divorce. He's just a young idealist who wants to have fun, and in the process maybe get his message out there.

Does his success mean that Hip-Hop has jumped the shark, or is it a natural progression of a genre becoming more influential than ever?
Shawna Hansen Ortega (Songfacts): You're in the studio – are you working on a new CD?

Asher Roth: We're working on two projects. We're working on a mix tape record, which is kind of messing around and sharpening the weapons, and just getting people excited. It's a lot of word association, free-thought fun stuff. And then we're also sketching some ideas for the new record. We're looking for a summer release.

Songfacts: Excellent. Your CD Asleep In the Bread Aisle, the picture is a white guy asleep on the Wonder Bread. Is there any message there?

Asher: Well, that's me asleep in the bread aisle. There's kind of a literal story behind that. It was a Saturday, my friend and I were having a couple of beers sitting on the roof deck talking, and he's talking to me about how his buddy was really hung over and had to run off. And he's like, "Man, I need to go the grocery store and get a sandwich and some Gatorade. I need to feel better, I'm having a tough morning." So before he leaves he takes some Tylenol for his headache. It turns out to be Tylenol PM, and he falls asleep in the bread aisle of a grocery store. And they can't find him, they have no idea where he is. And they finally head to the grocery store, they find him asleep in the bread aisle. I thought that was a hilarious story.

Plus, when music and the business converge it's not a good thing. It's a bummer. We get kind of confused and other things start to influence the music. And Asleep In the Bread Aisle is essentially a bread aisle – "bread" being another word for money – being unconscious to all that, and just doing what feels right – for any reason. Not making it for any specific person, just doing it because you feel it. I think it's extremely important, and I see it happening. I'm not the only one doing it; I see it all over the map with different genres of people getting back to just making music to make music. And it's a shame that we needed the collapse of the music industry, the collapse of labels, to make people realize: Hey, this isn't a get-rich-quick scheme. But we're starting to get back to the real humanistic emotion of music, which left for a while.

So I'm just happy to be part of that, and know that I'm doing it for the right reasons. That's what Asleep In the Bread Aisle was, just introducing people to me in every sense of the word. This is who I am, this is how I feel, I might not be your typical "rapper," but that's where we are nowadays. I mean, hip-hop is so influential: black, white, purple, whatever, it's so influential that we are now finding it in crevices like Morrisville, Pennsylvania, where I grew up. It's global now, and I think that we all need to accept that and move forward as one cohesive unit, rather than "me," or "she," or "I," and get rid of all that. It's black music, there's no argument to that. Hip-hop is black music. But if we can get rid of the race thing in hip-hop, I think we can do that on a global level, too. It's exciting.

Songfacts: Let's dive into "Sour Patch Kids."

Asher: That is one of my favorite records on there. It's a sensitive subject on a lot of levels. As I grew up and went through the motions and became a little bit more cognizant of life, I started to ask more questions. And I noticed that as I started to ask more questions, people didn't like that. And then you had the presidency of George W. Bush, which brought to light a lot as far as how things are set up. And with the Internet, it's kind of an equalizer with knowledge, with Google and everything like that. You just have to type in a word and you can get some answers. So just growing up and becoming curious with how the world works. I think that they're just very vague about a lot of things. And with "Sour Patch Kids" I wanted to let people know that not everything is exactly what it should be.

It's a delicate subject on a lot of matters, especially when you're talking to the press about it. Not that I think you're a bad person - I don't want to come off as a conspiracy theorist or anything like that. It's not that at all. It's just a matter of American society, so you have to choose your words very carefully. And to me, it's just capitalism, it's about our dollar. And when it becomes about money, and the obsession over money, and bigger, stronger, faster, a lot of more important stuff like values and morals and ethics, and just being a good person, gets lost.

You see it first-hand in the music business. I mean, people will do anything to get to the top, and that even means compromising their character. And not only do you see it in the music business, but then you start to see it in the structure of the country. And it's interesting: I don't know anything at all. I really don't know shit. I just want to educate myself and make sure that I'm aware of what's going on. And I think having a conversation about it is the best thing. That's what "Sour Patch Kids" is to me: starting a conversation. Not everything's perfect. What do you think? How do you feel? That was very important for me to talk about, because it's a topic of conversation that whenever we bring it up around friends and new people, there's always some very interesting stuff that people say.

When Obama was giving his State of the Union address, one guy said, "For a minute I forgot he was black," or something like that. And it just spawned into this huge thing. Whenever you're dealing with politics and race and religion, these pillars, it's very, very delicate, but it's great conversation. And that's the thing about my project, to go off on a little tangent real quick. I'm excited about my project. I don't have a story. I wasn't shot 9 times, I don't have any of these stereotypical hip-hop stories. Hip-hop essentially derives from the struggle, but beyond all that there's a sense of enlightenment and uplifting that we need to get back to, and I think hip-hop was so strong about that. But when it became about the money, when it became about the dollar, people forgot about all that. And it's bigger than "Sour Patch Kids." I think that getting back to those topics of conversation, and just getting it out and talking about it is going to be huge. Rather than just sweeping it under the rug and saying, "Let's talk about Balloon Boy." It's weird. I'm 24 now, and I start to see this stuff on the news, I'm like, "Why are they covering this?" I mean, there's so many other things to be talking about. They feed us these distractions: "I can't go out and support live music tonight because Glee is on." And television is just a start. Television is a fabulous mechanism to distract us. Music is not going anywhere. I think it's a very powerful tool that you can use. The one thing that I was so scared of is coming off as preachy. And that's why, to me, stuff like "Sour Patch Kids" is just a way to pose it as a question - ask a question rather than anything else. I try to tell kids all the time, "Never stop asking questions. Never stop asking why." And that's where I am in my life right now.

And that's where I am with this next album. I think that "Sour Patch Kids," "His Dream," there's very important points on that record that got lost in the shuffle because of the popularity of "I Love College." People took "I Love College" as: this is this superficial dumbed-down white kid from the 'burbs who's just rapping about getting fucked up. I kind of laugh at all that, because the education system is something else I have just a little small beef with. I think that it's interesting that when things start to go awry with the economy the first thing that they start to cut is public schools and art, sports and music. They start to cut those programs. And it's like, Wow, okay, those are the few things that are the escape from all this. It's like they have this schooling system that's set up to send you straight to the cubicle and rid you of any real freedom. And it's kind of crazy to me.

So, with "I Love College," I wrote this record like how it really is. I mean, these kids are here having a good time. These are 18 to 19-year-old kids. When you're that age, when you're 18, 19, 20 years old, you think you know everything, you think you're a grown-up, but you're not. So you're just going through the motions. College is the first time you're out of your parents' house; it's the first time you're out and on your own. I think that it's a very important time for you to mess around, and make some mistakes, and step out of your comfort zone. And that's when you start to grow. I learned so much more leaving school, leaving that system of wake up, go to class and do something. I mean, how many people are even using their major? I don't get into statistics much, but I would be surprised if that was over 15% of people. Doctors and lawyers are pretty much the ones that are using their majors that they go to school for. My sister set up a charter school in Flatbush, and there's only 6 teachers there. She started the school, and she majored in advertising. It's really interesting to me, and that's where I am in my life right now. It's that question-asking phase.

Songfacts: Okay. Let me ask you another question. "Bad Day." Did you mean that to be as funny as it is?

Asher: (laughs) It's funny. I'm glad you find the humor in that, because it's just everyday stuff. I wanted to write a narrative - that's something I like to do. And it was a true story. I had come back to Atlanta - I think I was in Los Angeles. There's a couple of made-up parts - I wasn't going to a wedding. But for the most part that was just a narrative of my day. I got into the studio, and it was one of those things like, "What are we gonna talk about today, brain?" And it's like, "Oh, the same thing we talk about every day." (laughs) But yeah, we were just like, let's write about what happened today. And that whole record came together in 45 minutes. Jazze Pha was downstairs recording, and he came up and started cracking up. He was like, "I want to get on this." So he jumps in there and sings over the vocals that I had laid down, because I did them in this monotone. He added this whole high octave and this character. It's great when songs come together like that. But yeah, that's a pretty literal narrative that I'm glad people find humor in, because it's just the humor of the everyday.

Songfacts: (laughs) And you make it sound severe. "I had such a bad day!"

Asher: (laughing) Well, it's one of those things, you come home from a long day of work, and you just want to vent like, "Listen to how much today sucked." But then at the end of the record you're just like, "Well, I'm still healthy, so it's really not that bad."

My dad's got the greatest quote. Whenever something happens, he's like, "If that's the worst thing that happens in your life, you made out pretty well." And that really got me through little stuff, whether it's running into a screen door, which happened yesterday. (laughs) Anything like that. But it's a great quote, to not sweat the small stuff.

Songfacts: You had brought up "His Dream," and that's all about your dad. You guys are obviously very close. Just to start, define "millie."

Asher: A "millie" is a million. That came out with Lil Wayne, and then Jay-Z did "A Billie," and that goes into my thing about the obsession over the dollar and the obsession of money. Originally that record was a million here, a million there, and I've got so much money. It was a hit, it was huge.

Songfacts: CAn you take me through the meaning of "His Dream"?

Asher: I think every parent wants their children to outlive them. And coming to the realization that your parents are 60, and you say, hey, you won't live forever. I wanted to say something to my dad, I wanted to make sure that I got that out, whether it's just "I love you" or anything like that. I think it's very important for parents to know they are appreciated. I know Tupac did it with his mom, and for me, it's growing up and understanding my dad's not just my dad, but he's a human being as well. I started to talk to him about when he was my age, realizing that he wasn't born 40. It was interesting to hear his story about the whole thing. When he was a little bit older than me now, he had his children. And then he realized that his life was no longer just his life. He had a new life to lead, and it was through his kids. And I wanted to let him know that I really appreciate that. And that's really all that was.

He didn't really want that song on the record - he said it was fairly embarrassing. I asked him why, and he said, "Because I didn't do anything. I was just a responsible parent." And I said, Well, that's the thing. A lot of people have their children and just continue on with what they're doing, and the kids don't get adequate attention. A lot of things stem from that, a lot of mental things can happen when a male figure in your life isn't there. It's very necessary to have that female and male influence in your life. You see it if someone's raised by just a single mother, they'll behave differently than if they're raised by maybe a single father, or both parents. So I wanted to let my dad know, Hey, thank you very much for being a responsible parent. And that's all.

Songfacts: I saw a video of a freestyle you did with Kid Cudi at a radio station. And I found it very interesting that all the stuff that you came up with off the top of your head is clean-cut, for the most part. Then cut over to him, and he's throwing the 4-letter words in every other word.

Asher: It's interesting. I mean, it really comes down to moods and emotions at that time. The best thing about freestyling, I think, is the fun aspect of it. But with hip hop there's also a battle theme of it. And with alpha males, there's confidence and egos that get into it and can turn things a little awry. But I come from a background that's more cipher rapping than battle rapping. So for me it's about passing rhymes, being in a rhyme and making stuff up. I've been rapping since probably 17, 18, legitimately. I'm not talking about 15-20 years, I'm really talking about a 5-year period. And it's just a practice thing. As I started to rhyme with different people it got more fun to me to talk about different stuff and throw out different words. But you get in a cipher sometimes and people tend to talk about the same things over and over again, kind of the safe stuff. And I think that also starts to develop into songwriting. In hip hop, you hear a lot of the same subjects over and over again, and I wanted to get to the point where, even now on this next album, you can really talk about anything. That's the beauty about music; you can really go anywhere you want with it. And I had trouble with it. I battled with myself for a while about, Oh, just play the safe route because there's a business involved. But I got to a point now, at 24, I'm just like, Screw the business part of it. If I'm not having fun, I'm screwing this up.

Songfacts: That's a good attitude.

Asher: Yeah. So I'm trying to have a ball, trying to have fun. And I think that's when the most honest stuff comes out. And that's what I want to do: give people a piece of me every time I open my mouth. I don't want to waste my time, I don't want to waste my listeners' time, so I try to give them something fun. I don't even think about the business stuff anymore. I just think about expressing myself and making sure that people are entertained. It's an entertainment thing.

Songfacts: Well, I'm glad my son's a fan. He's the one that asked me to call and talk to you.

Asher: Oh, wow. That's incredible, thank you. How old is he?

Songfacts: He's 16.

Asher: Oh, that's incredible. What I try to understand is that it's these kids, it's the 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-, 16-, 17-year olds who really look up to you, and they're emulating us. And I think it's very important to understand that and not just go off in this whole 4-letter-word thing. My dad said the same thing. He's like, "Try to limit your cursing." And sometimes I use it just to prove a point, just to emphasize whether I might be mad or something. But he's always said the same thing his mother told him; cursing is just lazy speech. It's when you can't find a better word. And I ran with that. I was like, yeah, true. So that's great to hear about your son, because that's who I want to talk to. They're so important. Kids are the future. So thank you very much for telling me that. That's great news.

Songfacts: Asher, thank you so much.

Asher: Absolutely. Tell your son hello, and send him my love. I appreciate him very much.

Asher took a break from his studio session to talk with us on February 1, 2010.
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Comments: 3

  • Bubbaodonnell21 from Clifton HeightsI love college was about our parties at 526 Matlack street we had Tuesday night ice and thirsty Thursdays every week,it sucks not to ever in the past 5 years get a shout out or anything like that but that is where that song came from...
  • Edgar from Mcallen Txyour song grind are you trying to say something because i know what your trying to say if you know what i mean.
  • Slab64 from Socal, UsaThis interview here is the entirety of my knowledge of Asher Roth outside of hearing his song on the radio a few times. It was good to hear that he's an artist who takes the music seriously...but not TOO seriously. Keep it up, sir
see more comments

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