Believe it or not, Asher Roth hadn’t released a song professionally before his first mixtape, the DJ Drama and Don Cannon-helmed, The Greenhouse Effect, hit the streets June 13. A month and a half later, Roth is drawing Eminem comparisons and fueling his fast-growing buzz via freestyles and YouTube clips alongside A-list stars like Akon and Ludacris. And to think Universal, parent company to Roth’s recording home SRC, didn’t know Roth was signed until recently.
Unapologetically silly, AR manages to sprinkle political opinions, battle-ready verses and hilarious quips throughout Effect. Interestingly, in Roth, hip-hop’s buying public finally has a voice: an upper middle class suburban kid who is more frat boy than dope boy. XXLmag.com caught up with the Atlanta transplant to discuss his upbringing, being passed up by Jay-Z, and catering to the black audience.
Most rappers talk about growing up in a single parent home in the projects, how did you grow up?
It was the normal childhood. You think of the suburbs. You think of the trees and the quiet streets, people going for walks and pushing strollers. It was like that. I moved, but…Morrisville, [PA] is not the best place on earth. The school system is like 500 kids that are an entire school from 6 to 12th grade. It’s really small, so I ended up moving across the street, so I can get into a better school district at 6th grade, which was crazy because, I was leaving a small suburb that was 500 people in a school from 6 to 12 grade, to a high school that had 1000 kids in a graduating class. That was crazy for me. But it was a very healthy lifestyle growing up. I think it has kinda helped me with hip-hop. I’ve always been outside looking in and got to watch objectively. That’s how it kinda impacted me.
What did your parents do for work ?
My mom was an aerobics instructor for almost 20 years of her life, and my father was a consultant. He’s still doing the consulting. Now my mom is a full-fledge astrologer. She’s one of the dopest, dopest tarot card readers ever. I’m telling you. She’s real legit. It’s not that Miss Cleo fake shit.
Has your mom read your cards?
Actually, I shied away from it for the longest time. I never really knew what was going on until about 18…I realized my mom… she’s been studying astrology all this time. I think, even when she was young, she was. Finally, when I was started to make the move and everything like that, I finally had her read my cards. The reading was very positive, very reassuring.
Are your parents supportive of your music career?
Real supportive. At first it was a little like you know, “What’s going on here? This is rap music.” Rap music was the last genre coming into my house. My mom has been down with the rhythm, but it was more or less the Temptations, Earth Wind & Fire, more soul music like Stevie Wonder. That’s what she bought. My father was into Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits. My older sister listened to Tevin Campbell and New Kids On The Block. And finally, I got into it like 98 when I was in the 6th or 7th grade when I was actually starting to develop my own opinions. It was just edgy. It was different. Your parents didn’t really want you listening to it. So it’s like, “Ohhhh, I like this.” It just really had an impact.
So, on Roth Boys. You say, “Jay passed on me for Pittsburgh slim, but in the end, I am kicking it with Steve Rifkind.” So Jay had a chance to sign you, but didn’t?
It was in his office. I spit a lot of bars. I was there for like 3 minutes rapping straight. It was crazy. The dynamics of the whole thing. Obviously, I don’t really deal with the business side. But we went with Rifkind cause he’s a big, big homey. It was cool for me, cause he was gonna allow me to let me be creative. That was very important for me. Steve got it right off the bat. With Jay, it wasn’t anything like that. It’s just the way the cards dealt.
But you referred to Pittsburgh Slim, so you’re basically saying Jay passed up one white kid for another?
I mean when I met Jay. Jay was so influential. Jay is the first hip-hop album I bought, [In My Lifetime: Hard Knock Life] Vol. 2 in 98. That’s how late I got into hip-hop. When I walked in there, I just wanted Jay to give me a hug and shed a single tear. That’s just how I was feeling. It’s nothing against Pittsburgh or anything like that. I’m not one of those dudes to beef with people. I don’t think it’s about dissing people, but I understand the competitive edge to it.
How about Rifkind, how did you connect with him?
We were in New York. The Rifkind/Jay-Z thing were pretty much the same day. I walked into Rifkind’s office. It was starting to be like a video game, cause he had me rap for him and then pressed the button and came this one boy that wanted to battle me and we had this battle session. It was like Mortal Kombat or some shit. I went through that whole, I guess you can say test or some shit. He asked the interns, “You guys think he’s nice?” They were like, “Yea, he’s nice.” We went out to dinner and had the initial talks and it all sparked from there.
You linking up with DJ Drama and Don Cannon, was that a hook up from Rifkind or a PA to ATL connection?
That’s our homie. Nobody saw a penny from that. It was just straight for the music. Cannon used to JD [Asher's manager] Scooter’s parties back in college. He got at Cannon and said, “I got this artist I really want you to meet.” Cannon and I just hit it off right away. At first they were all hounding me cause I was wearing flip-flops. But then I rapped and they were like, this kid…I dig it. Not to mention, PA all day. It was kinda of a match made in heaven.
Whose idea was it to call The Greenhouse Effect, “the greatest mixtape ever?”
The greatest mixtape ever came afterwards and I take responsibility for that. It was more Scooter’s belting. But my whole reason for that, the studio downstairs is called the green house for obvious reasons.
Towards the end of Roth Boys, you said, “I ain’t even a rapper.” You don’t consider yourself a rapper?
Here’s the thing. I think that there’s a difference between a rapper and an MC. I kinda consider myself more of an MC than a rapper. Just because…I’m a performer at heart, man. I write these songs and so on and so forth, but my whole thing is to write these songs and then go share them with the world. Not through radio, not through internet. I wanna go out and reach out to people through live shows. That’s the whole energy, man. People can really feel the song through that. We’ve been putting together this live show with my live band and it’s really dope. And I really encourage people to come and just party with us, cause that’s really all it is. Come have a good time and have fun with some good honest music.
Your myspace has photos of you taking a dump while on the laptop. Aren’t you concerned that people won’t take you seriously?
It’s tough, but at the same time, it’s important that people understand that I have a sense of humor. And I think another thing is, hip-hop is really, really serious. People been telling me “You’re a breath of fresh air,” which is great, man. I want people to just relax for a second. They make life hard enough. You know how hard it is for people to pay their f-ing bills on time? I don’t want to listen to my favorite type of music and be reminded how hard life is. I’d rather laugh. I’d rather smile. I’d rather have a good time while I listen to music, cause music is an escape for a lot of people. . It’s gonna be hard. I’m definitely fighting an uphill battle, but I’m not gonna come on being this whole serious straight forward dude cause I’m real lighthearted.
You could probably blow up from suburban kids only. Are you still gonna try to cater to the black audience?
Well, I just put out a mixtape. I think that goes to show that I care about everybody. It’s not about like…people say, “This is a game. You gotta do business out of stuff. Like you just said, people are saying, “Yo, you don’t even need the mixtape audience, you can just go right after these white kids. But nah, the black community is hip-hop. Of course the white kids are buying the music and they’re just as hip-hop too. Hip-hop is definitely in the burbs and people can’t deny that. Hip-hop has gone into the burbs and is affecting the white kids. I’m a voice for the white kids because, that’s who I am. I can’t change that, but that doesn’t mean that black people can’t relate to what I’m saying. I think a lot of black people are starting to pick up on it. Like, “Wow, I don’t look like him, but damn, I kinda feel the same way. Why the hell isn’t Bus in jail for treason, but Clinton gets impeached for bustin seaman?I feel that way too.” I think there are a lot more emotions and moods involved that human beings regardless of what you look like can relate to rather than just how I was brought up. -Carl Chery