First impressions can be misleading. It was easy for hip-hop heads to write off Asher Roth as the White boy du jour after he exploded onto the scene with the 2009 bro-tastic single “I Love College.” But those who actually stuck around to give him a deeper listen came to find out the Pennsylvania MC had more to him than initially met the eye and ear. With his latest release Pabst & Jazz, Asher puts his witty lyricism on display over jazzy cuts courtesy of the Chicago production team, Blended Babies, among others.
The title track opener has the intimate feel of a dark, smoky jazz club as Asher sets the tone for the project, rapping “Lackadaisical, Pabst & Radio/Playing the latest Johnny Coltrane up on the Casio.” It’s followed by “Choices,” where Asher delivers a velvet smooth verse over a deep bass line alongside Action Bronson.
While P&J is a feature heavy affair, Roth shows he’s capable of holding a track down on his own, which he does on “In the Kitchen” (over a soundscape courtesy of boom-bap specialist Chuck Inglish) and the Christopher Walken-sampling “More Cowbell.” On the latter, the former Freshman opens with, “In the meadows where we grow the rose petals, and we sip a glass of merlot while I blow the Portobello/Like Cruello with a cigarillo/Hello, listen up/This is Asher from the Morrisville, a little north of Truck” (this last part is a clever flip on Philadelphia rapper, Truck North).
These lyrical gymnastics can be a lot to digest, but keeping up with the absurdity is what makes the tape such an intriguing listen. The wordplay is jam-packed with obscure references that leave the listener Googling, Wikipedia-ing, and hitting the rewind button, because it’s nearly impossible to catch everything the first time around. Such skills are maginified when the production is as exceptional as it is here. “Golden Midas” is a gem of a beat, with DJ Premier-esque scratching over feverish trumpetry.
Another PA native, former NFL coach Denny Green, once spoke of his opposition following a defeat, saying, “They are who we thought they were.” Those still dismissing Asher Roth as the “I Love College” frat-rapper are mistaken. Attention-grabbing lyrics and an inclination to experiment with outside the box production here show a quirky and talented artist at work. Somebody get me a PBR. —Neil Martinez-Belkin (@Neil_MB)