Remember Asher Roth? The bushy-haired Pennsylvania native, who signed to Steve Rifkind’s SRC label via Def Jam, before earning his way onto the cover of the ’09 Freshmen issue? In the aftermath of his much maligned debut, Asleep In The Bread Aisle, a fun, semi-pop crossover record that didn’t quite land with fans as expected in the wake of his massive frat hit, “I Love College,” Asher’s career has taken a bit of a detour and he now finds himself in indie label no man’s land. Being afforded that kind of freedom can be good for a rapper’s artistic integrity and long term success – take RetroHash contributor Curren$y for instance – but it can also be a buzz-eviscerating black hole. With the oft-delay sophomore LP, RetroHash, Asher Roth explores creative autonomy with marginal success but the album’s lack of a grounding influence makes its sonic palette far too much of an acquired taste.
Asher has been jumping ship from one major to another seeking his niche. During that time, his sophomore follow-up, now five years in the making, has seen several name changes and identity shifts – once The Spaghetti Tree and Is This Too Orange? – and the sole common denominator among all the uncertainty has been aesthetic reinvention or artistic reclamation: rediscovering what was lost in face of all of the record label turmoil.RetroHash does a decent job finding the fun-loving sensibilities that helped produce many of the MC’s greatest records and matching them with a maturity in subject matter; however, as ambitious as it is creatively, there isn’t much unity and it struggles with creating something wholly palatable. Songs like “Pull It” and “Something For Nothing” feel like they were created in an alternate headspace when compared with “Pot of Gold” and “Keep Smoking.” More than anything, RetroHash doesn’t know what it wants to be.
The album feels like it’s draped in a California haze. There is a dense weed fog enveloping its sound; atmospherically it seems to peruse various aspects of stoner culture from the hippie wave to the present day. For the duration, RetroHash is trying to recapture the carefree essence of Asher’s early work, which was witty and often delightfully jovial but willing to drudge through more muddied topics even if it meant shirking all things politically correct. In a select few moments, like the remarkable blue-eyed soul of the intro “Parties At The Disco,” he gets everything right – right down to selecting ZZ Ward on accompanying vocals – and you can tell there is true talent there. But there is simply too much happening here for RetroHash to be really good.
From strictly a rapping standpoint, it’s worth noting that RetroHash is filled with wonderfully limber displays a technical skill, even in small bursts. Asher has always had a rather particular way with vernacular and syntax; his charming 2011 mixtape, Pabst & Jazz, proved him far more adept with rhyme and structure than most of his peers and his proficiency is most apparent when he’s packing sentences with internal rhyme schemes that build for entire stanzas. When RetroHash is at its most colorful he’s doing just that over bluesy, guitar-centric Blended Babies production that pops and bangs at a slow-strutting, leisurely pace. The LP climaxes with “Last Of The Flohicans,” which pairs a stringy guitar riff with a semi-traditional breakbeat, and as Asher shoots off bars chalked full of assonance and selective spurts of alliteration it’s clear that he possesses both the ability and the savvy to be a star; he just has to put it all together.
RetroHash is a confused jumble of ideas that has its heart in the right place. Though it fails in its attempt to patch mismatched parts together to form a cohesive product that blankets every single concept the Pennsylvanian MC has ever hoped to explore, it has shining moments that hint at the possibility of great future success. It takes some time to get acclimated to newly held responsibility, and in time perhaps the blips and bumps will be ironed out. Once Asher Roth comes into his own as an artist with free rein to do as he pleases aesthetically, he may find himself browsing some truly fantastic creative space.—Sheldon Pearce