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Asher Roth Is on His Way to Stardom

Can a white suburban kid change the face of hip-hop?

By Christopher Wink and Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 16 | Posted Apr. 14, 2009

If there’s any truth in Revolutionary Road, American Beauty, Mad Men and the writing of John Cheever—that everyone in suburbia is secretly miserable, living life with crushing boredom or a crippling secret that’s killing them softly—you wouldn’t believe it on the first warm spring day in West Chester, Pa., where the flowers are finally beginning to bloom and college kids equipped with backpacks scramble across town to classes they’re running late for.

It’s a quaint borough. Gorgeous. “Diverse … prosperous … collegiate … accessible,” its website proudly boasts. Huge, impressive houses spring up behind white picket fences. Lush pastures of rolling green farmland dominate the landscape. Picturesque. Peaceful. Idyllic.

This is where “I Love College”—the boozy, marijuana-worshipping, horny ode to university life—was born.

“I Love College” came from the pen of 23-year-old Asher Paul Roth, a rail-thin, perpetually disheveled white boy with “hair like a Troll doll” (so he says on another of his hits, “Lark on My Go-Kart”) from the southern Bucks County hamlet of Morrisville, a one- hour train ride on the R3 from Center City. In short: the ’burbs.

Now that “College” is a smash hit (more than 800,000 singles sold, 29 million streams on MySpace, radio play spread across multiple formats) and his full-length Asleep in the Bread Aisle is due on April 20 (4/20, get it?), Asher Roth is on his way to music stardom.

He’s been named one of MTV’s “MCs to watch,” been put on the cover of XXL magazine, been knighted “the future” by Beanie Sigel, endorsed (“co-signed”) by Young Jeezy, Ludacris and Akon, joined on Asleep by heavy hitters like Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo Green and Busta Rhymes, added to the annual Roots Picnic, and has put out a mixtape with highly influential DJs Canon and Drama.

In other words, he may be poised to change the face of hip-hop.

West Chester University is where Asher Roth became enthusiastic about scholastics. It’s where Asher Roth—white geek with a Norman Rockwell upbringing—became Asher Roth, potential next big rap star.

Thing is, the two aren’t very different at all. And considering this is hip-hop—a genre notoriously hamstrung by issues of authenticity, street credibility and “keeping it real”—that’s rather remarkable.


Asher Roth, "I Love College" from Make Major Moves on Vimeo.

“People tell me I’m a white minstrel show. They say, ‘This is a white kid that’s making a mockery of white people,’” says Roth over the phone, trying to manage the whirlwind of buzz currently blowing around him, lest he be ripped to shreds by it during a media-intensive day. “But I am just more what white people like, based on the stereotypes … That’s not a gimmick, that is me being who I am.”

In many ways, Roth’s existence challenges the very notion of authenticity in hip-hop. Many of Roth’s detractors say he’s not real because he’s not ’hood, but is that the only consideration when assessing authenticity in the genre? If the point is to be real in hip-hop—and by being real we mean being true to who you actually are—then perhaps no one in the history of the genre has been more authentic.

Saying he isn’t real or that he’s one giant marketing ploy is to challenge the entire notion of what authenticity means in the genre; Roth would have to be something he’s not in order to be accepted.

“I think white rappers stand out initially no matter what, but I don’t really think white rappers get a lot of attention in terms of the right kind of energy, which is to be looked at as to really be something and to be a part of hip-hop,” says Elliott Wilson, founder of RapRadar.com and editor of XXL from 1999 to 2008. “Asher has to be honest about who he is and where he comes from. People respect that in hip-hop. I don’t think you have to be poor and impoverished to make good hip-hop music. I think most importantly, again, it’s about credibility.”

Roth signs on to Wilson’s theory, pointing out that even his hip-hop handle, Asher Roth, is just his own name. He’s running from nothing. He rides his bike through the ’burbs with a goofy grin and a helmet strapped to his head in his “Roth Boys” video. He drives a Toyota Corolla. The first CD he bought was Crash by the Dave Matthews Band. He loves Oasis. He raps about MILFs.

He’s white.

Of course, hip-hop’s graveyard is littered with the bones of white rappers who didn’t see it the way Wilson or Roth do. In particular, there’s Robert Van Winkle—a pencil-necked kid from Dallas, Texas, who moved to Miami, shaved lines in his eyebrows and head, started using phrases like “Word to your mother” and changed his name to Vanilla Ice. The list goes on: the Southern crunking of Bubba Sparxxx and Paul Wall; the angry growls of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

Roth is none of them, but haunted by all of them.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 16 of 16
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1. Anonymous said... on Apr 14, 2009 at 10:10PM

“test”

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2. Anonymous said... on Apr 15, 2009 at 07:17AM

“Credible white rappers have been around for quite a while. I'm sure El-P, Cage, Slug, Mac Lethal, Sage Francis, Copywrite, Ryu of Styles of Beyond, and most of Doomtree will be surprised to know that they missed their chance at "changing the face of hip-hop" via their skin color. Hip-hop doesn't see color, only skill. It's some of the followers (and, in turn, the commentators) who get hung up on that.”

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3. catkarm said... on Apr 15, 2009 at 08:09AM

“Roth is performing for students at Rutgers-Camden on April 23!”

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4. Potts said... on Apr 15, 2009 at 10:05AM

“Can't help but wonder what his parents and grandparents think of this crude act. Such a nice Jewish boy . . . is this what he should be doing with his life??”

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5. Idah peeinyerbutt said... on Apr 15, 2009 at 10:06AM

“You have GOT to be kidding me!!!

this is the worst piece of crap I have ever heard. Not groundbreaking, not revolutionary. Recycled watered down Eminem Lite if you ask me. and the dude looks like Opie Cunningham. This guy will fade as quickly as he appeared. Utter Garbage!!

PS: think you could make your photos any bigger on the site? 350K per image? bwahahaha

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6. Anonymous said... on Apr 15, 2009 at 10:43AM

“i can't wait for him to play at The Note on 4/20. shit's gonna be siiiiiiiiiiiiiiick!”

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7. Anonymous said... on Apr 15, 2009 at 02:24PM

“if you want to check him out at rutgers-camden get your tickets by calling 856-225-6211. he's performing there on 4/23 aroun 8pm or 9pm in the student center...”

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8. Anonymous said... on Apr 15, 2009 at 11:32PM

“eminem e-shy or cage should fuck his ass up. horrible music, no street cred and never sold a record”

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9. REALLY said... on Apr 15, 2009 at 11:33PM

“ASHER ROTH IS NOT FROM PHILLY, HE HAS NEVER BEEN PART OF THE PHILLY SCENE, PLAYED THE SCENE, AND BEEN INVOLVED WITH WHAT WE DO. I JUST LOST SO MUCH RESPECT FOR PW FOR PUTTING HIM IN IT, LET ALONE ON THE COVER... ASHER ROTH IS NOT HIP HOP AND NEVER WILL BE, HES ANOTHER MARKETING PLOY.. HIS ALBUM IS FILLED WITH FAMOUS VOICES AND NAMES, HE DOESNT HAVE ANY GOOD HOOKS, JUST DUMB UNINTELLIGENT VERSES WITH A STOLEN FLOW, YOU KNOW...”

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10. REALLY said... on Apr 15, 2009 at 11:33PM

“ASHER ROTH IS NOT FROM PHILLY, HE HAS NEVER BEEN PART OF THE PHILLY SCENE, PLAYED THE SCENE, AND BEEN INVOLVED WITH WHAT WE DO. I JUST LOST SO MUCH RESPECT FOR PW FOR PUTTING HIM IN IT, LET ALONE ON THE COVER... ASHER ROTH IS NOT HIP HOP AND NEVER WILL BE, HES ANOTHER MARKETING PLOY.. HIS ALBUM IS FILLED WITH FAMOUS VOICES AND NAMES, HE DOESNT HAVE ANY GOOD HOOKS, JUST DUMB UNINTELLIGENT VERSES WITH A STOLEN FLOW, YOU KNOW...”

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11. Im_a_fan said... on Apr 16, 2009 at 12:01AM

“so much hate. its unfortunate that people misuse their energies hating on Asher instead of doing something positive in their own lives. if you do like his music, dont listen to it. no one cares how much you hate someone or something, that just shows yourself to be about the wrong things in life. asleep in the bread aisle. 4-20. support local artists!”

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12. grm1 said... on Apr 16, 2009 at 06:09AM

“Ahhhh man I don't know sounds an awful lot like those that came before him... but hey looks like the crowd is having a blast so let him do this thing even if it is Durst-meets-311-meets-Eminem all wrapped up in a Kanye sweater”

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13. Anonymous said... on Apr 16, 2009 at 08:49AM

“As someone who has been around Asher since he was in high school, I have to say: the kid's no joke and he is what he is, which is more than most of us can say these days, especially when it comes to any kind of "celebrity-dom". No, his latest radio hit may not be filled with the most intellectually stimulating lyrics and his look may resemble that of Eminem's, but it's not fair to pit this kid up against Eminem just for being white...does every black rapper get thrown up against each other just for being black, or for growing up in the "ghetto", or for rocking the same style tattoos and emulating each other's styles like there is no such thing as originality? Let's be honest here. And, in terms of Roth not being from Philly but getting an article in PW, get over yourself. Being from the suburbs of Philadelphia doesn't make us any less Philly savvy- we still hang out in Philly, eat the cheese steaks and support the local scene; and the vast majority of us spend more time in Philly than in the 'burbs because it's where our parents & extended families call home. Lay off the kid and let him do his thing...support him for being from our area and for staying true to himself.”

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14. kevin said... on Apr 16, 2009 at 09:18AM

“Asher is dope.”

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15. maryjo said... on Apr 16, 2009 at 09:22AM

“He is really really good. People are just so confused because it's hard for them to connect his image with the way he sounds. People don't like things that are different or changed. But catch up...“Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom... The power to choose, to respond, to change.””

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16. egomaniac said... on Apr 16, 2009 at 12:41PM

“asher is the future... 4/20 will be a great day for hip hop”

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