An old cliché suggests that a person with a good enough voice would be entertaining, even simply reading the phone book. Asher Roth’s [click to read] narratives are sometimes as dull and lifeless as a series of telephone listings, ans while he does demonstrate an at-times sophisticated flow, it isn’t good enough to make the fluff he writes interesting to a market beyond his "frat house" peers. Style over substance is a dangerous choice to make. In order to make it work an artist must have one hell of a style, something completely original. Asher Roth has no such style, as anyone who has heard Eminem rap can tell you. So what Asleep In The Bread Aisle presents Roth as is a talented, if heavily influenced, stylist with only weed, women and wireless devices to rhyme about.
The first two singles off Roth’s major label debut are microcosms of what is lacking in Asleep. In both, Roth lazily slaps words together, not caring if what he says is interesting or even if it makes any sense, the lyrics read like the work of a man with whose entire knowledge of human existence comes from I Love the 80s and Entourage marathons. Despite featuring producer Oren Yorel’s best beat, a heavy boom-bap and distorted organ create a propulsive atmosphere, “Lark On My Go Kart” [click to view] is littered with some of Roth’s least substantive lyrics, and that is saying something. Case in point: “Me and Teddy Ruxpin/Stirring up a ruckus/Egging all the houses/Smashing all the pumpkins.” In this and many other lines on the album, Roth seems content to simply mention things meant to hit 20-something’s nostalgia centers, hoping that recognition of a shared memory will endear his music to them. Lyrically, from the Saved By The Bell nod in its title on down, “Lark on My Go Kart” is pandering at its worst. Or it would be if it weren’t for fellow lead single “I Love College” [click to view]. Over a listless acoustic guitar accented drum loop, Roth makes partying sound like the most boring thing in the world. It’s not that having fun in college is not worthy of being rapped about, it’s that Roth seems absolutely incapable of approaching this topic with anything remotely close to creativity or humor (and anyone who’s heard The Beastie Boys' seminal License To Ill knows this type of thing can be done well). If the best you can do is claim to be “Champion at beer pong” and then awkwardly rhyme two basketball players names with pong then you are not trying nearly hard enough. And no amount of dexterity in your flow will ever redeem a line as innocuous as “Of course I learned some rules/Like don’t pass out with your shoes on.” Of a trio with the two singles is “Blunt Cruisin’,” a track featuring another valiant, if wasted, production effort by Yorel. This song is essentially your pot head friends’ answer to the question “Hey, where were you guys?” except stretched over three and a half minutes, and even less remarkable. Some will claim this is just harmless fun, but it isn’t even that. It’s fun-less fun.
Somewhat predictably, Roth gets even more tedious when he tries to get serious and trade in his lame “jokes” for even lamer platitudes. “Sour Patch Kids” is his state of the nation song with earth shattering lines like “Poor get poor/The rich just get richer.” In the same song he claims “To the leaders, I am scary,” which is probably the most comedic line on the entire album. On “As I Em” [click to listen], featuring guests Chester French [click to read], he addresses all the Eminem comparisons, a bold and respectable move. But bizarrely, he seems to think the best way of contrasting himself with Em is to put on the Detroit rapper’s hard man persona. This guise fits him even more ineptly than the irreverent jokester or ladies man roles he plays on other tracks. “His Dream” is another track where it is tough not to give credit to the guy for trying something different, but it is even harder not to notice that as a writer Roth is simply not capable of getting across the complexity or a 56 year old man’s struggle with his advancing age and the loss of his dream. “Sometimes a dream is all that we have/We have to continue to dream,” he rhymes, trying to tie together the tale of the middle aged man with his poet son. What is supposed to be a beautiful story of a father giving up his dreams and inspiring his son to follow his own ends up being too sappy to take seriously. It’s not until the last track on the album that Roth delivers a song worthy of his flow. “Fallin’” is his story, told simply and honestly with pathos and lines that are genuinely humorous, and even more so because they aren’t trying so hard to be funny, and a actually likable personality comes through.
All through this album, Asher Roth slothfully tosses around non-sequiturs and lazy references to pop culture’s past. He makes no effort to put his own spin on the well tread topics, preferring instead to play in incredibly safe while seemingly being risqué because he is rapping about sex, booze, and drugs. Some will argue that this indolence is made up for with his flow but as said before this is just not enough, and it’s hard to give a guy credit for something he so obviously borrowed. What makes the album remotely appealing is actually the production work of Yorel, his old school drums loops create an appealing setting for Roth’s delivery, but the emcee doesn’t deliver. Asleep In The Bread Aisle is quick, munchies-induced snack of adaptable flow, that still leaves listeners hungrier than ever for its lack of substance and thought.