I helped profile upcoming rapper Asher Roth in the cover story of today’s Philadelphia Weekly.
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.
Read the story, comment, spread the word and then come on back for what didn’t make it in and some Asher video interviews.
First see some videos, then below that see some interview extras of mine.
His social networking largesse is impressive, from MySpace, Twitter, Facebook and its site to, yes, YouTube. For my story, I watched just about every video tagged Asher, so let me share with you what I think is required watching to get an even better sense of the new artist.
It’s 13 minutes long, but it’s interesting to see Asher maneuver a decidedly intrusive and persistent Brit.
He spits in the second video.
Below, Asher talks about his love of hip-hop and from where it originated.
Below, see the interview answers that didn’t make it into print.
Asher Roth, 23 [born August 11, 1985, confirmed by manager]
- Asher gave up his Atlanta home three months ago and has been living out of a suitcase. He plans to buy a tour bus and call it home for the next year, constantly touring, said Scooter Braun, Asher’s manager.
- Accompanied by the original Roth Boys: “Boyder,” Tom Boyd, who handles filming and merchandise and “Brain Bangley,” Brian Langley, who’s Asher’s on-stage hype man and resident pothead. “Fans know who they are. They’re pseudo-celebrities,” said Scooter Braun, Asher’s manager.
- Asher has two older sisters and was born and raised in Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
- “It’s not like I grew up in the streets of Philadelphia,” Roth says. “Do I have any emotional ties to . . . the city? Well, just as far as relevance to where it stands in the history with the Declaration of Independence and with putting out solid basketball players.”
- “People think I’m from Atlanta,” because that’s where he was signed, Asher says. “How much of a bummer is that? I’m a Forty Niners fan. I’m a San Francisco Giants fan… It’s hard to make that connection.”
- “I’ve had my wow moments along the way,” Roth said, after arriving back to his hotel after a shoot for an upcoming issue of Vibe. “But it’s still never hit me that it’s bigger than a scale that I could sense and people are listening to me on the radio.”
- “I didn’t realize I was in people’s lives,” he says. “Now I’m representing much more.”
- “It’s going to happen regardless. I couldn’t stop it if I tried,” Asher says of the marketing machine now in place.
- “There’s some really, really dope music here. I want it to be about the music. I don’t want it to be about the marketing or the fact that I’m white.”
It’s not just a kid being marketed or whatever.
- “I’m just speaking about the world that I come from, but with hip hop, I’m speaking that language that attracts people. It’s a perspective that’s been underserved, that middle class suburban voice to hip hop.”
- “Everybody wants to be down with hip hop. Most people like myself couldn’t really relate, this behavior we really couldn’t relate to.”
- “I know there are a lot of white people in this world.”
- “People tell me I am a white minstrel show. They say this is a white kid that is making a mockery of white people,” Asher says. “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.”
Steve Rifkind, founder of SRC, Asher’s label
- XXL magazine said Rifkind “is responsible for breaking some of hip-hop’s biggest artists in his 25 years in the business.” He’s had a hand in the careers of artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan, Big Pun, Mobb Deep and Xzibit.
- “Em opened up the door for Asher at the end of day.”
- “Why can’t there be more than one white emcee?
- “Eminem came in a different time. Asher is in a completely different lane.
- “Em came from a harder life and Asher has his thing with the college.”
- “This is just a great album,” Rifkind says. “It’s a multi-formated record, with rock records.”
- Scooter was very passionate. Rifkind forgot and didn’t know why they were in New York. Fall 2007.
- “It’s great they want to compare us to Em… but, Let us sell some records first,” Rifkind says.
- “He’s going to have a long, luxurious career,” Rifkind says.
Elliott Wilson, founder of RapRadar.com and former editor of XXL magazine, 1999-2008
- “Even though Eminem has opened up a lot of doors of proving that a white emcee can be really credible, I think every time a white rapper emerges, the hip hop audience is kind of skeptical at first no matter what, and I think I was kind of skeptical myself.”
- “I think his album is pretty good. I think it’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
- Asher is using an unproven DJ, Wilson says.
- “What is most important to hip hop is honesty. Asher is approaching it the right way.”
- “He 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.”
- “I think white rappers stand out initially no mater what, but i don’t really think white rappers get a lot attention in terms of the right kind of energy which is to be looked as to really be something and to be a part of hip hop.”
- “Everybody is out there. It evens the playing field. A kid in Oklahoma on his drum machine can make a record and he has the same outlets to put his record out there as Puffy does.”
- “I don’t think we’ll have as many MySpace stars because I think Facebook has surpassed MySpace and now Twitter kinda doing the same thing.
Scooter Braun, Asher’s manager
- Braun was told that in Austria, being “asleep in the bread basket” means someone is very funny. “That’s not why we did it, but that’s great how other meanings are out there. Great albums are open for interpretation.”
- “We leave it open, but I say bread is a word for money. Asher is in this place where all the money is around him and he has an opportunity to become very, very wealthy and he does not give a fuck. He’s completely oblivious. He is sleeping because he doesn’t care about that stuff.”
- “I don’t think geography matters shit to Asher,” says Braun.
- “I think Asher is an artist who relates to people. Hip-hop has this really weird thing where you can only really rap about what you know. People got mad at Rick Ross for [being a police officer]. Was 50 really shot all those times? Did Ja Rule do this or did Jay do that?” Braun says. “It’s a really weird thing, but Asher is the Bob Dylan of hip-hop. And the reason I say that is because Bob Dylan did songs like “Hurricane.” He wasn’t Hurricane, but he told that story. Asher is doing something where he is being true to himself, but he’s making good music for all people.”
- “As my grandma used to say, being mature is not changing who you are, it’s realizing that you only have to be who you always were,” Scooter says. “That is exactly what Asher is translating through.”
- “The way Asher has broke in, no one has done it before. No one has broken in on the blogs and gone gold in five weeks.”
- Asher like Kanye His album sounds like nothing out there.” White rappers need to be completely individual to succeed.”
- “My concept of the next great white rapper was always that you have to be able to hold your own against Eminem,” Braun says. “Asher is the first to come along who has the talent to do it.”
- “No one is talking about that we have a black president and for the first time two white MCs are putting out good hip-hop albums.” Scooter
- On iTunes last week, Asher was 17, and Eminem was 18.
- The distribution line in my marketing plan was the blog. Nah rights, the two dope boys, the Illroots, the SOHHs, even the one time he was on Perez Hilton. The blogs are where people are turning for their information. They are the mixtapes and the magazines combined. And they’re really a distribution tool. I’ve been telling all the blogs, whether people love Asher or hate him, they should buy his album because if he is successful, if he goes platinum,
- “The labels don’t listen to music anymore. They look at what is financially successful. That’s why when a boyband works, suddenly everyone has a boyband. When Soulja Boy works, everyone is doing fucking dance songs and stinky leg and every fucking thing else. It’s not because they’re looking for artists or whatever, they are looking for whatever will make money in that moment. And if the people want their music to be heard again, whether you like a rock band that’s on your favorite blog, or whether you like another rapper on your blog, if Asher Roth goes platinum, they [music labels] will turn to the blogs and that’s the only place in music right now where the fans have a voice.”
- “I said, tell me everything about Asher Roth,” Braun said. Boyd hung up, fearful it was related to recent noise violations. Braun called back.
- Braun recalled. “Now Boyd says he was watching porn when I called. This is how stars are born.”
- It was the power of social media. Days before, Asher sent a MySpace friend request to Braun.
- “I took one look, saw a white boy in a hoodie, and I said ‘What the fuck?'” Braun says. He wasn’t impressed with the music, but he liked Asher’s rhymes.
- “He wasn’t comfortable in his own skin,” Braun says. “I was interested, but not sold.”
- 50 cent said Asher’s the first white artist to come along who will be able to get a piece of the profit Eminem has enjoyed, Braun says.
- “And they didn’t get it because they didn’t see kinda what we saw. And they didn’t know how I planned on doing it. Because marketing a guy like Asher had never been done before.”
Shannon Higgins, Asher’s best friend
- He’s 23, 24 in May, went to Pennsbury High School with Asher. They played baseball together in ninth grade and become close friends after junior year. Close enough that Shannon (and others) went to Atlanta with Roth.
- “Asher recorded an album with Footie, Brian Sellers, in Brian’s basement senior year. They just took beats off the Internet. It was a 16 to 17 track album, and we made copies with somebody’s CD burner, and we sold them at school. They were selling them like crazy, and we got a lot of positive feedback.”
- “He was always a great English student, great with words.”
- “I was just always hanging out in the basement, giving my feedback on my songs.”
- “He was always good for wordplay,” Higgins said. “He read plenty and had a good vocabulary.”
- “Now that we’re living together in Atlanta, we’ll be sitting around, and he’ll ask a random word and if it would that fit here. He’s always thinking about working some clever word into a rhyme. He’s eloquent.”
- “It’s weird. It’s funny. I find it amusing because I just look back and how it happened. Seeing him on TV, hearing him on the radio. People who haven’t talked to me in a year will call and say ‘oh my God, Asher’s on the radio.’ I get that call almost everyday. I got it yesterday, actually, and I just got to smile.”
- “He’s become more confident about himself and just to be the way he wants to be. He was always a laid back person, but he’s even more so since this happened. He’ll dress down, and wear the sweatpants and v-neck sweaters he likes. He doesn’t care about how people see him.”
- “In high school, he was friends with a lot of people. He was a very popular kid. Kind of a goofball, and not very serious. He was big into sports and just wasn’t a serious kid, and we just got along well.”
- “He was a great English student and great with words, and not great at math. He wrote papers for people, I remember.”
- “He’s always going to be compared to other people. Some say white people just can’t rap. Some people say you just sound like Eminem. Like, OK ‘I sound like the most popular rap artist in the last 15 years. Cool.”
- When he was at West Chester, he had a MySpace page. There was a phone number for contact information, and it was one of our friends, Tom Boyd. At 2 a.m., Scooter calls him, and says ‘Tell me all about Asher Roth.’ Well, Tom just hangs up on him because they’d been getting into trouble for noise violations. But then Scooter calls back and says, ‘no, I’m serious.”
- So Scooter flies Asher down to Atlanta and signs him.
- March 2007: “I remember, we were just sitting around the house drinking beer and he asked me, ‘Do you want to move to Atlanta with me?’ I had left school and was working at a bar, so I thought ‘I could actually make this work.”
- Scooter found a house for us. I remember, I was in a car driving to Florida with my family for Thanksgiving, and he tells me, ‘Yo, we found a house. We move Dec. 1.’ ‘Cool, let’s do it. It was a total whim.”
- They drove down at the end of 2007 and began a rap career.
- Now Shannon works at a family restaurant and bar for one year.
- “West Chester is a part of Philly, and he was there for three years,” Higgins says. “His first manager lived there.”
Carolyn Rees, Asher’s former girlfriend
- “I remember when I think he first thought it was serious. He came back from Atlanta, and he asked me ‘What’s going to happen if it all goes together.’ I said ‘you can’t think about us.’ I didn’t want to get in the way of him following some dream.”
- Dated Asher from February 2005, her junior year of high school, to February 2007, her freshman year in college
- junior at Penn State, dated Asher for two years, known him since her 8th grade (2001/2002) She last saw him December 2008
- “I could never, ever be in the spotlight like that. I told him that, and he said he doesn’t listen to it, or oh, he listens, but he doesn’t care what they say.”
- “He has a good head on his shoulders. He might get overwhelmed with shows and photo shoots, but I think can do well, really well.”
- “Goofball. He’s just a lot fun. You could never take him too seriously. He takes himself seriously, but not too seriously.”
“I remember when his manager Scooter Braun found him on MySpace and wanted him to fly to Atlanta. I just thought, ‘I hope he’s not some not creep.”
“He’s always been jokingly into himself and thought of himself as ‘the man.'”
“He’s much more talented than they’re going to push him to be. He’s not a tool bag.”
“I probably shouldn’t know what he did in college because we were together, and he was always sort of a ladies man.”
- There’s the story about Asher, among others, playing a game of strip poker at the Rees family home. Her father walked in and tossed everybody out. Asher called Q102 and described the incident to a DJ friend, Rees said. “He called me and said, ‘Turn on Q102, we’re going to be on in a minute.”
- “I am nervous that they are trying to corner him into being the college spokesperson… He’s 23 now.”
- “He made me sell them in high school,” Rees said of the “Just Listen LP.
- Asher was voted most likely to become a famous rapper in his senior year book.
- For now, his camp is trying its best to navigate the fiery buzz that is surrounding the precocious, suburban Bucks County rapper before his debut album is released next Tuesday.
- Video of Asher with Ludacris, meeting with Cee-Lo,
- MTV article, changing hip hop
- Vibe shoot? XXL cover? Album
- Morrisville, across the Delaware River from Trenton, N.J. and once a major stopping point on the 18th-century road between Philadelphia and New York, is named for Robert Morris, known as the financier of the American Revolution and a longtime Philadelphian. So, it might appear that Asher could be another feather in the cap of Philly’s proud, if underdeveloped, hip-hop community. But that might be a bit trickier.