"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon


Monday, April 27, 2009

You Can’t Kill Something That’s Already Dead (Unless It’s A Zombie): Not A Blogger’s Review Spectacular Of Asher Roth’s Asleep In The Bread Aisle

"Mostly Harmless"

Chuck Klosterman’s seminal essay on Billy Joel from his book “Sex, Drugs & Cocoa Puffs” attempts to describe Billy Joel’s lack of critical respect despite his penchant for writing airtight uber-popular love ballads. Klosterman declared Joel’s artistic credibility problem derives from the simple fact that “Billy Joel is not cool.” Now his lack of cool (much like fellow ‘70s balladeer, Barry Manilow) did not prevent him from selling records like “Freeway” Ricky Ross sold crack cocaine (not to be confused with either Freeway or Rick Ross who I most assure you never sold crack in their lives) but does prevent Billy Joel in any meaningful discussion of greatest musicians of all-time. His greatness will always be in question simply because fourteen year old boys would rather grow up to be Jimmy Page than Billy Joel. As Klosterman pointed out in the essay, this is a profoundly ridiculous way to judge the relative quality of an artist. For one, most people who are “cool” actively suck as people (at least in my estimation) and in the other, judging coolness over an artist’s talent is how we end up with Jim Jones being able to release three albums without having an actual, discernible talent.

Now, Asher Roth is not cool, either. This is a problem for him. Asher is pale and skinny, wears polo shirts and penny loafers, sounds remarkably like Eminem and is so blindingly white that his name is actually, Asher Roth. Nobody wants to be Asher Roth but unlike Joel who most critics treat as (“mostly”) harmless (if not ironically enjoyable), Roth has inexplicably garnered a level of vitriol and deep-seated hatred in bloggers and critics alike not seen since Vanilla Ice claimed he wasn’t jacking a Queen song. I’ve seen Roth declared everything from “the worst rapper in history of mankind, the universe, and the heavens above, now and forever” (roughly, I’m paraphrasing about ten billion blogger’s essays including a few writers I deeply respect ) to Roth being borderline if not out and out racist and prematurely declaring Asher’s debut record, “Asleep In The Bread Aisle” to be a lock for one of this year’s worst records. This is problematic because not only isn’t Asher Roth that terrible of a rapper but “Asleep In The Bread Aisle” is a solid if completely workmanlike record. The level of vitriol doesn’t match the content. It’s mostly harmless.

Asher Roth is certainly not a great rapper by any stretch of the imagination. As a lyricist, he is rather… let’s just say…limited. Outside of his much maligned “A Milli Freestyle” from last summer, Roth pretty much sticks to the well-worn treads of rapping about partying, girls, and weed. Nobody is going to accuse him of being Aquemini-era Andre 3000 (although, they will accuse him of being Eminem, often and frequently) anytime soon. However, contrary, what you may have heard, Asher Roth does not suck. He maybe an idiot but his flow is technically sound and he does have a penchant for dropping off-beat, pop culture referencing one-liners as highlighted by his freestyle epic opener “Lark On My Go-Kart.” Asher Roth may present himself as a living breathing frat boy cliché but he’s not a bad rapper, at least, not in a strictly technical sense. His flow isn’t off-beat and his words land where they should. If Asher Roth has one critical flaw, it would be his work is blandly enjoyable but completely unimaginative. It simply exists on a plane of commercially disposable pop music that serves as solid background music for cleaning your apartment but has very little other use. For an album as whimsically titled as “Asleep In The Bread Aisle,” the music sticks with a tried-and-trued formula and doggedly adheres to it.

However, this is actually a understated strength of the album. Roth knows his limitations as an artist and he doesn’t try to “Love Below” his album and create an ostensible piece of genius. If he were to try and do much as an artist, the album would undoubtedly be an unfocused mess and when you compound this with the fact that Roth isn’t exactly Rakim in his prime, it would assuredly make the album an abortion in the truest sense of the word. But it’s not. It’s simply a boom bap, frat rap album that exists in the vein of early Beasties and this allows Roth to craft catchy pop rap that will appeal to pop audiences. “I Love College” is a great song because it’s so dumb, affable and unassuming that it easily bridges the gap between a wide swaths of audience. Its sort of the musical equivalent of an 80s movie. It’s completely stupid and cheesy but there’s nothing I’d rather do than sit around on a Saturday afternoon in my underwear and watch Rodney Dangerfield’s stunt double try a triple lindy. The song features little goofy signifiers of college such as the “no shoes rule”, chants of “freshman”, and the unwritten rule that bouncing your ball during beer pong is profoundly pussy which is instantly identifiable to anybody who actually went to college and didn’t pretend that they were too good for a keg stand. (As a rule, the most uninteresting people I met in my four years at higher academia were those who were too holier than thou to attend frat parties as some sort of misguided and utterly asinine stand against the mainstream, sexist culture or as I liked to referred to them those that hated fun. I didn’t join a frat either but I’m not going to pretend getting smashed and puking in a trash can isn’t an awesome way to spend a Saturday Night. It totally is. Get a life, commie!)

For an artist that is so lightweight and fluffy, Asher Roth has managed to engender a particular brand of hate that I find patently unfair and hypocritical considering the decade’s long journey into the wilderness of wackness that hip hop has gotten lost in. It’s absolutely true that Asher Roth would have been laughed out of the building ten years ago but you know what, so would Soulja Boy and Jim Jones. Hip hop has long lost the remotest sense of quality control that not only an environment where it’s possible for artist like Asher Roth to achieve a degree of mainstream acceptance but ultimately, his rise was inevitable if not unavoidable. He’s the product of a decade of Soulja Boy apologists and crack rap fetishism. If you strip the gimmicky paradigm of Asher Roth being a suburban white kid rapping and deconstruct him into his simplest form than Roth becomes just another rapper with limited rapping ability who has been given far more of commercial attention than he probably deserves. This has been the narrative for almost a decade’s worth of rap music and Asher Roth is another figure that just fits right into the story. Traditional rap lyricism has watched itself slowly become increasingly irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if you can or cannot rap anymore. If you can write a hit song (and whether you like it or not, “I Love College” is a hit song), you are going to receive major label attention. Period. To harangue Asher Roth for being wack is to single out him for a widespread endemic problem with hip hop. Since when do we suddenly care about lyricism and the ability to rap well? Rick Ross is about to have his second number one album in the last two years. Wit ain’t exactly being valued at a premium these days. So why is Asher Roth suddenly the artistic anti-christ for rapping poorly?

I suppose it’s because Asher Roth is a rich white kid rapping about rich white kid things. There’s undeniable element of white privilege inherent in his music that makes people either very uncomfortable (myself included to an extent) or irrationally angry. Asher Roth may not be one of the first rappers to strip his music completely from the traditional context of the urban and the street but he’s one of the first to do it without going out of his way to acknowledge the contributions of the urban street rappers. Asher Roth has gone out of his way on numerous occasions to berate street rappers for their particular brand of conspicuous consumption of wearing diamonds and has done it in the holier-than-thou attitude of a pretentious white liberal. As Brandon Soderberg pointed out, this is problematic and probably a little bit racist as well. Roth should be the last person to critique black rappers for wearing ice not only because he celebrates his own form of conspicuous consumption in his songs (As “Blunt Cruisin’” and “I Love College” demonstrate) but also in the light of the recent Twitter/Nappy Headed Hoes fiasco that has arisen in the last couple of days. Hip hop is still a predominately black art form and a white rapper is always going to have a tentative and problematic relationship at best with the genre. Roth and his handlers should know better than to let him pop off at the mouth about a culture that he isn’t 100% accepted in.

However , I find it of interest that loudest voices of the Roth backlash are not coming from black rappers, critics or bloggers but rather Roth’s fellow brethren of the Caucasian persuasion. Asher Roth has been met with seething, scouring fury from my fellow white critics while black critics and bloggers like Toure’ and Eskay have met him with something either approaching tacit approval or at worst, resigned indifference. (Excuse me if I ignore Byron Crawford’s hate of the dude for a second. I’m talking serious critics…) I find this strange because, to me, Roth is utterly harmless. His music is too obvious to warrant serious artistic deconstruction and is generic enough that I can’t imagine that it would seriously offend people. The few songs that attempt to break the mold of frat rap like “As I Em” or “Sour Patch Kids” either reek of generic, let’s-start-a-revolution cliché prevalent in post-Rawkus indie rap (“Sour Patch Kids”) or deal with his own personal flaws and limitations (the Eminem comparison refuting “As I Em”, coincidently. the album’s best song) that one would actually have to be looking to be offended from the onset in order to actually be offended at all. It’s all too harmless. Perhaps, there is a certain funhouse reflection that white critics see in themselves when looking at Asher Roth that makes his persona too close for comfort. This is a sentiment that as a white rap fan that I can relate to. Often, I’ve found myself being reduced amongst people as “the white dude who loves rap music” and I always find myself tacitly apologizing for my taste in music. I personally don’t find it strange at all that my musical heroes are Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan but I dread having to explain why I like the music in the first place. There is a certain cultural stigma that being an unabashed white rap fan has carried that is constantly being reinforced in the media be either Jamie Kennedy-esque caricature or uber-naive MC Paul Barmanian nerdiness surrounding whiteness in hip hop. Asher Roth is perhaps the closest thing to a white blogger making a rap album there is so perhaps this brings nothing but discomfort in some. I understand the sentiment and I sort of wish that somebody rapping about the environment that I grew up in had more talent but the hate this dude is getting seems unwarranted. It just seems too personal to be simply about his music.

Perhaps, I’m wrong about all this. Perhaps, Roth just sucks and the people who rag on him are right and are right for the right reasons. I could be just jaded. Ten years of watching my favorite brand of music slowly die off into irrelevance and being replaced by an insidious, insipid bizarro version has numbed my senses to the point where I just can’t get offended by a no-talent ass clown raping the music I love anymore. I’ve seen too many Young Jeezy’s and Jim Jones’ and Soulja Boy’s get rich and famous making sub par music that the idea of another one just warrants a resigned shrug from me. Who cares? He’ll be replaced by somebody else sooner or later. Asher Roth isn’t killing hip hop because you can’t kill something that’s already dead. All I know is that I sat around listening to “Asleep In The Bread Aisle” while I was cleaning my apartment and thought it was mildly enjoyable if relentlessly stupid, turned it off and went on with the rest of my day. This seems like the approriate response. Maybe, hip hop has just passed me by. Or maybe, I’m just a sucker for Teddy Ruxtpin references… Man, that was a cool toy!

22 comments:

Natan said...

it's 3AM here in Israel.
so i gotta ask u Doc, what do u think about Em's new one?

maybe there's still hope?

and for Asher, the kid's nice, haven't heard the whole album yet. but he's definitely on another level than the Soulja Boy's and the Jim Jones's. come on! at least dude has a brain! he knows how to write a punch line! it's good to see another guy who doesn't take himself too seriously but still knows and respects the past of the culture he's representing.
ain't nothing wrong with that, at least in my book.

DocZeus said...

You mean "We Made You?" I wrote about it a few weeks ago. Didn't like it. At all. Unless, Em released something newer in the last few days. I've been off my Nah Right game for a moment.


And yeah, Asher Roth is a slightly better rapper than Soulja Boy and Jim Jones but that's sort of the point. He's getting less respect than they are for reasons I try to codify.

Natan said...

let me put u on the game (damn it's been a while since the last time "the Cool" was playing out of my CD player):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA6UVzvIUR4

bding7 said...

As a rule, the most uninteresting people I met in my four years at higher academia were those who were too holier than thou to attend frat parties as some sort of misguided and utterly asinine stand against the mainstream, sexist culture or as I liked to referred to them those that hated fun.perhaps we tired of going to bad, bad parties and watching not so cute girls dance poorly. add to that the work i had/wanted to get done as well as friends with interests outside of banker's club and... yea, no frat parties for this guy. but, my school was 1/9th the size of where you went.

Since when do we suddenly care about lyricism and the ability to rap well?since this guy decided to make videos showing off his music to Cee-Lo, hook up with DJ Drama, rap over 'Cannon.' all the stuff i heard about from him last year was about his ability to rap. thus, when his album comes out and his rapping is subpar, he gets the gasface. soulja boy and capo didn't come into rap claiming they were good at rapping, they've claimed superiority through sales and swagger. that's fine, as they and i all know neither of them are adroit rappers or writers. when A-Roth wants to play "look, i can do this, too" then gets demolished by busta on lion's roar or whatever, i have every reason to be upset by his inability to make good on his promise to deliver.

Asher Roth is perhaps the closest thing to a white blogger making a rap album there is so perhaps this brings nothing but discomfort in some.except most you bloggers (i say 'you' because i'm, ya know, black) have the good goddamn sense to know that a song like lion roar is unnecessary and generally a bad idea.

Jordan said...

"Asher Roth has been met with seething, scouring fury from my fellow white critics while black critics and bloggers like Toure’ and Eskay have met him with something either approaching tacit approval or at worst, resigned indifference."

http://harryallen.info/?p=3276

also Bol's as much of a serious critic as Eskay.

Sorry I'm in asshole mode here. Honestly I don't give a shit about Roth's music (rather spend my time listening to the new U-N-I tape, probably my favorite example of "hipster rap" thus far) it's the marketing thing where dude wants to reclaim rap music for suburban white douches and gives all these interviews about how he "can't relate."

Billy Joel's audience was full of people not old enough to give a shit whether he was cool. Asher does not have this luxury. So he sells uncool chic or whatever.

Gucci Bandana and We Fly High (NY Giants remix) are classics. Can't Roth at least give us a novelty dance?

"Asher Roth is perhaps the closest thing to a white blogger making a rap album there is so perhaps this brings nothing but discomfort in some."

Yeah cuz that Zilla Rocca is so critically reviled.

Also I thought bouncing in beer pong was worth more, but you were allowed to block it. But then again I don't attend too many parties these days, for non-political reasons.

Jay Deff Kay said...

Its interesting at how much of a hype machine product Asher is. Almost every review I've read about the guy doesn't primarily address his music. Much like Paris Hilton being famous for being famous, most of Asher's buzz is about his buzz.

The prominence of blogs and internet's involvement in hiphop these days keeps bringing up this discussion of authenticity of an artist's buzz. Product being pushed to us vs. product we're fiending for. With regards to Asher, I'm kinda salty coz I get the impression that there's strings being pulled for him. Like, for example, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Asher's first mixtape a DJ Drama mixtape? I'm not gonna go yell conspiracy but there some really nice networking going there atleast. I refuse to believe that Asher was coming with heat so hot that DJ Drama himself couldn't help but abide by the call of streets chanting asher's name.

Asher's an artist I would totally be indifferent towards, if not for everyone talking extensively about whether we need to be indifferent towards him.

Jay Deff Kay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay Deff Kay said...

"Asher Roth is perhaps the closest thing to a white blogger making a rap album there is so perhaps this brings nothing but discomfort in some."

That is the meanest white blogger diss I've heard.

Also: "Now, Asher Roth is not cool, either. This is a problem for him. Asher is pale and skinny, wears polo shirts and penny loafers, sounds remarkably like Eminem and is so blindingly white that his name is actually, Asher Roth."

The Billy Joel comparison is interesting, but come on now Doc is this really an issue? I've heard a lot of Asher hater, both in and outside blog circles, but I have not heard a single one talk about his fashion sense or lack of swag, if you will. If anything, it seems calculated to go with his image.

IMHO: Billy Joel didn't give a fuck. Asher's actively trying to look like he doesn't give a fuck

MCH said...

You are wrong ZEUS! Asher sucks because he is boring and bland. I agree that Jim Jones and Soulja Boy are worse, but so what? That doesn't mean Asher is any good. It just means he is one step higher on the ladder of untalented rappers to get record deals.

Paul Wall>>>>>>>>>Asher Roth

Jesus Shuttlesworth said...

If you bounce it in in beer pong, your opponents must drink the cup the ball landed in plus another cup of your choice. They may, however, swat away a bounced ball.

Kronos said...

"Asher Roth is perhaps the closest thing to a white blogger making a rap album there is so perhaps this brings nothing but discomfort in some."
Are white bloggers ashamed of Roth or afraid that Roth "represents" them? Maybe they think "damn, that could have been my money and my video". Is this a (reverse) situation that many minorities have faced in the past - you had to be so much better than the normative to be accepted - and Asher Roth is just not that much better.

Or maybe, this is all mental masturbation, and hip hop has simply turned into the equivalent of 80s rock, and Asher Roth is nothing more than a reverse negative of Lionel Ritchie. (Does that mean Asher Roth's kid will be a meaningless celebrity on the 30th anniversary of TMZ?)

DocZeus said...

" If you bounce it in in beer pong, your opponents must drink the cup the ball landed in plus another cup of your choice. They may, however, swat away a bounced ball."

I think it depends on the house rules you play under. I've played both with that rule and no bouncing rule.

Kronos-

I think there is a little bit of the old adage that for a white emcee to get respect you have to be twice as good in there but there's also a lot of things that bother people around him. I just can't seem to understand why Roth bothers people so much especially when in my estimation there are worse emcees out there. Yeah, it's true the Soulja Boys and the Rick Rosses of the world have taken their beatings but nobody is questioning their inherent right to participate. With the Roth because he appears to be such an outsider to the culture (like of lot of bloggers and myself included) that he's already at a huge disadvantage.

Still there is no question the dude is an idiot. It should have occurred to him that a nappy headed hoes joke posted on his twitter feed would not be a good idea.

Detroit P said...

Thus was well written....I think the Hate comes from people feeling like Asher's being constantly shoved in their faces and when they see that he isn't really that good they get pissed off about being constantly bothered by it..the last artist that was shoved in our(meaning their..I'm indifferent) faces like this(!!!) was Lil Wayne...but Lil Wayne had paid dues and built up his fanbase and had a reason to be mentioned...Asher Roth is new, industry created therefore he doesn't have a built in fan base, so now he's constanly being pushed in our faces as the next big thing, in the hopes that people will latch on...oh and Young Jeezy does not make sub-par music...he makes above-par motivational anthems

DocZeus said...

Detroit P-

That's an interesting theory about Asher vs. Lil Wayne and media saturation. But I'm always a bit weary about the validity of organic vs. industry created fan base argument. It's probably ostensibly true that Roth had no fan base when he started popping up on the blogs but harnessing the internet is the only way one would could garner a fan base if you are Asher Roth. Should he penalized because he's successful at it? Is gaining a fan base on the internet any less organic even if it's done with mass industry support? Fans are still fans.

I mean I hear the majority of new artists I like through the internet but that's because I'm not going to be able to hear that group unless the artist comes to New York and plays. It's made all acts global before they get a chance to find their footing.

Badmon3333 said...

Am I the only one who thought Asher Roth was that Jonathan Hoth from Toth guy at first? (the dude that guested on "Ghostwhirl" with Doom)

Badmon3333 said...

Shit... Jonathan TOTH from HOTH. Always get that wrong.

tray said...

This is, like, your best post ever. Hurray for good posts.

DocZeus said...

"This is, like, your best post ever. Hurray for good posts."

Oh god. I'm going to have immediately delete this.

tray said...

Yeah, you must've been wrong. Asher Roth's really brainwashing us into being little privileged suburban bigots, and it's all very ugly, and insidious, and... ugly.

africanorigins said...

Wow. This post was real. I am a bit surprised, I thought you were going to follow suit and diss the shit out of Asher Roth like the other bloggers did. But it is true, about Hip Hop being a predominantly black art form. Because if Asher was black he would be Naledge (no disrespect). A kid who had two doctors as parents but decided to rap. Or any other 'hipster' rapper. Most of the ones I've heard of come from similar backgrounds. If Asher was a 'black hipster,' people wouldn't really care where he came from as long as he wasn't fraudulent and totally dishonest.

I also think the hate comes from the machine like someone said earlier. You couldn't go to a rap/hiphop blog without seeing Asher Roth. It was outta the blue almost. No slow progression. Just 'look at this guy,'over and over again. That Byron Crawford dude was saying he got 10 emails about Asher Roth and how he should be writing bout him. And then those strange videos getting Akon, and others to cosign him in front of the cameras. And not to mention his first mixtape being hosted by DJ Drama, just made it feel like contrivance.

Anonymous said...

yall are great haters good at it too

JonathanToth said...

DOOM guested on my song "Ghostwhirl." Who's Asher Roth?