If you’re getting sick of Asher Roth’s ubiquitous party anthem, “I Love College,” you’re not alone.
So is he.
“It’s probably the worst song on the CD,” the amiable rapper said during a recent interview at a downtown Toronto hotel. “If I came out talking the way I really, actually think, people would be like, ‘what?’ So I needed to find a common ground – and it happened to be smoking a joint and drinking a beer. You have to find a reference point.”
“I Love College” has reached No. 12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 53 in Canada, and Roth’s debut record, “Asleep in the Bread Aisle,” has already risen to No. 5 on the charts in the U.S. and No. 31 in Canada
The track features an easygoing beat – originally swiped from Weezer’s hit “Say It Ain’t So,” but changed for the CD for copyright reasons – and a slowed-down flow from Roth, who raps about the joys of swilling beer, smoking pot and hooking up with strangers.
Unfortunately, Roth says penning the year’s defining frat anthem has had its drawbacks – for one, everyone wants to party with him.
“It’s tough man, when you have to go out three, four, five nights a week, with those college kids who are 18 and their bodies are prime for it – I’m getting up there (in age) a bit,” says the 23-year-old before shaking his head.
“Everyone wants to take a shot, everyone wants to have a beer – it’s like, let’s chill for a second. I’m down to about one or two nights a week of boogying. I’ve gotta be more disciplined, for real.”
Roth, with his messy blond hair, blue eyes and relaxed attire – on this day, it’s a colourful button-down plaid shirt, khaki shorts and flip-flops with a pair of sunglasses tucked into his collar – looks like he could have been plucked off a California beach, but he’s actually from suburban Morrisville, Pa.
Roth was an elementary education major at West Chester University and while he didn’t love the in-class experience – “I’ve learned more about life in these last two years since I left college,” he says – he figures he would have followed that path had rapping not become his full-time job.
“If I wasn’t doing the hip-hop thing, I’d be just in the classroom,” he said. “There’s a direct correlation between what I’m doing in hip hop and teaching. Just my curriculum’s a little different and my classroom’s way bigger. That’s it.”
Indeed, Roth speaks with an ambitious idealism that belies his breezy, irreverent lyrics. He’s commonly compared to Eminem – presumably because of his complexion and nasally voice – but doesn’t see the similarities, which he addresses on “As I Em.”
“Every minute, each hour of every day/I’m constantly on the fence defending my own name/Explaining we are not the same,” he raps.
“Everywhere I went man, people would just bring up him,” Roth said. “My lifestyle and who I am as a person is so drastically different (from Eminem).”
As for a reference point Roth prefers? How about Beck, whose own infectious slacker anthem, “Loser,” briefly earned him the “one-hit wonder” label, and whose predilection for junk-culture references is shared by Roth, who namedrops everyone from talking bear Teddy Ruxpin to “Saved By the Bell” star Lark Voorhees.
Roth clearly has an incredibly daunting task ahead of him if he wants to even approach Beck’s impressively varied catalogue, but if he falls short, it won’t be for lack of ambition.
He talks philosophically about a 12-year plan, about how he wants to inspire his listeners and challenge them to think about what’s going on around them, and about how he plans on pursuing whatever interests him musically – even if it means inviting questions about his authenticity as a rapper, which he says he faces already.
“Especially being a white kid in hip hop,” he notes, “you’re walking this very fine, delicate line.”
He says the critical backlash to his album – Spin Magazine called him “perfectly bland” while Pitchfork scored his record a 2.4 out of 10 – was inevitable, even if it did get under his skin.
“Obviously just being a human with emotions, there’s some stuff that’s hurtful, but at the end of the day, you have to let that stuff roll off your back,” he said.
Though he has seemingly taken some of the criticism to heart. The young rapper – so concerned with delivering a message in his music and getting through to his listeners – says he has already left party anthems firmly in his past.
“I would be completely hypocritical if I went back and made a second album full of smoking weed, drinking beer and (sleeping around),” he said. “I’m challenging people to think and I’d be like, ‘well you guys think, I’ll be over here having sex and drinking beer!”‘
“The next few steps are the ones that are going to be the toughest ones. Now there’s expectations, and money’s involved – when money’s changing hands man, things get ugly. It’s going to be interesting. The journey just began, man.”
– The Canadian Press