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Asher Roth Is A Problem

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Asher Roth’s a goofy white rapper with a passable flow, who’s sort of clever, but has gained a lot of his “fame” courting outdated notions what hip-hop is and isn’t, and really harping on his “suburban” roots. Dude’s apparently been praised by Andre 3000, Jay-Z, and Akon, he’s been signed by Steve Rifkind, and he’s in the ‘Show & Prove’ section of this month’s XXL saying bullshit like this: “I’m representing the 80 percent of kids who actually buy these rap albums but, really, can’t relate”. Maybe that title should read “Asher Roth Is Problematic”.

Although he has originals, for now, Roth’s gaining his fame rapping over big, giant, pop-rap beats while eschewing the grotesque message and materialism of those songs in his rhymes. The idea’s hardly innovative and unknown rappers rapping over other people’s hits always seems kinda cheap, but Roth’s raps over “A Milli” or “Roc Boys” seem downright vampiric. Every rhyme reminds listeners of his suburban roots, his whiteness, and the gross materialism of most hip-hoppers, as if any of these ideas—that most rappers like money or that a white kid can rap—are a surprise in 2008. It’s as deep as aged dumbasses who joke about how the world’s changed because “the best golfer’s black and the best rapper’s white.”

In raps and interviews, Roth pushes the very square, rockist sense that rap is all self-serious (something always stated by fans of actually self-serious groups like U2 or Pink Floyd). As the quote from XXL would suggest, Roth either believes or feels okay exploiting the myth that white kids are buying all the hip-hop CDs, pushing it so far as to suggest that the rap he and his fellow whiteboys buy is something they can’t “relate” to or understand, as if understanding is that superficial.

In his video for “Roth Boys” however, Roth invokes the nerd appeal of Fatlip’s “What’s Up Fatlip” video and the current background to his MySpace has to be a homage to Devin the Dude’s first album. Given the superficial connections between Roth’s music and Fatlip or Devin’s, would it be safe to assume the dude’s heard them and relates?

One can see what Roth means when he suggests rap’s not the music he and his friends can relate to, but that’s more a testament to Roth’s categorical thinking than some inherent flaw in hip-hop. However, Roth’s entire persona is based on these although-popular, very incorrect notions of what rap and race are and are allowed to be. Only a non-rap fan would see even the dumbest hip-hop as exclusively guns, money, and hoes. Rap is a genre based around saying one thing and meaning another or saying one thing and meaning many other things; you’d think a guy who has decided to rap would know this.

It’s never explicitly said—because if it was, he wouldn’t even be afforded the minor fame he has right now—but Roth’s rapping is not an alternative to mainstream hip-hop or capitalistic corpo-rap, but an alternative to blackness. It’s not entirely clear if Roth even realizes this (probably because he’s not thinking as hard as he thinks he is), but his contempt for most rappers mixed with statements about how he’s the kind of guy buying the music—again, and therefore not black people—sound contemptuous.

His version of “A Milli” contains ‘Intro to Peace Studies’ aphorisms like “self-centered humans are the root of all evil” and a constant reminder that the money made should go to “charity” and not to gold because “sick kids need it more than I need a necklace”. It’s a contempt that occasionally stumbles into the geopolitical landscape when he invokes gas prices or something, but it’s always superficial and nowhere near as pointed as his comments to necklace-buying hip-hoppers. It’s easy for a kid from “the ‘burbs” to have such an altruistic and ideal view of how to distribute wealth, but it conveys a fundamental misunderstanding of how and why people conspicuously consume. If Roth’s comments were more intelligent and not you know, aimed only at black rappers, he’d be some kind of no-nonsense, un-PC political rapper but their muddled nature and again, how much his own whiteness pervades his raps, makes his “A Milli” sound more like the rants of an aging Dixiecrat or something.

His cloying whiteness also meets a certain, too-calculated savvy about blackness that feels just weird. Roth’s always qualifying his comments, or wisely invoking the burbs instead of whiteness when it might make him come off as offensive. Additionally, he never directly says anything negative about black people—its always rappers. In the video for his “Roc Boys” remake, “Roth Boys”, he’s seen in an Obama shirt—which although sincere, should rub any thinking viewer the wrong way—and moving through a frat party with a respectable amount of black dudes attending. Arguably, the presence of black dudes at the party is just a stab at realism but again, there’s some sense that this white rapper’s noticed how uncool other white rappers look when black dudes aren’t nodding their head in the background. For all of his Roth’s rap-rants about not being like those self-obsessed rappers, his every action feels calculated. In a kind of reverse “real”-ness that is Roth’s gimmick, his MySpace lists him the uber-burbs-sounding town of Morrisville, PA and not Atlanta, GA, where he was discovered and you know, one of the best places to go right now if you want to be a big-time rapper.

The most confusing part of Roth however, is is almost obsessive focus on whiteness. The key problematic line in “Roth Boys” is, “this is the same thing that happened on ‘Renegade”, a rap-nerd reference to Eminem’s debatable murking of Jay-Z on his own track. Roth however, has re-contextualized the line to not being about how one legendary rapper beat-out another legendary rapper on his own track, but as somehow being about a white rapper killing a black rapper on his own track, which has never been the rap-nerd debate about “Renegade”.

Inevitable comparisons to Eminem work because Roth’s a high-pitched white nerd who’s vaguely self-deprecating, but also because like Eminem, Roth constantly reminds listeners of his whiteness and implicitly, his difference (and alternative-ness) to most hip-hop. But Eminem’s use of his whiteness came from a desire to prove himself in spite of the unfortunate reputation of white rappers that came before him, not some strange sense of privilege because he’s the person actually buying rap CDs.

Written by Brandon

August 15th, 2008 at 3:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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