A Conversation with Asher Roth at The Frye Daze SXSW Showcase
It was about 2 a.m. and Asher Roth was wrapping up his finale to to the Frye Days SXSW showcase, following an impressive lineup put together by our good friends over at the Frye Company. The setting was just as you'd expect – college kids, fashionistas, hip-hop heads, young kids, young adults, old adults, sneakerheads and tipsy bar patrons just looking to jam out to some good music. Taking a step back, you'll notice that's the special thing about Asher – he's versatile, resilient with an ability to connect globally, resonates on almost any audience and most importantly, the kid's got rhymes. In 2008, labels took notice, and the bidding war amongst SRC, Def Jam, Warner Bros. Records and Atlantic Records was underway. At that point, what looked like instant stardom became somewhat of a vigorous journey to what many were calling the heir apparent to Marshal Mathers. We were fortunate enough to catch up with one of our Hypetrak favorites to pick his brain on the journey and it takes him next. Special thanks to the Frye Company.
Thank you for coming out. Fans have been asking about you, but you've been somewhat low-key. Is that intentional and do you think too much press can hurt an artist?
That's love. We need that too. Press is important, but it can also be your worst enemy. We want to talk to the right people. We want to hang with the right people. It's like, Bob Dylan for instance. He didn't do interviews. Some guys just don't even do interviews. For me man, it's been a crazy journey. We popped off right away. It was huge. We were using MySpace to promote. That's like when the Internet era was just starting. We were utilizing YouTube as far as short clips. After the I Love College run with Blink-182, we went on tour with Blink-182 – that was the same time we were trying to figure out what to do for album two. And then Universal had a whole makeover and I got caught up in the bullshit, like in the politics of it. So Rifkin gets left from the makeover, they get dropped or whatever. With that being said ScHoolboy, Scooter's shit, that's where I was signing a joint venture through, and then Scooter Braun found Justin Bieber right after that. So I'm caught between the label I'm with getting removed from Universal and then Scooter finds Justin so he's blowing it up and he's focused on that. That left me like 'okay, what are you gonna do?' That was right around the time of Seared Foie Gras with Quince and Cranberry mixtape that we just kind of put out. You could tell it was a little different because I was doing RZA beats and J Dilla beats. I was like wait, what the fuck is this?
It seems there's a progression taking place off every project you drop, but they'll always be somewhat of a core hip-hop boom-bap element you'll provide on some albums. Is it important for you to stay centralized in that and do you feel that's been beneficial?
So it's like, The Greenhouse Effect was crazy, then we did Asleep in the Bread Aisle. We had Pabst & Jazz, The Rawth EP. See it's crazy because we used really only Internet. We had no radio. And when I came out I was kind of introduced as this mainstream radio artist, so people were expecting big singles. Really for me, the live show is the most important thing, and just making relatable music. That's what was so huge about “I Love College,” it was relatable. But then like, it was weird because the next step after that, the next single Universal put out was “Be By Myself.” We did kind of an abstract video for it and everyone was like, 'Wait I don't get this, completely.” It was still fun but the music was different. I remember getting told “ah fuckin', it didn't test well at radio” so they're not going to play it. I was like what is this? That's when I started finding out about politics at radio, and then like, politics of the building. If you're not top priority, caking, caking, caking, then you know, you got your work cut out for you. That's when I realized I want to do the work. I want to go back and fill in all the foundation that we skipped over with “I Love College” taking off right away. Hence, Pabst & Jazz, going on tour, things like that. Just doing smaller stuff and embracing it. It's been a ride, man.
How does it feel to have the same manager as Justin Bieber?
I mean, I'm so used to it. I was there, I was rockin' with Scoot, kind of started the whole thing with him when Justin was at our doorstep, know what I mean? He was playing Mario Kart with us and shit. So he's just like that kid and next thing you know he's the biggest superstar on the planet. It's all very close to home for me but sometimes you don't realize how enormous Justin is or how much attention and how much goes into managing a career as big as a Justin Bieber or a Rihanna or a Kanye West. At some point obviously, it manages itself but with a kid like Justin, 16, 17, 18 years old, they really have to be monitored and really watched. So they had no time for me. Management is so important. Behind every great artist and successful artist, is a really great manager. Scooter's a great dude, he's a great manager, but you're spread thin at that point when you have a 500-pound gorilla that's Justin Bieber. I wouldn't change anything. I think I've learned so much about patience. I've learned so much about work ethic and what it takes and being prepared and just going at it everyday. Making it your job, making it your career, setting intention and just going at it.
Presently, where are you musically?
For the most part, we just got off the road in Europe. We did two weeks in Europe. We had a run with Kids These Days. I love their stuff so I reached out to them and wanted to go on a little run. We did some North America stuff. So re-energizing a fan base. From there, we just want to get some more music out. With the music right now, it's kind of a combination of everything. It's like Asleep in the Bread Aisle times, Pabst & Jazz with sprinkles of Seared Foie Gras. It's progression, trying things I don't normally do but also stuff in my comfort zone at the same time. You gotta give people what they want because you have a responsibility to them as an artist that they're familiar with. But if you balance it you can experiment with new stuff and add some stuff in there that people have never heard before. That's ultimately what we want to do, continue to make new music and challenge ourselves.
Are you currently working out of New York City right now?
Nah, I'm actually in Philadelphia but I'm going to move to California and just work. A lot of everybody I work with, Orin, the Blended Babies, a lot of those guys are in California.
What's going on with the music, any material?
Always. I mean, we're sitting on so much music just because of what's been going. We did 12 records with Pharrell, that was The Spaghetti Tree, and that never came out. Then it changed form and we kept making music as time went by. The music is like the time capsule. You'll hear it and it'll take you back to, "Oh man, I remember what I was doing back then!” So the Pharrell stuff had just got to a point where that wasn't where I was in my life anymore because two years had gone by. So Pabst & Jazz was kind of made out of hanging around and being like, okay we can't put any of this music out so we're just going to put out a free project. Same with The Rawth EP, we didn't sell that either. That was free music because we had samples and didn't want to ask for permission. Pabst & Jazz and Blended Babies were like let's just put something out. It's gotten to a point where I just want to put out music and as long as people can have the music and listen to the music and get familiar with the music then we can put on shows like this and everyone can hang out and chill. That's the most important part. Getting a bunch of people in the room, getting people smiling, laughing, breaking barriers and talking about things that you normally can't talk about when you're just rapping about how great you are.
Any details you can share on it? Its concept?
Well I wouldn't say it's really a concept album. It's more or less an album about embracing responsibility but keeping that little kid inside you. There's always a Shel Silverstein vibe to my shit. Or like Roald Dahl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach or what's BFG? Big Friendly Giant, stuff like that. Where the Sidewalk Ends or Light in the Attic because it appeals to kids man. Kids can relate to it but also if it's smart enough then adults are gonna like it. I don't want to target a demographic that's like 17-24, I want to target a demographic that's like 5-40.
Any final words?
I just want to say how much I appreciate and adore my fan base. The patience that they've shown with me and allowing me to grow and allowing me to try new things. I feel like the kids that come out, I honestly feel like they're the coolest people in the world. Without them we can't do it, so it's one huge thank you and one big hug.