First of all, this mixtape is awful. Before I meander into pointless digressions and asides, in search of something—anything—interesting to say about Asher fucking Roth, I want to make clear that I hate. I’m relieved I hate Drake so much, that I enjoy some of Eminem’s shit, that El-P and Vinnie Paz are pretty cool, or else I would worry my distaste for Asher Roth was racially based.
It isn’t, The Rawth EP is objectively bad, but it’s impossible to discuss Roth without considering race, mostly because his fans and publicists have the temerity to reach for the most obvious and least apt comparison when describing him: Eminem. Asher Roth is white and he has an obnoxious voice. That is where the similarities between Roth and Marshall Mathers end. I suppose Roth does occasionally bite Eminem’s style, but that doesn’t make them similar, it just makes Roth shitty.
Besides lyrical ability, the reason the Eminem-Roth comparison is so tone-deaf is because of Mathers’ groundbreaking honesty in his music, at least early on. I don’t mean the stupid “I-say-shit-publicly-you-think-privately” concept he triumphs whenever given the chance, I just mean in his early records Eminem was depicting a fictionalized but decidedly unromantic life as a low-class white person.
On the other side of the racial divide few of the black artists who reached mainstream success ever dared to describe growing up poor without the obligatory gangster fantasies and ostentatious proofs of wealth. Unlike Eminem, Roth has no interest in doing anything but repeating anonymous clichés at a glacial pace. While Eminem introduced a whole new life experience to non-country, top 40 radio, Roth seems to be purposely avoiding doing anything new or creative.
Which makes Asher Roth the white Drake, and by that I mean he can’t rap, and he is painfully uninteresting. The two share so much, including a flow that is somewhere between Mase and Baz Luhrmann, a worldview borrowed from a 15-year-old virgin, a penchant for singing their own awful hooks and an affinity for repeating idiotic catch phrases about drinking. But their deficiencies aside, I worry it’s something about me that makes me detest the two of them so much.
My aversion to the two isn’t racial, but cultural. Roth gained fame with the frat anthem “I Love College” that established his place as an idiot.
I have to wonder why this depiction of a stupid person’s experience at college bothers me so much. I (hope I) am nothing like Roth, but his life experience is probably more similar to mine than that of most rappers; I know people who would find the party-time antics described in “College” really exciting and awesome, I’ve been to the kind of terrible parties he’s describing and the idea of making a song about them pisses me off. But why am I so resistant to a shallow exploration of the upper-middle class experience?
Frat parties suck and so do people who go to them, but clubs suck too and I don’t even bat an eye at a song describing that experience. I’m sure Akon is really boring to talk to, and I’m sure I would dislike most of the people drinking at the kind of places he likes to set his songs in, but if the beat is good I’ll gladly listen to the track and dismiss the lyrical idiocy.
In my review of Young Buck’s most recent mixtape I bemoaned that rap had lost its cache as a challenging or rebellious art form
Asher Roth is the next logical step in the defanging of hip-hop, not because he’s white, but because he’s making music for boring upper-class listeners.
Until recently, rap was made for the lower class and happened to be enjoyed by those in the upper and middle classes. Drake and Roth represent a new phenomenon, which is rap that is made directly for the wealthy. Drake makes music for sorority girls that just happens to be enjoyed by people in the inner city—the inverse of some vapid Wrigleyville accountant listening to The Chronic.
The biggest difference between Eminem and Asher Roth is Eminem makes my mom uncomfortable. When Mathers was at the height of popularity, depictions of black poverty had become commonplace and fit nicely with typical feelings of white paternalism and liberal guilt, but, like a white version of Chris Rock’s famous “Black people vs. Niggas” bit, the white trash described by Eminem is the embarrassing other. There’s nothing challenging or uncomfortable about this new breed.
If I visited my parents and my mom was listening to Asher Roth or Drake on her little kitchen CD player I’d be disappointed, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Roth makes music I could picture my mom listening to, and that fucking sucks.