It’s amazing how much something can change in just five years. In 2009, Asher Roth couldn’t make a move without being compared to Eminem. It didn’t matter that he sounded almost nothing like Slim Shady, the thought of another white rapper trying to emerge into the mainstream was nearly impossible to fathom at the time. There’s no shortage of white rappers on the market today, and they certainly owe at least a fraction of their success to Asher Roth for breaking down the barrier.
The culture of the rap game isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the last five years. Asher Roth has almost completely reinvented himself as a musician. School Boy Records saw the success of the fun, carefree singles like “Roth Boys” and “I Love College” and wanted to push Asher as a frat boy rapper. The result was the disingenuous collection of forced pop songs making up Asleep in the Bread Aisle. Asher is one of the best when it comes to just throwing on a cool beat and banging out some multi-syllabic rhymes like it’s nothing, but it was always evident that there was so much more to him as an artist. When you try to shove him in a box and feed him to a certain demographic, you miss out on what makes him interesting in the first place.
Luckily, in a world of easy access to recording equipment and independent releases, labels can’t contain artists. If you want to see what Asher’s debut rap album should’ve been, check out Pabst & Jazz. If you want to hear the other side of Asher and dive deep into an experimental amalgamation of alternative hip-hop, then welcome to RetroHash.
While Asher Roth has worked plenty with Blended Babies in the past, the production on RetroHash is unfamiliar territory. It’s far from any traditional rap beats you’d be used to hearing Asher on. There’s a strong focus on live instrumentation with a slow tempo, a deviation from the more aggressive rap beats you may be used to hearing Asher tackle. “Dude (featuring Curren$y)” is really the only traditional rap song you’re going to get on RetroHash. The album is roughly 50/50 on rapping and singing. Asher probably isn’t someone that comes to mind when you think of the singer/rapper hybrids out there, but thankfully he does have a palatable voice and he makes it work.
It’s a big risk, especially after being acclimated to the comfortable mixtape environment for so long, and there’s a good chance that such a focused experimental record like RetroHash could fall flat on its face. Whether it’s a commercial or critical success is really irrelevant. Asher Roth has the freedom he has longed for his entire career, and in turn he made the album that he wanted to make.
From a critical standpoint, RetroHash does have its missteps. It’s a mere ten tracks long, and considering that five of those songs were released to the public before the album, it’ll be a bit of a disappointment to Roth fans eager for new material to discover that they’ve already heard half the album. Some of the hooks are lacking, and some of the songs are so left-field (“Tangerine Girl”) that it creates a huge hit-or-miss scenario. That being said, when the album is good, it’s really good.
RetroHash will be getting a lot of burn this summer. Every song has something different to offer, and ten tracks really ends up being the perfect length, leaving you wanting more. “Parties at the Disco”, “Fast Life”, and “Be Right” are personal standouts, but ask ten different listeners their favorite tracks and be prepared for ten different responses. The mellow vibe and cool instrumentation make it a fitting soundtrack for a summer evening. Let’s just hope it’s not another five year wait until Asher’s next studio album.