By Allison Stewart
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Asher Roth would like you to know that he is absolutely, positively nothing like that other white Rust Belt rapper, Eminem. On "As I Em," a focal point of his official debut, "Asleep in the Bread Aisle," he enumerates their similarities (their frequently identical vocal inflections, their whiteness) while pretending to be bothered by them. "Is it my fault? Must I be more convincing?" he wonders before concluding that all those Slim Shady comparisons can't hurt, after all. "Use it as ammunition/Would you please keep dissin' me?" he asks. "The haters wanna hate because I made it and I'm famous."
Famous? Not so fast: "I Love College," Roth's motor-mouthed ode to beer pong and weed, is the soundtrack to a thousand '09 spring breaks, but it remains to be seen whether Roth's persona -- Eminem as a frat boy, instead of a psychopath -- will wear well. Eminem has mother issues and a probably unhealthy desire to murder people; Roth's only problem is an empty keg. Blissfully unconflicted, he exists only to gorge himself on Cheetos, boobies and Wii. "Bread Aisle" is an often entertaining, occasionally ham-handed debut that suffers from this lack of dramatic tension.
It's not Roth's fault that he has come along during an awkward transitional period for hip-hop, which has largely edged out of its bling period in favor of a reality-based phase, one that doesn't do a 23-year-old suburban kid any favors. "Bread Aisle" contains a well-meaning track about world poverty (he's against it), but Roth is otherwise reduced to complaining about airline travel, clingy groupies and that time he forgot his iPod; if Jerry Seinfeld had recorded "Licensed to Ill," he might have come up with something like this.
"Bread Aisle" contains serviceable hooks and likable if slightly same-y beats (courtesy of producer Oren Yoel, and sometimes dependent on what sounds like a creaky old-school keyboard), often layered over mid-'00s-style R&B grooves or rooted in the breezy pop familiar to fans of Shwayze. There are numerous guest stars -- Keri Hilson, Chester French, Busta Rhymes -- but they don't do much more than stand around, their presence implicit confirmation of Roth's blog-driven coolness.
"She Don't Wanna Man," the collaboration with Hilson, starts out with a faux-Clash riff before (d)evolving into a standard club banger; on the record opener "Lark on My Go-Kart," one of many heedless, semi-charming romps that puff up suburban rap conventions to the point of caricature, Roth promises that "kinda like the blonde Bob Saget/Ash can get nasty" though there's not much evidence of this elsewhere.
If anything, he's a bit of a softy: "His Dream" a string-heavy, unapologetically heart-tugging story of a father putting his dreams on hold for his kids, is the best thing here. It's evidence that Roth has interests outside his wheelhouse, ones he might someday make good on. Until then, he's a clown out of an Apatow movie, dressed up as a savant.
Asher Roth performs April 24 at Santa Fe Cafe in College Park.
DOWNLOAD THESE: "La di Da," "His Dream"