Q. You recently finished up a tour for your album RetroHash. What have you been up to since?
A. The best way to put it is really just trying to answer the question: “What do I want?” I’m not interested in saying, “I’ll just put out a record, then tour off of it, and everyone gets paid off of it.” I really want to build a community that’s based in education and fun. But I can’t do it by myself. When you start a community you’re basically starting a solar system, and when there are other people involved it’s just that much stronger. So I’ve really just been trying to seek out the right people to make music with and join me on this journey.
[My goal] isn’t to become a rich celebrity. I’m interested in bringing positive values back not only to hip-hop, but also our neighborhoods, city, and community - let’s have fun, continue to teach youth, let’s eat good food, lets take care of ourselves, let’s practice patience. I think these values are really important.
Do you think about how much your audience has grown since your first album and the “I Love College” days?
So I mean it’s tricky, you know? But I feel like what’s special about what we’re doing is that [the music] appeals to people of all ages. With certain acts, you’ll see that their music appeals to an older audience and that’s it. So you’ll go to a show and they’ll essentially be a jam band [playing to] a bunch of post grads, 28-year-olds, 35-year-olds and a couple lingering 42-year-olds. But I think that one of the cool things about the music we’re making is that it’s accessible whether you’re 8-years-old or 48. Whenever you can tap into that, it refreshes every single time and that’s what’s important to continue to grow.
You have no idea when or who is going to pick up on your music. A fan may be privy to [my song] “Fast Life” off RetroHash, and never have heard of my older stuff, and they can go back and rediscover it. I don’t consciously try to [appeal to certain demographics] out there who don’t know me. My goal is to just keep making music and keep making it available, because you never know who is going to like it.
What do you make of the current sonic direction and musical trends in hip-hop?
Well, I think that it’s really important to know who you are because trends are always going to change. What’s hot always changes and if you chase trends, it’ll be exhausting. I think [knowing who you are] is also very important when it comes to trying to balance out creativity and business. Obviously, business is important because yes we have to put food on our table and keep the lights on. So when you know yourself, you know your worth and value and [can make decisions about] when to compromise or take certain business opportunities when they come.
So again, I’ve really been focusing on the question of what I want. If you can boil it all down to “A, B, and C”, it can make your goals and the path a little bit clearer - you can clear out all of the nonsense. I’m not too caught up in high fashion, renting out hotel rooms, or Maybachs and things like that. So if you’re in tune with yourself, and you’re like, “This is what I want,” all the “peer pressure”, if you will, starts to go away.
So it sounds like you’ve been able to reconcile the differences between business and art?
I’ve been really cutting myself out of the major label web and [creative] restrictions and allowing myself the opportunity to grow and reach my full potential. [It’s important] that I make sure that I’m fulfilled, as spiritual as it sounds, and that I’m happy with what I’m doing because there’s no reason I shouldn’t be - I really have one of the most amazing jobs. It lets me connect with people all over the world and help other people get through stuff.
When I hear people say that “Fast Life” saved their life, or “I Love College” takes them back to happy periods of their life, that’s the power of music. Now obviously business gets in the way of things sometimes, but you just have to make sure that you’re in business with the right people and you’re being honest with yourself so when someone comes up to you and says, "Hey hold up this shoe for $500,000," you know who you are.
As an independent artist, do you now spend a lot of your time thinking about how to align business sponsorships, or do you work with people who handle that?
Yeah I’m constantly thinking about [these things]. The type of person I am, and maybe it’s to a fault, I’m always thinking of cool and different ways I can get my music out and heard. The awareness is just really hard. RetroHash was my first time really [promoting] an independent record. We didn’t have any marketing dollars, so I learned the hard way (but I think for better) about how much really goes into making a record and your brand, so to speak, successful.
What’s great is that in this day and age, I have a lot of opportunity to be creative and there’s many people doing cool stuff. I wouldn’t say finding them is the hardest part, but it takes a lot of sorting and weeding out because everybody is doing everything. It really all comes back to the question of, “What do you want to do?” When you know what you want to do and what kind of person you are, [potential collaborators] become more clear and you stop wasting your time people whose interests aren’t aligned with your own.
Is it hard to live in LA and not get pulled into the superficiality that comes with being a celebrity?
It all just comes back to who you are. And who you are is going to change. So you have to create certain checkpoints and step back for a second and reassess things periodically. Those moments are really important because you really are a sum of the friends and people you hang out with. And the same thing goes with your partner. I’m going through it with my girlfriend, and we broke up, and it’s been the craziest thing because she was my best friend and my partner. We’re creatures of habit, so if I’m spending everyday with this person for two years, and then suddenly she’s gone and not there anymore, your body kind of freaks out. Of course, you can adapt and grow but that feeling of loss was huge for me.
But those are the types of things that in life are really important experiences to have and I can’t just sit here in LA and avoid having experiences. At the same time though, sometimes it’s helpful to get out of LA and break the culture that allows yourself to get extremely consumed by your own agenda. So yeah man, it’s a balance.
Music is creative work and so yes, sometimes you rap about how great you are, but at the same time music is so much bigger than one person and so if you can stay tapped into that idea, you can start doing some amazing things - not just internally, in terms of getting to know yourself, but externally too - suddenly your relationships outside yourself, your friendships, your partner, your family, become much deeper.
Who influences your art?
It’s hard to say specifically, because I kind of pull from everything. There’s stimulus everywhere. So I’ll see stuff and I’ll subconsciously log it, but for the most part it’s everywhere. For example, when you find something on instagram and you like it and double tap, your feed starts to filter - I feel like that happens in real life too. So I might say, “Hey I like [pianist] Jon Batiste, let me check him out,” and that leads you to something else. Or I might say, “I like DJ Premier songs,” and you see who DJ Premier sampled and the next thing you know you’re suddenly listening to Charlie Hunter, and then you learn that Charlie Hunter jams with someone else you might like, etc. That kind of stuff happens all the time. It’s all around us dude. There are amazing people doing amazing things, it’s just a matter of tapping into it.
Asher Roth is an acclaimed rapper and hip-hop artist. Dubbed by the New York Times as “the most commercially viable white rapper since Eminem,” Roth quickly rose to prominence in 2009 after the release of his highly celebrated debut album, Asleep in the Bread Aisle, and his first hit single, “I Love College”, which sold over a million copies in just three months and reached number 12 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. His most recent album RetroHash, which was released earlier this year, was also met with significant acclaim for it’s musical and sonic development from his first album. As Lucas Garrison from DJBooth stated in his review, RetroHash is "fun, enjoyable, and well-done...I'm excited for what it means moving forward."