Album Review: Asher Roth – Asleep in the Bread Aisle

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Mark Twain once said that he never met a man whose story was not interesting. I have always been a wholehearted proponent of this philosophy, especially applying it to rap music. Lyrically, rap is my generation’s folk music, and artists like Nas, Rakim and Jay-Z are among our greatest storytellers. But beyond the street-hardened themes of these individuals, I have always felt that any artist, regardless of race, gender, or economic class, can be interesting as long as they rap what they know. That’s why this Asher Roth fellow is driving me crazy.

I concurrently want to love and loathe the up-and-coming MC from Morrisville, PA, a middle-class suburb of Philadelphia. The guy’s got flow and he deserves credit for not making an absolute ass clown of himself by pretending to be from the hood. Roth gets style points for rapping what he knows. The problem is, what he knows is so banal that it’s safe to say the guy is effectively setting white suburbanites back fifty years.

If you are the kind of person who, say, reads for the sake of enjoyment, Asher Roth will probably remind you of that one bro you know who provokes the question, “Why do so many girls have sex with that guy?”  Unfortunately, there are a lot of those guys, so he should have a built-in fan base that lasts well past the dying refrain of this spring’s frat party mega-hit, “I Love College”. That song’s chorus pretty much sums up the album: “That party last night was awfully crazy/I wish we taped it/I danced my ass off and had this one girl naked.”  Roth kicks knowledge on beer pong and not having sex “if she’s too gone.” It all spirals toward a mind-numbing call-and-response of “Chug! Chug! Chug!” The song would probably be pretty good satire if Roth wasn’t so damn sincere.

Elsewhere, Roth raps about all manner of stimulating subjects ranging from beer to girls to liquor to girls to marijuana. I suppose it’s possible that I’m just getting too old for songs like “Blunt Cruisin”, but this guy sort of makes me wish I was more anti-drug than I actually am. The unfortunately titled “As I Em” is Roth’s answer to the inevitable Eminem comparisons that arise from critics and fans that ignore musical styles, background stories, and practically every other distinguishable characteristic of the artists aside from skin color.  (OK…Roth actually does sound a bit like Eminem. But does anyone really give a shit about that or do they just see another mainstream white rapper?  That’s right.)

And then there’s “Sour Patch Kids”, where Roth gets all political and it’s actually a half-way decent song and you’re all like, “Where the fuck did that come from?” And then you’re like, “Oh yeah, Intro to Political Science.”

Maybe my distaste for Roth is just due to the fact that he’s airing all our dirty laundry and I’m sort of embarrassed at how simplistic and shallow suburban life can really be. It was one thing when Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” was bouncing off half-listening ears in office cubicles and Starbucks franchises, but Roth’s song by the same title is a whiney rant about a day that doesn’t really seem all that bad.  He has to attend a friend’s wedding, gets stuck next to a fat guy on the plane, his iPod battery dies, he goes to the hotel and watches that documentary about little people, then masturbates and goes to bed. That’s not a bad day….it’s a fucking vacation!

This is sort of Roth’s point though. He claims to have made this album for the white kids in his town who are rolling around bumping Rick Ross and sagging their jeans. Basically he’s saying (without actually saying) you don’t need to act like you are from the ghetto to appreciate hip hop music and culture.  This is, of course, absolutely true. But what Roth fails to realize (or admit) is that this kid doesn’t actually care about a rapper from his own demographic. Asleep in the Bread Aisle will do absolutely nothing to satiate this individual’s voyeuristic desire to admire thug life from afar.

But what about those of us who do live fascinatingly average, relatively easy suburban lives? Aren’t the tiny earthquakes in our lives worthy of great storytelling? Of course they are. And we get it from artists like Kanye West and Murs and Atmosphere and many others who rap about real people. We don’t need to buy into the idea that Asher Roth is somehow speaking for the voiceless suburbs with his exaggerated rhymes of drunken excess.

Then again, maybe this is a wake up call to those of us whose pro-rap stance occasionally leads us to defend hedonistic post-gangsta rappers to a fault. Maybe Roth’s claim that his album’s obsession with sex, booze and weed speaks for the suburbs is just what we need to see through the eyes of black leaders who believe that artists like T.I. and Lil Wayne are casting African-American culture in a negative light.

Given the above, I wonder if someone could actually make the case that Asher Roth is a rap pioneer. I doubt it, but Asleep in the Bread Aisle raises enough interesting questions that I don’t feel comfortable giving it as low a rating as I would like to.

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