Tonight, rapper Asher Roth plays the Yost Theater. In the almost-four years since his single "I Love College" propelled him into regular radio rotation, he and his legacy have gone under a particularly curious metamorphosis. Like him or not, his celebration of the white-stoner millennial lifestyle wound up being among the most influential recordings of the past five years. It's hard to tell at what point he went from joke to prophet, but we at the Weekly did our best to map Asher Roth's journey from the frat house to a respected rap mainstay. It all started with MySpace.
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Long before it became the preferred way for people you've never heard of to spam you, it was a functional social networking site where a kid from Pennsylvania could upload a few freestyles and be signed by a manager with actual industry connections. Such luck happened for Roth, who soon signed to a joint-venture deal (partially held by a Universal subsidiary) and released his The Greenhouse Effect mixtape. Part of DJ Drama's Gangsta Grillz series, it soon became the most downloaded mixtape in the country, setting the stage for Roth's debut single "I Love College."
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The playful, distinctly suburban vibe of "I Love College" was a double-edged sword for Roth. While he was able to court a fanbase hip-hop typically didn't outright aim for, many hip-hop outlets had a difficult time connecting to the song's subject matter. The song itself had a challenging time making it to the public, with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo (who's since been identified as a Roth fan) denying permission for the track to sample his band's hit "Say It Ain't So." While Roth's eventual debut album Asleep in the Bread Aisle did debut at number 5 on Billboard, some saw his 65,000 first week sales as disappointing. But these were just the beginning of Roth's problems.
Discussion had been bubbling for a while about the racial implications of being a caucasion rapper performing a traditionally black music but dealing with what some see as a traditionally white subject matter. While this didn't have much ground to start with, Roth tweeting during a visit to Rutger's University that he was "hanging out with nappy headed hoes" caused a firestorm of racism allegations which further painted his shortcomings in an unflattering light.
But while the major labels seemingly turned away from the Asher Roth experiment, the impact of "I Love College" inadvertently created an audience for drunk, white, charming, stoner frat-friendly rap that thrived in Roth's wake. Most notably, there's Mac Miller whose 2011 album Blue Slide Park independently topped the Billboard 200 charts after years of grassroots grinding with the "I Love College" audience. The same goes for Sammy Adams, whose re-imagining of Roth's hit as "I Hate College" garnered him six- million YouTube views and a deal with Sony. But while the frat-rap scene was on the rise, Roth was quietly re-establishing himself as a proper rapper's rapper. While not jumping from one caricature to the next, he toned down the more cartoonish elements of his character and re-emerged as an artist who, while still true to himself, made his lyrics his main appeal. Now that he's found a new home at Def Jam for his sophomore album Is This Too Orange?, time will tell if the movement he popularized will accept him as its leader again.