Asher Roth finds independence with 'RetroHash'

BY: NIK BATES

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Since he broke out into the hip-hop scene as a member of the 2009 XXL Freshman Class along with Kid Cudi, Curren$y, and B.o.B. among others, Asher Roth had been caught in a major label standstill following the release of his debut album Asleep In The Bread Aisle. A 2012 article by Clash Magazine asked: “Why don’t you go indie, Ash?” In 2014, Asher Roth has finally answered his fans. RetroHash was released April 22nd, accompanied by an album release party that same night at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.

Music duo Blended Babies handle the production for this album. Roth describes RetroHash—an anagram of his name—as an offshoot of his 2011 mixtape Pabst & Jazz. A cohesive body of work, this album finds Roth lyrically weaving his way through 10 hazy, alternative and psychedelic rock-inspired tracks.

His verse on “Pull It” is proof that Asher Roth hasn’t lost a step when it comes to flowing on a beat. The Curren$y assisted “Dude” is another stand out track, a nonsensical wordsmith’s dream, tribute to Jeff Lebowski and possibly the only conventionally hip-hop track on the album.

Tracks like “Fast Life” featuring Chicagoan Vic Mensa and “Be Right” sound like updated versions of “Be By Myself” or “La Di Da” from Bread Aisle, but more indicative of where Asher Roth is at in his career today. These feel good songs straddle the line of pop rock crossover appeal, but Asher spills enough wisdom about leaving behind the major label dreams in return for artistic freedom to bring these tracks back down to Earth.

The album isn’t without a few lulls. At times, the drums sound like they were distorted and made to appear gritty, versus actually being lifted from vinyl records or recorded with older equipment. Blended Babies’ signature basslines are brooding and deep, but sometimes clash with the rest of the instruments rhythmically and stand out too much (“Last of the Flohicans”), or end up sounding unchanging and lifeless (“Something for Nothing”). However, tracks like “Dude” and “Pot of Gold” pull off the drum and bass mix well.

“Keep Smoking” features more halfway sung verses, and a lackluster attempt by boom bap beat mastermind Chuck Inglish to fit in with the RetroHash aesthetic. Thus, it ends up being a weak closer for the album. Throughout, it becomes apparent that Asher Roth is not a singer, but a rapper who decided to sing on his own tracks. Saved for the harmonized falsetto of “Tangerine Girl” or catchiness of “Fast Life,” the singing is usually blurred and lacks dynamism. Amidst all of this, the singing still fits in with the mellow vibe and honesty of the album.

It is apparent that Asher has placed more of an emphasis on songwriting and making music opposed to strictly writing raps. The extended bridges and gritty instrumentation lends itself tremendously to Asher’s live shows.

Asher Roth took the stage backed by a live band and DJ Wreckineyez for the album release party for RetroHash held at the Troubadour LA.

With Blended Babies in the audience, Asher ran through a medley of tracks like “In The Kitchen,” “Common Knowledge” and “Pearly Gates” as well as new material. The show felt more like a rock performance thanks to his backing band. Many of the songs featured instrumental breaks with bass, drum and keyboard vocoder solos, as well as Asher head banging or dancing around the stage. Eventually, it all ended with an encore of “I Love College,” for old times sake, Asher explained.

Complete with stage diving, a Soul Train dance line, crowd surfing grandma, handshakes and smiles all around, Asher reveled on stage in his moment of closure with the music industry in exchange for independence. The release of RetroHash and the Troubadour show marked the beginning of a new chapter for this eclectic rapper.