In the Shade of Slim

Just last week I mentioned how much I like Asher Roth, and — look! — the universe has delivered a brand new Asher Roth mixtape for me to review, Seared Foie Gras with Quince and Cranberry, expertly mixed by DJ Wreckineyez. And not only is this mixtape well timed, it’s good too.

Asher Roth, if you’ve forgotten already, is a 24-year-old white rapper from Philadelphia. In a distinctive monotone, Asher raps a lot about college parties, alcohol and marijuana, girls and sex, childhood gone too quickly and adulthood come too soon, the half-pleasant mediocrity of daily life and the simpleness of his ambitions. He’s clever, and not just in the straight-faced lyrical jokes he crams into his excellent and rhythmic flow. There is just an element of humor in everything he does, from his song titles (many quirkily named not from the hook or the theme but from some odd phrase buried deep in his verses; a bad habit, I think) to the way he hoarsely sings along to the motown at the beginning of a track “served” (read: produced) by Kanye West. He’s not the deepest hip-hop artist out there, and even when he tries to talk politics he comes at it from an unswervingly middle class perspective (not necessarily a bad thing, but important to note). As something different for your easy listening, however, or a break from the endless talk of guns-and-drugs or money-and-hoes that many hip-hop artists offer, he is a delightful dish, fresh and well prepared.

It is difficult to discuss Asher Roth without comparing him, at least superficially, to the undisputed greatest white rapper of all time, Eminem. This is an occupational hazard for any white MC, but Asher has it rougher than most. Not only is Ash white like Slim Shady, he sounds like Slim too. The tenor and inflection of their voices is undeniably similar, and now and then I’ll catch Asher using lyrical mechanics in his rhymes that were arguably innovations first pioneered by Eminem. But that is where the similarities end, however, for while Em raps about the incredible darkness that infects some people, some lives or some relationships, Ash keeps his subject matter anchored in everyday normalcy. While Em spits every line with emotion — anger, frustration, or cruel delight — Ash keeps his voice relatively deadpan and a little aloof. Asher doesn’t shy away from these comparisons, however much he disputes them. In his 2009 studio album, Asleep in the Bread Aisle, he has a song called “As I Em,” in which he addresses the similarities and discusses what Eminem’s trailblazing has meant to his career. It’s a good song, but if anything it just makes it easier to talk about the comparisons between the two.

So is Asher Roth always going to live in the shadow of Marshal Mathers, an artist a very wise PhD I know once called “the Shakespeare of our time”? No more than all rappers do, I think. All Ash really needs to do is keep up the good work and do a standout verse for another artist now and then (like he did on that Consequence mixtape). Eventually the fans will get over his skin complexion and get used to his distinctive style. As they say, the only way to stay in the game is to stay in the game. Mixtapes like this are a good start.

Check out Asher Roth’s new mixtape by DJ Wreckineyez, Seared Foie Gras with Quince and Cranberry. Download it for free at http://2dopeboyz.okayplayer.com/2010/03/23/asher-roth-seared-foie-gras-w-quince-cranberry-mixtape/.

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