Wassup Rockers



Serious Talk About a Guy I Can’t Take Seriously.

[Edit: Jay Smooth finally made a little video about Asher Roth, and as you’d imagine it doesn’t really have to do with Asher Roth himself.  Click here for a more level-headed and eloquent discussion about Asher Roth than whatever my post says.]

I should tell you about my latest morning routine.  It involves watching music videos.  I flip between VH1 and MTV, and watch whichever channel is showing the less annoying video.  And if they’re both annoying, I flip to the morning news–which is pretty frustrating to watch, too.  In between videos one time, they showed a commercial for Asher Roth’s album, with a snippet of “I Love College.”

I was amused by it, but I didn’t think much of it.  I thought it was just a fun and breezy song that will probably be forgotten soon.  So recently Jay Smooth asked on his site whether he should talk about it, and I was surprised by the strong reactions from people.  As you will see if you click on the post, I traded some comments with one guy in particular.  What the guy was saying was that he felt weird liking Asher Roth partly because of the crowd it attracted; although this commenter saw (some) merit in Asher, he felt like Asher is emblematic of a certain type of person who might like shit like “I Love College” but don’t really care to delve deeper into hip-hop, and the commenter worried that he might be seen as one of those people, too.  I mean I know how painful it can be; I love love love music and it really upsets me to meet people who claim to love music too, but they eventually reveal that for them it’s just a superficial thing.

But I told the commenter that he shouldn’t really give a shit what other people think, because if you like (or love!) something, you can’t help it, so why not just enjoy yourself?  If you feel a spark–and you know those sparks don’t come often enough–shouldn’t you just let go and not listen to what other people say?

Well, tonight I (kinda) retract my statement.  Although I firmly believe that if you love something you shouldn’t get it twisted worrying how other people think of your likes and dislikes, I am starting to see why people don’t like Asher Roth.  Or rather, don’t like Asher Roth’s public persona–who the fuck knows what he’s like in private.  This Racialicious post delves into the several stupid things he’s said.  (Make sure to read the comments, too, since the readers bring up some great points from all sorts of angles.)

For me, the main issue is whether to ignore his musical existence and hope he goes away, cos what if we do ignore him and all he does is fester like a cancer on us? I’m very conflicted about Asher Roth, as you can see, and I’m also very conflicted about making this post.  Because my word count keeps increasing by the second and most of me is thinking, “Um… do I really give that much of a shit about this guy?”  I really don’t want to seem like one of those crotchety folk who are think that whatever latest thing is like, the work of the devil or whatevs.  I see him strictly as a novelty, it’s really not worth it to get so worked up about someone who’ll most likely fade away.  (If I end up being wrong about him fading away, though, I’m gonna be worrying a bit more, for sure.)  Anyway, that’s why I haven’t really researched much on him.  I know, I know.  That’s like a cardinal sin when talking shit: if you’re gonna talk shit about someone you should know everything about them so you can talk shit accurately.  And yet… just a few clicks here and there show he’s been saying some real wack stuff and it makes me averse to learning more about him.

So what did he say–out of all the dumb shit he’s said–that got me mad enough to write about it?  In this article, he is quoted as saying:

Roth addresses poverty and greed on the song “Sour Patch Kids.” And at his fans’ behest, Roth uploaded to his MySpace page “A Millie Remix,” a freestyle rhyme over Lil Wayne‘s “A Milli” beat, criticizing rappers who boast about having millions of dollars but “don’t share, don’t donate to charity.”

“When I dropped that … (I thought) ‘You guys are always going off about how much money you have. Do you realize what’s going on in this world right now?’ All these black rappers — African rappers — talking about how much money they have. ‘Do you realize what’s going on in Africa right now?'” Roth says.

“It’s just like, ‘You guys are disgusting. Talking about billions and billions of dollars you have. And spending it frivolously, when you know, the Motherland is suffering beyond belief right now.'”

So I read that and I pretty much gasped.  What is he thinking?!?!  “All these African rappers…”  My dear bro, lemme tell you something.  Most blacks in the US were like, kinda born and raised in the US?  Like, their ancestors might have been African but most of them are not.  Of course in recent years there’s been a new wave of immigrants from Africa (like Obama’s papa!), but what I mean is that you can’t just generalize and be like, “Y’all are African!  Why don’t you take care of Africa then!”  The quote is also ridiculous because the “suffering Motherland” needs help from all of us, we’re all implicated and we are all responsible for helping, so I don’t see why Asher’s singling out rich black rappers to donate their money away.  Since he brought up the subject, I think it’s fair of me to ask him what he’s done for people who are less privileged than he is.

And this brings me to another thing that bothers me about the quote: where does Asher get off thinking that just because a rapper is boasting about having a shitload of money, that the rapper really does have a lot of money.  I’m gonna guess that most of the rappers Asher listens to are mainstream rappers on major labels, and believe me, when you’re on a major, most of the cashflow ain’t going to the artist.  Oh, Asher, you’re on a major, don’t you know?  Steve Albini is a consummate asshole, but he sure knows his math.  After you give money to your manager and your lawyer and your producers and after you pay for the album manufacturing expenses and to the music video director and after all the payola* your label will pay for you to get radioplay and even to your stylist if you have one… well guess what?  You need to sell a shit ton of records to make millions of millions.  And believe me, I don’t mean like, 62000 records.  So don’t be preaching about “black rappers gotta do this and black rappers gotta do that with their money,” cos God knows how little they’re really making even if they’re boasting so as to make it seem like the rapper lifestyle is mad glamorous.  Let’s face it, the label honchos probably told the rappers to say that boastful shit because it sells…

(*About the payola comment: like steroid use in sports, nobody likes to admit it happens.  But don’t you find it odd that this guy seems to come out of nowhere?  He’s not particularly gifted as a rapper or a musician, and he’s obviously not winning over that many people with his charm.  I mean maybe, just maybe he’s been toiling and struggling and maybe all the stars aligned properly to give him so much luck, but I find it suspicious.  Maybe for some strange reason, his label thinks he will be profitable and they’re just pumping a looooot of money in all sorts of strategic places and they’re just manufacturing his popularity.  What’s the best way to get more hits on a YouTube vid?  Make it seem like the video has already gotten tons of hits so that it’ll pique people’s curiosity and make them wonder what they’re missing.  Same concept applies here.)

Anyway, even though I’m clearly seething, I try to tell myself that there are privileged people out there who get it.  So I leave you with the words with someone who gets it, and I can only hope that he will forgive me for quoting him so extensively and won’t feel offended that I’m bringing him into this silly post about some nobody who will be forgotten in about a month.

You have been trying to tell us to change for a long time.  You lecture us about the social pathology of the inner city and how we need to become more like you.  We need to move to the suburbs too.  We need to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and abandon our “undesirables” the way you abandoned us.

We need to do this.  We need to do that.

We’re not the ones who did the most to create the problems.  We’re trying to face the problems you left us with.  We’re staying behind and trying to make things better.

We think the suburbs are what needs to be changed about America.  We think the suburbs are bad for America.

Socially, they intensify segregation and mistrust.  Culturally, they erode the sense of history, narrow the outlook, and dull the imagination.  Economically, they intensify inequality by isolating the rich and poor.  Then the poor lack access to good schools, hospitals, businesses, police, transportation, city services, concerned neighbors, and any of the things that would allow them to alleviate their situation.  The rich lack access to reality and any sense of proportion.  They run around in a comfort warp, taking everything for granted and misusing what they have.

– Upski, Bomb the Suburbs.

(Sometimes when I feel infuriated, reading Bomb the Suburbs makes me feel better.)

I’m sure it wasn’t Asher Roth’s idea to grow up in the suburbs and I’m not going to assume that his life was easy peasy.  But I think his words reflect a lack of comprehension of the world around him.  It’s like, he’s being challenged to think critically for the first time in his life about privilege, and instead of trying to learn and grow and understand, he’s kinda stuck in a defensive mode.  He obviously doesn’t have the vocabulary to talk about race because he hasn’t really had to talk about it before–not to the extent that people have been pushing him now that he’s a public figure.  The question is, is he willing to learn?

Oh, and by the way: I finally listened to what “I Love College” was really saying, and I was like, “Wait… he’s not extolling the pleasures of reading Aristotle and Zizek and writing papers where you get to use all those big vocab words you learned for the SATs?”  I feel like such a geek, but I’m damn disappointed that the whole song is about partying and not about like, learning and shit.  Haha.

Ugh, what am I doing still typing up this post?  I gotta catch me some sleep.  Will I wake up tomorrow and find out that this post makes no sense?

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