Let’s put the past behind us and see what we can make today. Asher Roth has been fighting to reframe his artistic identity for a long time. Those who stuck with the West Chester, PA native as he’s wrestled with the hip-hop industry have been rewarded with flashes of potential in the years since 2009’s Asleep In The Bread Aisle: the surprisingly ambitious Pabst and Jazz mixtape, impressive lyricism on loosies like “The World Is Not Enough” and “Turnip the Beet”, his ferocious freestyle over Pusha T’s “Numbers on the Board”.
Yet each peak has been met with a mitigating limitation–expectations of another frat rap hit, battles with his label, and existential insecurities that erased multiple album concepts and pushed back a proper sophomore release for five years. When he released The Greenhouse Effect, Vol. 2 last summer, fellow Potholes writer Alex Siber insightfully pointed to the project as a sign of desperation–cloaked in pop-friendly party hooks and features from Justin Bieber and Lil’ Wayne, the project felt soulless, and left fans and critics alike wondering which direction Asher was going.
RetroHash will undoubtedly surprise even those who are most familiar with Asher’s evolution. His bread and butter has always been onomatopoetic lyricism, and though his career has been full of ups and downs, fans could always point to his rapping prowess as a reason to jump on board his rickety bandwagon. Yet the strength of RetroHash is not his rhymes–though they are certainly a level above the typical emcee–but rather the ambitious experimentalism of the project’s overall sound. The album is not exactly hip-hop, at least by the genre’s most rigid definition. Rather, the ten tracks balance jazz, soul, shoegaze-ish rock, and a heaping handful of Prince-era pop to create an upbeat, controlled aesthetic that feels mindfully optimistic. These are, for the most part, not “party anthems”–Asher isn’t that guy. Yet they pour the same joyfulness that Asher has shared when his mindset is stable and he’s at his best.
This joyfulness permeates a tracklist of radically different sounding songs. Asher hasn’t mashed up different musical stylings, but rather has developed continuity between them by setting them side-by-side. Though the light disco-esque “Tangerine Girl” doesn’t sound like the bluesy, cloudy “Pull It”, the tracks don’t seem mismatched. Instead, they actually reinforce the power of Asher’s musical energy. Together with production duo Blended Babies, who also shaped Pabst and Jazz, Asher has created a record that subtly showcases a new realm of possibilities for how to use rapping ability. Transcending boom-bap, frat rap, “true hip-hop”, and the myriad other tags previously applied to his inconsistent body of work, Asher has created something unexpected and refreshingly hopeful.
4 out of 5
You can purchase RetroHash on Amazon.