Asher Roth, who sounds remarkably like that flame-out Eminem and last month released the smash hit “I Love College,” does not consider himself a contemporary of Matisyahu or even an heir to the Beastie Boys. A portrait from The Forward:
With the last name Roth and a first name that is one of the tribes of Israel, it is not surprising that he is taken for Jewish, even if he himself may not publicly identify as such. Although Roth has a Jewish father, he is quick to point out that his mother is Presbyterian. In fact, the “Jewish question” is quite sensitive for him. Just a cursory glance at the Internet, and on discussion boards, one will find such phrases as “G-Unit meets Jew-unit,” “Jews are cutting out the middle men and finally doing the rapping themselves” and “this is proof that tall Israelis are really running rap.”
Such intense labeling has provoked some backlash from Roth himself. When asked about any discrimination he may have encountered because of this perception, Roth replied that if anything, it may come from Jews themselves. “People have a negative reaction when I explain I am not Jewish,” Roth said. He related the scene at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, where he played a show headlined by Matisyahu. “He attracts a Jewish crowd, and they were bummed out [that I wasn’t Jewish]. But if I lost that fan, I don’t think I wanted that fan to begin with,” Roth said.
He is clearly focused more on overcoming the “white-black” divide rather than negotiating the Christian-Jewish difference. Reaching out to a new demographic that hasn’t traditionally been drawn to hip-hop, old timers of rap joke about how he is bringing “high-heels and Vespas” to hip-hop shows. Roth is looking for a wide field of new people to bring in, while trying to convince many others that he himself belongs there at all. When he says, “I’m turning believers into nonbelievers ... I wake up in the morning and prove some people wrong,” he’s referring not to religion, but to the plausibility of a white, suburban rap star.
“Hip-hop is still alive. I am living proof,” he says.
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