For Asher Roth, life truly begins after college.
The 26-year-old rapper, who performs at the Middle East Downstairs tonight, is three years removed from his time as an elementary education major at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, and, more importantly, from the release of his breakout 2009 single, “I Love College,’’ a debaucherous celebration of campus party life that sold over a million digital downloads on iTunes and made Roth a leading figure in a new generation of young, white rappers who have steered hip-hop’s vantage point from urban to suburban streets in the recent past.
On that song, Roth proclaimed he would gladly “go to college for the rest of my life.’’ But in speaking with him via phone from Los Angeles, it’s clear that post-“College’’ life has required making some adjustments.
He’s expanded his audience through several well-received independent projects that challenged doubters of his rap credentials. He recently switched record labels and signed with iconic hip-hop imprint Def Jam for his long-delayed sophomore album, “Is This Too Orange?’’ He even let his dirty blond hair grow out into a shaggy mop and a beard for his new video “Common Knowledge,’’ which features him doing yoga at sunrise on a rooftop. And to top it off, he’s talking on the phone while shopping at a Whole Foods. Without dropping the slacker charm he showed on “College,’’ Roth has quietly (say it softly) matured.
“It’s tough when you put out a project and, regardless if people like it or hate it, you are met with a full circle of judgment,’’ Roth says of his debut album, “Asleep in the Bread Aisle.’’ “You gotta get over that in a way. You can’t be insecure about it. That’s what was so fun about making [new mix tape] ‘Pabst & Jazz.’ This is who I am: It may come off corny at times, it may come off too talkative at times, but if it’s a little imperfect, that’s OK because that’s who I am.’’
The “Pabst & Jazz’’ album - the result of a spontaneous three days’ worth of recording sessions with production duo Blended Babies in Los Angeles that was released free via Roth’s Twitter account - is just one example of the fruit born from the long wait for the release of “Is This Too Orange?’’ Originally called “The Spaghetti Tree,’’ the album was supposed to be released last summer, soon after Roth dropped the single “G.R.I.N.D.,’’ a catchy yet thoughtful song that stands in striking contrast to the complacent vibe of “College.’’ Despite Roth pushing the track in person at key radio stations around the country, the song stalled commercially but still provided the foundation for the new album, now slated for early 2012.
“We’re just doing our thing and trying our best to capture some different stuff and challenge ourselves,’’ says Roth of his new project, which he recorded for the past eight months in LA with producer Oren Yoel. “That’s really what it is. Your audience is a direct relation to you. They are going to like what you like. Especially with the Internet, people are getting more information about you and they’re more accepting of your character and who you are and where you hang out. We get to just do our thing and that’s what ‘Is This Too Orange?’ is, with Oren and just what he kind of got out of me over those eight months. We just made some really honest stuff, but it’s really fun. I hope people can appreciate it for what it is.’’
In the meantime, a bounty of white, suburban rappers (including Connecticut native Chris Webby, Boston’s own Sam Adams, and Wellesley’s Cam Meekins) have emerged in hopes of emulating Roth’s breakthrough into the mainstream, but he seems unconcerned with taking any credit for helping pave the way for the recent crop of newcomers led by fellow Pennsylvania native Mac Miller. He remains genuinely appreciative of the doors which “College’’ helped open and the younger audiences that will continue to love it and go crazy when he performs it live. And though “Orange’’ is still on the horizon, Roth is feeling pretty Zen about life at the moment.
“The most important thing to me is you have to stay positive,’’ he says. “That’s the only solution. There’s nothing else we can do. What are we supposed to do, get all bummed out? If you fall down that rabbit hole, that’s a long one. I have a limited amount of time. I’m chilling. Trying to eat some good food, laugh a little bit, drink some quality domestic beer, and just try to make some honest music that I can look back on.’’Martín Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @_el_caballero.