For Morrisville-born, West Chester University-schooled rapper-producer Asher Roth, hallowed stoner holiday 4/20 is more than just a celebration of all things hemp.
It’s also the 10th anniversary of when he released his debut, Asleep in the Bread Aisle, which he just learned was certified gold last month (“I took a meeting for the 10-year anniversary vinyl,” Roth said. “I chose gold to ‘manifest a gold record.’ The woman in the meeting then looked it up and said I was already gold”). The album, which debuted at #5 on the U.S. Billboard 200, contains Roth’s biggest hit to date: “I Love College.”
Long an advocate for legalizing marijuana, Roth is hosting a 4/20 event that will feature local MCs and DJs, including Roth who will spin at the event (“I might pick up the mike, too,” he says), as well as displays of hemp and CBD wares from the area. It will take place at Sunflower Hill — a green space on North Fifth Street that aims to unite the community through events.
I’m working on a new album. Short story shorter: I wanted to come home. What’s interesting about my discography is that much of it was made elsewhere: Atlanta, L.A., New York. “Mommydog” was my kickoff to working at home in Philly with a new producer, Rob Deckhart, in his studio, the Shed. I’m 20 percent done with an album and looking to release the whole thing this autumn. Everything else has been Sunflower Hill for me. The music biz, in regard to celebrity in particular, has always been strange to me. I just wanted to get back here, and do something. When new music came out, I wanted to be able to point to other things I was doing other than who I was dating, or what I was wearing.
It is actually. It’s true of everything I’m doing now. This [anniversary] tour for Bread Aisle that I’m starting in Europe in May is just me and an Ovation LaunchPad up there, telling stories — almost like theater. When I get home, I want to continue that path, but with other musicians. Rob is helping me to incorporate all that with some crisp drums. I’m excited. I know it’s been 10 years that I’ve been here — I’ve been through the ringer, met the Wizard, and know he’s not so impressive. I remember throwing up before every show I was so nervous. Presently though, it’s like I’m just getting started.
Here I am, wearing pink-frame, blue-shaded glasses and a teal shirt, so there’s still that loud element to who I am. “Be By Myself” was both alternative and obnoxious, so that’s me now, too. That album has held up, and I appreciate it. Bread Aisle gave me so much to work from, and with. I was trying to bend genres beyond hip-hop then, and I’m still doing that. It wasn’t out of rebellion. It was just to keep it interesting. I just wish I would have taken my time back then, which was part of my motivation behind starting Sunflower Hill, a little DIY outdoor venue right next to where I live where artists don’t need to rush. Artists need time to develop, which is why I just put up this plywood stage for kids in the area to take time and make their mistakes. I pushed out into major label land and didn’t feel as if I could mistakes. I’m looser now, and feel like my fans are, too. Not for nothing, but they stuck with me.
I am. I feel good about this city, and there’s a lot of great work to do. At the beginning of 2018, we moved to a building at 5th and Cecil with a first-floor art gallery. Across the street, there’s a tie factory, and a side yard where people walk their dogs. Developers started coming in hawking so-called “affordable housing,” which they’re not. Those units are selling for $400K… Anyway, I wound up meeting one of the cooler developers involved with that grassy area, told him my ideas, and he told me to go for it: to put up a park there as he’s not planning on developing the space for some time. I hooked up with Christian Rodriguez, the first graffiti artist to have an installation at the Philly Museum of Art, and he helped me this March to organize and get other painters there. I just want this to be community-based, youth-driven, and dedicated to people being able to do their first music shows there. I can always use my network to bring in already-reputable acts, too.
Health is my first concern. Lisa [Preuninger of Carefarmacy.com and the co-organizer of the 4/20 Sunflower Hill event] knows that world intimately — the cannabis plant, hemp, CBDs and their medicinal purpose. I understand smoking weed recreationally. I also get that it’s not for everybody. The Wiz Kalifahs of the world may be “smoke weed and everything gets better.” That’s not necessarily the case. This is more a conversation about alternatives, especially in light of the opioid crisis and the rise of big pharma. An event such as our 4/20 thing is super-local, educational — letting people know how to access area hemp and CBDs — with me doing what I do best, curating the music. I might even get up on the mike.