Very rarely, do you meet an artist who has the soul to match their music and allows you to believe everything they write about reflects their real emotionsâ€”like Eric Roberson.Â Coming to the scene in 1994 with his first single, â€œThe Moon,â€ Roberson has made a name for himself over the years as not only a singer, but an accomplished songwriter.Â Taking time from his recent Grammy nomination, his tour schedule and the promotion of his new album Music Fan First, Roberson allows Rawe to get an exclusive interview with him.
Bella:Â Youâ€™ve come a long way since your first single â€œThe Moon,â€ can you tell us about your growth an artist?
Eric: Thereâ€™s been so much Iâ€™ve learned from that time, probably more as a person, and learned more about myself.Â Thereâ€™s been a lot more humbling moments that I can relate to musical growth from the time I did â€œThe Moonâ€ to now. When I did â€œThe Moonâ€ I was 19 and thought I was going to be the next Prince or whatever, just thought I could win everything and do no wrong. I had to stay close to music and was able to learn a lot about the music business and the ups and downs of it, and the politics of it, you know the cut throatiness part of it and through all those moments of having money and not having money and having a deal and not having a deal. I think Iâ€™ve grown closer to actually knowing who I was within music and knowing what my strong points were. Also I put my own albums out independently and itâ€™s a difference when your own boss and your going through your own personal timeline instead of trying to make someone happy musically, thereâ€™s a little more freedom and a little more room to discover what to do musicallyâ€”I think thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve found from the time I did â€œthe moonâ€ to what I do now.
Bella: You have a lot of love songs in your discography, but theyâ€™re not like the love songs where the guy is crying over the girl–overly sappy where do you find the inspiration to write these types of songs?
Eric: Well a lot of itâ€™s just from life I probably have a few mushy songs but I guess in the aspect of my life and your average personâ€™s life through your day, I think mushiness is apart of it but. I think you spend more time trying to find love and trying to maintain love then you do trying to love, love you know what I mean. Like you donâ€™t suck face with love, so I think Iâ€™ve witnessed and participated in a lot of highs and lows of trying to find that. I often tell people that guys are really no different then girls, we want the same thing. We may not be so open to admit it, our male ego may get in the way at times, but at the end of the day a guy wants to fall in love and not get hurt just as much someone else does.Â When you find that right person sure itâ€™s great to combine with them on a spiritual and sensual level and I have no problem writing about that as well. A lot of parts is just trying to get through that obstacle course to someoneâ€™s heart and them getting into yours.
On Being Nominated for a Grammyâ€¦
Bella: So you were nominated for a Grammy. Was this your first Grammy nomination?
Eric: Yes, Iâ€™m officially GRAMMINATED! We are going to patent that word, GRAMMINATED! One of my staff members came up with that word; itâ€™s an amazing word actually. But yea, first time being nominated you know as an independent artist its very humbling and very inspiring.
Bella: I know that you and Phonte are friends, how is it when your nominated against your friend? Is it competitive?
Eric: First and foremost, I’m friends with every single person but Tonex– who I actually met at the Grammys, who seemed to be a cool dude. But I knew India probably longer then them and India’s a good friend, so to lose to her was cool.Â But even with Phonte, thereâ€™s a difference because Phonteâ€™s a really good friend of mine, one of my closest friends in the music business. As soon as we both got nominated we called each other and really at the end of the day I mean this whole heartedly and I trust that he means this as well, if either one of us won its as if we won. Â We think so much a like and have so much of the same interest for the betterment of music and also just the love and excitement of doing it that I was just so proud of him to have the opportunity in being there as well as myself having the opportunity to be in there. The same goes for Robert Glaspur, real good friend of mine, we never collaborated on a song yet but Iâ€™ve known him for quite sometime and Bilal through tours lately Iâ€™ve known him for some time but weâ€™ve gotten to know each other through the last couple of years through shows and stuff.Â So I mean real talk, if any of them won I wouldâ€™ve been satisfied and real talk, India I almost feel like this category Best Urban Alternative Performance, was created for India. Remember that time she had all those Grammy nominations and she didnâ€™t get one award, I want to say that this nomination was created for that lane so I just kind of want to say like â€œhey man if it wasnâ€™t for her we wouldnâ€™t be nominated,â€ so Iâ€™m kind of cool with that too.
Bella: Being nominated for a Grammy for your song A Tale of Two off of Music Fan First, what special qualities do you think this song had to catch the attention of Grammy Judges?
Eric: It felt right and thatâ€™s the main thing. The song breaks every rule of songwriting â€“ thereâ€™s no hook, thereâ€™s not a predictable song structure at all. We werenâ€™t really trying to do what was right we were trying to do what felt right and that song to me really represented a lot of this album. We really built the foundation off of where we were just saying, â€œletâ€™s go with what feels right.â€ Thereâ€™s a chop sampling it, thereâ€™s live instrumentation in it and those donâ€™t always go together too well.Â There was a lot of â€œman forget the rules, screw them, screw the rules lets just go and if it feels right letâ€™s keep going and the moment it doesnâ€™t feel right lets stop and asses where were at and try to search for what felt right,â€ that was the only rule through the whole album especially with that song. So for them to nominate that song was like wow, it just showed that we were doing the right thing just kind of giving a breath of fresh air.Â That could be said for Foreign Exchangeâ€™s song. That could be said for Robert and Bilalâ€™s song, â€œAll Matter,â€ was an amazing song, for a jazz album in between verses, itâ€™s a huge piano solo–whenâ€™s the last time you heard a piano solo on a song period like of mainstream radio no one does solos anymore. To me that category is almost like the rule breaking category so I love that category actually.
Bella: Do you think the same things you were looking to effect the listeners came across to the judges? Were your minds in sync?
Eric: Yes, because I think majority of the people that judge are from a musical background. I always say that I never down anything thatâ€™s created because someone is excited about it. Even if you go into a 4th graders room and his father bought him a little Casio keyboard and heâ€™s over theyâ€™re playing it, to him heâ€™s Usher right now.Â Itâ€™s like if you can connect to what theyâ€™re feeling and thinking, you might be able to find and relate to the music.Â At the same point, when weâ€™re creating, weâ€™re trying to find an obvious lane where someone can connect to how we felt when weâ€™re creating it and so I think thatâ€™s what they were able to attach to. Â The music business right now isnâ€™t a patient business now and even the listener isnâ€™t trained to be patient.Â With the I-Pod, weâ€™re like trained to listen to 30 seconds, â€œI just want a quick fix from it and Iâ€™ll go to the next song.â€Â A â€œTale of Two,â€ is more like a story and so with every story you canâ€™t really get the full effect of reading a book by reading ten pages, so it was amazing that it was a song that asked you to hold on and listen to it and somehow it felt right enough for them to listen to the whole song to the conclusion which is what made them vote for it.
On Latest Albumâ€¦
Bella: So your latest album is Music Man First, (which I love) what was the inspiration behind the title?
Eric: A couple of things, first, I wouldnâ€™t have this career if it wasnâ€™t for my fans, fans of music in general.Â I think they felt it was void in the music business where my music was being created and they kind of demanded I do more music and forced me to take this serious.Â It was kind of like, we need this and you need to do more of it and if you donâ€™t do more of it, weâ€™ll find you and burn your car down.Â So Iâ€™ll definitely do more but at the same time now that we built this into a career and we travel the responsibility is a lot bigger now, for me itâ€™s a reminder to just start bringing yourself to neutral.Â If you allow it to get big, you can lose focus on the important things and the opportunities of what you have, like when I was 13 or younger my parents bought me a keyboardâ€”I didnâ€™t even want to go outside, I wanted to do music.Â I was so lost in it, I loved it and now that the obligation to do music is so high you may lose that love. So for me, its just a reminder of Iâ€™m a fan of it first.Â Â I love reading credits.Â I love hearing a new song. I love a rift that goes up somebodyâ€™s back like, â€œman that was nice.â€ I love discovering some amazing young foolish talent from some far lonely stateâ€”itâ€™s just like thatâ€™s what feeds me. Even when I go into the studio its kind of like I try to get into the right frame of mind.Â I try to go back into the studio like Iâ€™m a kid again; going to the studio for the very first time and I feel like thatâ€™s the way of staying fresh.Â I see a lot of people who have success in the music business but they are bitterâ€”bitter for no reason. Bitter for reasons that they feel warranted, but in the bigger scale of things, in the bigger picture, they shouldnâ€™t be bitter.Â In hindsight when they look back there probably like â€œI shouldâ€™ve enjoyed that a little bit more.â€
Bella: So who are you a fan of right now?
Eric:Â Iâ€™m a fan of a lot of people.Â I still listen to my old favorites, I mean every time an A Tribe Called Quest song comes on, I stop.Â Mos Def put out a great album, his last album.Â I think Drakeâ€™s amazing.Â I think Lil Wayneâ€™s amazing.Â I think Erkyah Badu is still amazing.Â Iâ€™ve known Jazmine Sullivan since she was 15 or 16 so to see her go through several deals and fight her way through it and start getting recognized and then put out an amazing album, Iâ€™m a big fan of hers.Â I love Kanye, love Radioheadâ€”big Radiohead fan, they can do no wrong in my book.Â Foreign Exchange put out a very good album, Robert Glaspur, I know they were nominated against meâ€”but let me tell you, I love Robert Glaspurâ€™s album.Â Little Dragon, amazing, amazing.Â I mean thereâ€™s so many people, Iâ€™m always kind of searching and then I have the fortunate opportunity of Anthony David, who will let me get a glimpse of what their working on and Iâ€™m always kind of like wow I feel privileged. Thereâ€™s songs I donâ€™t like by all means, but Iâ€™m not a person who sticks to a rulebook, if thereâ€™s a country song that comes on and it moves me, Iâ€™ll be big on that.Â I donâ€™t look at it like Taylor Swift canâ€™t blow me away.Â I may not be a big fan of hers but I still give her the opportunity to really impress me if she comes out with something.
Bella: Thatâ€™s cool because a lot of people who are musicians that Iâ€™ve talked to say they donâ€™t have favorites because they are working on their own projects so they donâ€™t listen to other stuff.
Eric: Well I mean I would say this; you have to get to a certain point.Â In my life, case and point, there was a time I couldnâ€™t listen to Brian McKnight because I started sounding like Brian McKnight.Â Thereâ€™s certain things that you could pick up on and I think that I kind of know myself now that a lot of times now, I can get inspired.Â Case and point Iâ€™ll show you something very interesting, Lil Wayne.Â What I learned from him is if you use a certain amount of energy towards a word it doesnâ€™t even have to be close to rhyming to the last word.Â But if the energy matches the last time you said the other word it will work.Â Most song writers, we think you have to say: fantastic, drastic and plastic â€“ it has to be that connected, where he might say fantasticâ€”Iâ€™m fighting to find a word thatâ€™s not close to fantasticâ€”heâ€™ll say, fantastic and blanket.Â Youâ€™ll be like, that doesnâ€™t rhyme, but the way he said it made it work, so it almost spread out these opportunities of writing, Iâ€™m not sounding like Lil Wayne, but now I just say I never thought of putting these two words together which gave me more options to be able to tell my story the way I want to tell it. Iâ€™m not really listening to anybodyâ€™s records and sounding like them anymore but I do think that some people shouldnâ€™t listen because while your working on something you should to a degree close yourself off.Â I live in South Jersey, Iâ€™m not in a big city, Iâ€™m in a little cityâ€”a little hick town so Iâ€™m working on stuff thatâ€™s in my mind.Â I donâ€™t really listen to the radio or I donâ€™t really go clubbing I kind of have an idea and get a taste of it but I donâ€™t like to be caught up so much in the industry that Iâ€™m listening to the person next to me and trying to compete with them like Iâ€™ll stay my lane.
Bella: Your new album, has the perfect balance of a present hip-hop influence, as well as the trademark Eric Roberson soulful style, what made you want to incorporate both dimensions in this project?
Eric: Well thatâ€™s the whole part of Music Fan First, if I didnâ€™t if I go back to when I was a fan, when I just was a kid loving music, growing up in New Jersey.Â The beautiful part about Jersey was we were close enough that I remember all my friends older brotherâ€™s going to hip-hop parties and the birth of hip-hop I remember that like vividly. Â Them coming back with flyers and these tapes of music like â€œwhat is this, I donâ€™tâ€”I havenâ€™t heard anything like this.â€Â I remember that excitement, I also remember that house music was really, really big in New Jersey.Â Like it was club music when you went to a club people were dancing and thatâ€™s what was playing, house and dance music.Â But in the same point, church was always big, in most black communities, so like I grew up singing in church so getting that connection to songs and melodies and being able to give yourself conviction was very prominent.Â Then of course just R&B Soul was just everywhere, my parents always play it, when you turned on the radio youâ€™d hear Al Green or DeBarge or whatever, so for me I always loved all those things.Â If I made a tape of my favorite songs, one song would be a house song, next song would be a hip-hop song and the next song would be a gospel song, next song would be a r&b song, itâ€™d just be all over.Â I just played what I liked so when I first initially tried to start creating music I was very naÃ¯ve to the point that you couldnâ€™t mix the genres together.Â I was trying to sing to a hip-hop track and rhyme to a gospel track and everyone was like, â€œyou cant do that thatâ€™s gospel thatâ€™s gospel and thatâ€™s house thatâ€™s house thatâ€™s rap thatâ€™s rapâ€ and I think growing up I was like â€œnaw, thatâ€™s bull.â€Â Hearing A Tribe Called Quest was like they matched it perfectly because their music was melodic it almost felt like you could sing to it so I was like wait a minute.Â There were so many different things, so I guess when I hear music in my head itâ€™s always kind of a combination of all the things I love.Â With this album, it kind of makes sense that I would take more hip-hop influences â€“ I consider myself a hip-hop kid at the end of the day.Â I donâ€™t necessarily go around rapping and battling cats on the subway, so it makes sense if Iâ€™m going to do an album that I just threw all the rules out the way and I just wanted to show who I am.
Bella: So one of my favorite songs on the album is â€œBreakitdown,â€ I love, love, love everything about this song; what was the writing process and concept of this song like?
Eric:Â â€œBreakitdown,â€ funny enough Jermaine Mobley, who is a very good friend of mine who went to Howard with, he did two songs on the album, he was going to do threeâ€”he was very mad at me when I took one of the songs off.Â But we get up and do writing session periodically, first of all, me and him did â€œPreviouscats,â€ for Musiq Soulchild, and a lot of songs on my albums, heâ€™s just a good dude.Â Years, and years ago man, even eight years agoâ€”probably if not longer we were just writing and he had this little lick, which was the lick from â€œBreakitdown.â€Â He remembered it somehow after all those years and we got together and he was like remember that idea you had and he hummed the whole thing out and I think he had some words for the beginning, like he really had the whole thing structured out and then it took me just coming in writing it out.Â I think we were jut writing but it just felt so good we were like â€œwe think this song is going to be on the album â€œ because it just felt incredible when we did it.
Bella: The video for youâ€™re single â€œDealing,â€ right now, is kind of funny, have you ever been in this type of situation?
Eric: Let it be known, for everybody out there in real life, I wouldnâ€™t get punched first and foremost. I wrote the treatment with some great directors Chris and Blaq out of Chicago, who did a marvelous job on the video and I just thought it was clever and it would be a talking piece or a conversation point.Â If I were to be in that situation, I think Iâ€™d definitely be a little cooler or wiser that I wouldnâ€™t try to kiss a girl in front of her boyfriend at a karaoke party. I pride myself on being a professional dater, Iâ€™ve experienced every aspect that you could probably imagine in the world of relationships, whether it be being cheated on to cheating to being faithful to every aspect you could possibly name and I think thereâ€™s certain times that you mistakenly catch feelings and you find yourself trying to deal through the situation and thatâ€™s what that song is all about.
On VH1 Soul Closureâ€¦
Bella: Another random question, but I know for me I find a lot of your music videos on VH1 Soul, do you have any feelings about how theyâ€™re closing it?
Eric: I do, itâ€™s funny because when BET J stopped and it become Centric at one put I was like errr.Â But now, Iâ€™m starting to understand Centric as well Iâ€™m hoping that if VH1 Soul is being closed that it opens the door for something else.Â Itâ€™s very sad, with all the stuffâ€”mom and pops stores are closing down by the second.Â With everything that closes you just hope that something else opens and that the same people that were committed to supporting us, that they land somewhere and they can continue to support us.Â So you know, its tough, we are losing a great outlet like you said, a lot of people are introduced to who I am through VH1 and sources like that so when they close down your kind of like that sucks.
On Being an Indie Artistâ€¦
Bella: Youâ€™re an indie artist, so what is indie because today a lot of people get the term confused?
Eric: Itâ€™s funny; I think there are people on major labels who have independent souls and spirits: like a Musiq Soulchild, a Jill Scott, or India Arie as well.Â I think they qualify in some form of â€œIndie.â€ Put it this way to me, independent artist was kind of like a culture and at the same time itâ€™s an actual art as well, itâ€™s an actual business.Â Like to me, Erkyah Badu has an independent sprit like sheâ€™s an Indie artist even though sheâ€™s with a major label and we learn a lot from herâ€”we get inspired a lot from her.Â But for how its actually broken down, we create, manufacture and distribute our records and we have 100% creative control over what is created, how its created and when its createdâ€”just owning more control over how something is being done is to me the way Indie artist is.Â Itâ€™s really just like Soul Music because for the fact that its rebellious like Soul Music is all about how I feel.Â Like a Maxwell album doesnâ€™t always sound the same because he goes through things and when he goes through things it changes, India Arie same thing, Erykah BaduÂ same thing, Dâ€™Angelo same thing.Â So like when you go into like Foreign Exchange or even go into Hip-hop like Mos Def Black on Both Sides, and The Ecstatic are two whole different albums and sound totally different.Â I think as a culture, we kind of stretch people to grow and its cool to fall in love with Black On Both Sides, but donâ€™t fall in love with it so much to the point you canâ€™t fall in love with The Ecstatic because itâ€™s a different album.Â If you want to hear Black on Both Sides, go back to Black on Both Sides itâ€™s something different kind of like Left is one album, Music Fan First is one album and the Vault was something totally different.Â So the culture of it is creating music that way, Mos Defâ€™s on a major label, but he creates music similar to the culture of independent artists but then thereâ€™s the actual business of it as well when Iâ€™m wholeheartedly an independent artist all across the board.
Bella: So thereâ€™s a lot of who look at you and want to emulate kind of what you are doing as an independent artist especially since youâ€™ve had so much success as an independent artist, what advice can you give them?
Eric: Real talk, I wouldnâ€™t tell someone donâ€™t do a deal with a major labelâ€”it wouldnâ€™t make sense for me to do a deal with a major label, Iâ€™m 36 year old now and even the guys who are successful, labels are trying to push them out for a 19 year old anyway so it wouldnâ€™t be that wise for me personally. I wouldnâ€™t overlook Jive Records or Arista or Def Jam–I just donâ€™t think you should wait on them.Â First thing I would say is just understand that itâ€™s the business of music its not the music business. You want to stay true to what your doing creatively, and Iâ€™m an advocate for that whole-heartedly.Â Iâ€™m not making radio songs, Iâ€™m making songs that if the radio plays them, then God Bless the radio for playing it, but I donâ€™t make radio songs. Take the time to ask yourself very honest questions and donâ€™t if anyone, donâ€™t lie to yourself and the more that your find tune what you want to do it makes your steps easier. Thatâ€™s the main thing and the other part just go hard because I mean all cross the broad whether your Rihanna, Kanye West, Jennifer Lopez, India Arie or Russell Taylor or Jessie Boykins or Anthony David or myself, you got to put a lot of work into this whether you have a big major label or whether your just by yourself going to the post office everyday shipping off your stuff you got to put a lot of work into this it takes a lot of practice and cultivating your craft finding out who your crowd is and what your demographic is so just be prepared to work and try to love it try to stay in love with it find new ways to fill in love with it so you can get through the hard times.
On Valentineâ€™s Dayâ€¦
Bella: Being that its Valentineâ€™s day in a couple of days, since you write songs that make women fall in love essentially, can you give any advice to the men for valentines day to make her feel special, and make him look chivalrous?
Eric: Women want to know that they are priority and that they are important to what you have around you. They are very competitive but they compete with worth, how much are they worth to you, you know.Â So if thereâ€™s a way that you can show them that they are more important then something else; â€œIâ€™m supposed to go to work, but I took off today because I just wanted to spend more time with you.â€ Or â€œ I got off work earlyâ€ or â€œI know Thursday night is poker night with the fellas but tonight its just going to be massage your feet night.â€ or â€œMan I really wanted to see that new vampire movie, or that new werewolf movie but tonight you know what Iâ€™m down to watch one of these girly movies with you.â€œÂ Prioritize them just somehow; periodically just let them know that they are important to you and that theyâ€™re more important then something else because the one thing is that they are more important then other things. Like my wife, case and point is my number one priority but your so busy trying to take care of her that a lot of times you might push her to the side by trying to gain enough money to take care of her. Thatâ€™s what guys do sometimes were just clueless in how we need to let you guys know because sometimes we just speak different languages, so just be a little more obvious to what language they speak and try to learn some Chinese for them so they can understand you. Stop and do something special for them, thatâ€™s all.
Bella: Lastly, listening to â€œCelebrate,â€ featuring Sy Smith, thereâ€™s a reference to J.Dilla.Â Also going on your blog, there seems to be a lot of J.Dilla present, since this month is undisputedly J.Dilla month, can you share how he influenced your music or any memories you have of him?
Eric:Â Man, thatâ€™s such a powerful question. Every time I sit down and try to do music, Iâ€™m a poor manâ€™s J. Dilla you know, Iâ€™m trying to emulate. I’m trying to do something thatÂ would impress him you know. I mean this guy was such a craftsman to music all across the board. Everything this guy did was just extremely creative to the way nobody really gives him credit. Everything from the way that he sings, you know the guy was a great singer too, to the way he structured his melodies was really, really dope. His drums were crazy!Â Everything he did was ridiculous! Not only did I have a song with him that he produced and participated on, I even had the chance to work with him. I was a huge fan. I was a big Busta Rhymes fan so whenever he did something on those albums it was just like night and day. Like the beats just went to some other crazy place. Because to me we can use music as such an amazing tool and the same way Kanye did when he crashed and broke his face up. He found the strength and also the creativity to do Through the Wire, Which to me was one of the most brilliant and helpful songs not only to him but for other people. It was the same way when you think of J.Dilla and how sick he was for so long. You know being in the hospital and doing beats and putting out an album. To me itâ€™s just the drive he had. You sleepy in the studio, â€œman I feel like I need this idea, but I’m a little sleepyâ€ or â€œI got the snifflesâ€ or something. This brotha couldnâ€™t eat, he’s dying, literally his body was dying eating itself alive and he’s in there making incredible music so like whatâ€™s your excuse? What are you complaining about? You hungry? Your cheese steak didnâ€™t have fried onions on it so like now you cant create? You know what I mean? I’m like keep working man, there’s people out here that are dying doing this stuff, doing what they love. So all across the board, not only was he the dopest period, but his story was just like crazy because thatâ€™s the one part that keeps me humble. Also that keeps me like working, keeps my work ethic man because what me and my boy say is â€œIf you aint going 100% you cant complainâ€ and the moment that I even start to complain I think about him. I think about, man this guy went on tour right before he died he toured Europe in a wheelchair rhyming. I cant imagine how hard that was. You know if I was going through that kind of stuff where Iâ€™m having trouble talking I aint trying to do nothing man. Shoot me up with some drugs let me lay down go to sleep and heâ€™s like â€œNaw let me keep creating.â€ There’s more music coming out then Tupac songs you know, what Iâ€™m saying? There’s so many Dilla beats. This guy did so much music that its ridiculous. I think were going to be cherishing that guys music for a long time. Its one of the biggest tragedy that we lost a pioneer such as him because he was paving the way musically about how certain things can be done you know. A lot of that whole off rhythm drum stuff. Like even if you listen to Voodoo Album, you’ll hear a lot of it. Drum wise I mean Kanye and Just Blaze and all that stuff that came from there and the whole backpack generation to me, I think he sparked a lot of that stuff. He was way ahead of his time. Heâ€™s simply amazing.