Prelude to Excellence: Eric Roberson Gets Nice
VIP passes, the black carpet, flashing lights, slick fashion; sounds like the beginning of a beautiful night. Why all the glitz and glamour? Well, one Eric Roberson is on the verge of releasing his new CD Mr. Nice Guy. The theme; Black Hollywood, the man; Eric Roberson, the moment; Howard [University] Homecoming 2011. As Hov would say “Black excellence, opulence, decadence!” OKP’s Mel Blunt was able to catch up with Erro At Bobby Vans and at Park nightclub to get the facts on the artist and his latest an arguably greatest release.
OKP: Where do see yourself on your musical journey or timeline so to speak? How much do you have left to give artistically?
ER: I never thought that I would have 8 albums over the last ten years. I don’t know if I have another 8 albums over the next ten years, but I don’t think I’m slowing down anytime soon. My passion is still in making music. But I would love to expand into other things, maybe management, or maybe continue building a label. I’ll damn near have an album out in another two years. I’m open to it, but at the same time, I’m married now, I have a son. One or two more kids and that may change the whole perspective. But making music is not like a job to me, it’s more like a release.
OKP: I feel you on that. But I was asking not so much in terms of what you have left production volume-wise but more so what you have left conceptually.
ER: Half of the job is searching. Truth be told, when I finish an album, I empty my soul; I have nothing else to write about. Amazingly, I find things to write about. If you just pay attention to your surroundings, you’ll find stories right out of your personal life.
OKP: In regard to recording an album, what are your essential needs? What are the things that you’ve got to have either after or before recording an album?
ER: Gatorade, my voice. Not that I use it much anymore, but a fresh pad-untouched, a pen, and peace of mind. A time when your phone is not interrupting you, no distractions. I just need a nice block of time that helps out a lot. I record a lot of my stuff at two or three in the morning and the world starts to slow down around that time.
OKP: When do you know that an album has everything that it needs? When do you know that it’s a done deal?
ER: That’s a great question because you know, artists, we feel like it’s never done. I’m constantly stuffing something in. But it’s always open until the deadline is reached. You know like when you already have a release date and you have to stay honest to it, maybe that’s how you do it.
Artistically I always mold it to where the album can be done in 10 songs, 12 songs, 15 songs; it all depends on how much time I’ve got. If I have another month, I’ll have another two songs on it.
OKP: I remember Chuck D said something to the effect of for independent artists, it’s good to have projects with 10 songs only to ensure, promote, or at least allow for the release of more complete CDs.
ER: My goal is to always do 12 songs. My earlier albums spoke more towards that. It’s funny as I get older and release more records—the last album had 17 songs on it, Mr. Nice Guy has 15. Two albums back I had 14 songs on the project. But my goal is to only put out 12.
OKP: What fuels you artistically?
ER: Ahh man, other good music, I’m just in love with the art of combining words. Whether I write poetry, write letters, or write songs, it’s just something I like to do in my spare time, that fuels me. If you just look around–friends hanging together, or trying to mend a broken heart or just something like that. I’m just fueled by life a lot of times. And I’m fueled by the opportunity to do what I love for a living, knowing that previously, I almost lost the chance to do this, it wasn’t always guaranteed that I would have this opportunity.
OKP: I know you went to Howard University. So what does the D.C. area mean to you from a motivational or inspirational standpoint in connection with your art?
ER: At Howard, I became a man, I ran into many brick walls; I fell in love, I lost love, I had my dreams come true and dreams falter. You know it was a time that I walked the streets, wondering if I was going to make it at points in my life. D.C. holds a lot of beautiful moments but from a musical standpoint, it’s where I started my career. So it’ll always be home, there are so many familiar faces here. I’ve got stories that I could build off of. I’m really appreciative of what I’ve had or have here in D.C.
OKP: How did that single, “Dealing” with Lalah Hathaway off of the Music Fan First CD materialize? That was a tight song, I really dig that.
ER: Thanks man. We were on tour together, and I’m a big Lalah fan. So amazingly, in time, we became friends and while we were on tour, I told her—I’ve got this song, I could hear you on it. She was real, real cool and was like, “send it to me.” The rest is history. I literally e-mailed it to her—two weeks later she e-mailed it back finished.
OKP: Cool, who came up with the video concept? I like that, I like that.
ER: I did, my barbershop was mad at me; they were like “How are you going to get punched in the face?” But it’s a good conversation piece so, I like it.
OKP: I heard that you did a track that was collaboration with the late J Dilla and James Poysner.
ER: Oh yeah, “Pretty Girl.” Unfortunately it was done at a time when Dilla was really sick, so before we got to put the song out, he passed. A brother, Amp Fiddler was able to hook me up with Mama Yancey, and she was able to work the business part of it out, so we could still do the deal. I was very thankful for that.
It was amazing. I’m a big Dilla fan; he was a huge hero to me. I knew James very well. I’ve been working with James. He actually got me to sing on his album as well. It was a blessing to get the song done and I still bang J Dilla’s music, I mean he was ahead of this time.
OKP: Classic. Now tell me a little bit about that studio in Philly.
ER: Yeah, yeah, A Touch of Jazz man, DJ Jazzy Jeff. About 15, maybe more than that, years ago this studio was home to a lot of the big producers of today, especially those out of the Philly area. In my opinion, the whole New Philadelphia Movement started at A Touch of Jazz. James Poyser, Bink? All the guys making noise came from there; Musiq Soulchild’s first album was produced there as well. It was just a great time man, Howard was my College right, and A Touch of Jazz was my grad-school.