INTERVIEW: Eric Roberson speaks on how he rhymed first before Phonte on Tigallerro, his definition of the word completion and how he writes to stay in shape

Eric Roberson is a singer, songwriter, producer and a 2x Grammy nominee from New Jersey who has written or provided vocal production for Musiq Soulchild, Vivian Green, Will Smith, Cam'ron, Jill Scott, Charlie Wilson, Robert Glasper and many more.  His last album entitled Tigallerro was a joint project with Phonte (formerly of Little Brother and presently The Foreign Exchange).  He has recently announced the 2017 release of a trilogy EP entitled Earth (which will release April 21st) + Wind (July 2017) + Fire (October 2017) that will be dropping soon. We were able to sit down with Erro before his Cleveland show and ask him a few questions. 

From the O-H: You've been musically independent for a very long time, how did you come to that decision versus going major?

Eric Roberson: Well, I was signed a couple of times beforehand growing up and then being a songwriter and seeing how so many artists were being signed with their album never coming out.  I was working on albums that didn't come out.  As a songwriter, I had songs that I wasn't willing to sell and I think that's where it really started.  I can't say that I had this grand idea.  It was moreso I had songs that were too personal; about breakups, about this and that so I started kind of putting music together because at that point I was doing really well as a songwriter but I just wasn't happy.  I wasn't happy with what I was landing and I wasn't happy with what I was putting out.  I was making these other kind of songs and I was like.. well let me just put it out there and see what happens and by the second time I did that fans were like, "yo, we want more". I was more than fine going back to songwriting and I kind of got this little "artist" thing out of me and the fans were like, "we want more".  By the second time, when the majors started coming around either the deals weren't working out or my heart wasn't really in it to really try and go all out for it.  So at that point I was like, well let's see what happens when you stay with it.  I made the decision if anything, Dwele was independent and as he sold a certain amount he got signed. Kem was the same way with Motown, Raheem DeVaughn and I can name off numerous people who were my peers who were all kind of doing independent work and then the deal came so they did the deal and I kind of was like, "I already did the deal before, I've already seen that side so what happens if we just keep pushing on our own, what would happen?  That's how we got to where we are now, to the level of productivity and touring.

From the O-H: What was your "I gotta go" moment that made you dive head first into your music without an 8 to 5 job as a backup?  

Eric Roberson: My "I gotta go" moment was probably when I was in high school and I watched my mom come home from work one day and have her "I gotta go" moment.  My mom worked a corporate job and she wanted to leave that environment to focus on fashion.  She started her own fashion shop called "Your Style" and seeing her chase that.  My sister was an English major in college and she was the artsy fartsy one of the family so I watched her follow her passion as well.   So because of my family, it wasn't even an option. I had a full scholarship to Howard University my junior year and it was like , "Ok, no political science, no chemistry so I'm going to major in Music Theory."  If I could have majored in R&B singing, I would have. In the Summer, I may have worked at Nordstrom or worked at some little odd-end job to get a little bit of money but I think from that point on especially at Howard University it was pretty much if you want to do this, you gotta go hard and you gotta go all in.  

From the O-H: So you were kind of just raised up like that.

Eric Roberson: If anything, if you're going to fall back then fall back to things within the industry.  I was like, hey I started as an artist so if the artist thing doesn't work out I'll get in as a songwriter.  I was on tour with Kenny Lattimore singing background and I was also doing vocal production for many people.  So if I couldn't land a song, I could make your vocals sound better.  Whatever I needed to do to get a check to survive in the business or stay close to what was going on that's what I was going to do.   Waiting tables or some job away from the music business wasn't going to be an option for me. I was going to be somewhere near this field even if I ended up being a sound engineer, music teacher or artist manager.  I was raised to just sink or swim from the gate.  

From the O-H: You have worked with so many musicians in your past, who did you have the best chemistry with?

Eric Roberson: Aw man that's a great, great question.  I mean, it all comes in moments.  With each album, there's always probably one producer who I really click with but I can't always say that that next time we're going to click as well.  I'm very much willing to try it and I'm not shunning anybody but it's the art of listening.  It's realizing that this moment feels good, where we're in sync right now. That's what a lot of it is, it's just trying to find a moment where everything syncs together.  It's very easy. Like me and Phonte, we're very like-minded in a lot of ways and what compliments us is we're very opposite in a lotta ways also.  We're so opposite in a lot of ways that it almost makes it where we're exactly the same in those ways.  Working with him, I think is easy because it's a level of respect. It's very easy for me to be the alpha dog on a song or for him to be the alpha dog on the next song and we'll just figure it all out. Whereas artists I work with it all depends on time because I knew them all in different times. Case in point, working with Musiq Soulchild now would be different because when I worked with him before, he was a different person.  I'm not saying that's good or bad but when you're entering your career you're a sponge at that time and learning.  It would be interesting to see how it would be to work with him now with all of the knowledge that he's gained, it would just be a new challenge to find that magic.  You know what I mean?

From the O-H: Listening to Tigallerro, I can see that you're a big hip-hop head.

Eric Roberson: Oh yeah! You know what's funny?  I always jokingly say I had to fight Phonte to rhyme on the album.

From the O-H: Really, are you serious?

Eric Roberson: If there was any issue on that album it was getting Phonte to rhyme on it.  For some reason he had it in his mind that he wasn't going to rhyme on the album. I was like, "What do you mean you're not going to rhyme on the album?"  The track entitled It's So Easy where I'm rhyming?  That was the first rhyme recorded on the making of the album.  So it was just crazy that I had to start rhyming first and then eventually he started rhyming.  Of course, he murdered those songs.

From the O-H: One of my favorite songs on Tigallerro is Hold Tight where it kind of sounds like you guys are experimenting with a different style.

Eric Roberson: It's really just saying, "Yo, we can rock any style" not even poking fun at it, we appreciate it.  That's my favorite song on the album.

From the O-H: *laughs* As soon as I heard it, I couldn't help but to laugh.

Eric Roberson: *laughs* You have to man. I respect hip-hop, so I respect what Future's doing, what Fetty Wap is doing what everybody's doing.  I'm always paying attention and going, "Alright, what do you hear and see in this?"  It may not be my flavor but I can always realize that it's somebodies flavor. Hip-hop is very much, documenting who you are and where you are at that time.  It's very much like fashion.   I wouldn't expect hip-hop rappers of today to be wearing MC Hammer pants or Kangols.  I wouldn't expect a rapper today to rhyme like Rakim and I wouldn't expect Rakim to rhyme like a rapper today.  Rappers today are doing the same thing that NWA did when they first came out and if we were closed-minded, we would have never understood it.  We wouldn't have enjoyed what West Coast, St. Louis or Atlanta hip-hop was all about.  They weren't supposed to sound like they were from New York.  All of them were different. 

From the O-H: Do you feel that we should stop asking artists about politics and real life matters?

Eric Roberson: Everybody is an individual.  I think that this has been the only time (that I can think of) where black music hasn't been the soundtrack in social matters. I'm talking about from when the first slave ship showed up and we might not understand that African dialect and the hymns they were singing but it was like the soundtrack that got them through.  Look at the Civil Rights Movement, how many songs were anchored in that movement?  I don't think you should expect every individual to step up and make that statement.  We may have been surprised when James Brown made a statement and stepped up. We may have been surprised when Marvin Gaye did it.  Some people need to do it musically and not open their mouths up in interviews also but they are regular individuals and it just is what it is.  We have to judge the message and not the messenger. 

From the O-H: What made Phonte and yourself decide to do an album together?

Eric Roberson: We've been talking about it for years.  He's my closest friend in the music business and we were already kind of collaborating together.  We have so many collaborating songs, we could have just toured off of that alone. One day we were like, we may as well make an album but it still didn't happen. Life never freed up for us to make it so we just decided that this is the time we're going to do it.  We were hell-bent on making it happen and it worked out. It was really just a thing that made sense.  It's just so crazy, you know?  I just had my third child and he [Phonte] was on tour so it was like, "why the hell are we doing this now?" It worked out because it was the time that we were supposed to do it.  Music and touring is just like kids. You can't make room for it, it's going to make room for itself. You just gotta make it work.

From the O-H: We kind of touched on this already but i'm going to reiterate it. What is your favorite single on Tigallerro and what inspired it?

Eric Roberson: That would be Hold Tight.  We had one rule for Tigallerro and that was to chase goosebumps.  That's in everything that I do, especially music but in an album I think our goal was to do something that we haven't done before.  I think Hold Tight was the record that did that.  I have so many favorites though, Phonte is really a great songwriter and I worked really hard on my pen.  I think my history has proven the work of it and I think he's the same way.  At no point were we ever in the studio at the same time, he was where he was at recording, I was doing the same and we just got it done. There is probably a special story about every single song and what we did but I'd say Hold Tight which was also supposed to be an interlude. 

For the O-H: That explains why it was so short.

Eric Roberson: It was shorter than that before and I was like naw, this is crazy.  We need to handle it.

From the O-H: What is your writing process?  Do you hear the beat first and go from there?

Eric Roberson: It changes, literally second to second.  I'm really chasing whatever I'm feeling but in the majority of my albums I will show you that I'm probably writing all of the time.  Just writing lines, writing essays, writing whatever just to stay in shape.  When I go into the studio I don't really use any of the stuff.  I kind of just sit down and whatever I'm feeling, I go in that direction and I just kinda freestyle. I don't really write many lyrics and l definitely don't read off a pad and sing.  It just doesn't work well for me.  I might pull from something I may have written for something else but I'm more writing to stay in shape.  As of lately, what's interesting is what's happening with this new album that I'm working on now.  I've just been setting clip tracks, singing full out productions and then sending them out to various producers who I feel could produce it the way that I would want it to be produced and it's been working crazy.  I mean the songs have been coming out really, really bonkers so that's been my new process of lately.  I might be singing this crazy hook in the shower and what happens is, a lot of times you'll have all these hooks or have all of these ideas and then you're trying to match them to tracks.  So I was like, you know what? Let me go with what I know I can do and let me go ahead and sing it all out.  I'll sing the whole entire production.  

From the O-H: You perform a few times a year in Cleveland, do you have a connection here?

Eric Roberson: Cleveland was always an important part for me.  From the moment my career started, even the smallest with shows with 20 people we would do it in Cleveland.  I remember driving down here, and that drive was serious coming from Jersey but it was a very important city for me.  I was here the other year for a Smokey Robinson tribute at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and so to come for other reasons too is great.  I'm honored to even be considered for other things and at the end of the day I got love for Cleveland.  Good food, good people, good times.

From the O-H:  Ohio is enriched with so many independent artists.  What advice would you give to an up and coming writer, singer or musician?  

Eric Roberson: Aw man, completion!  Really focus on the word completion and understand what that means and what it defines.  Completion is really the difference in who's going to win and who's going to lose in every aspect I mean.. let's say you stumble across a big radio single which we see many artists have.  If you don't complete the process of like completely understanding the stage and completing the tour aspect (shaking hands and kissing babies) and making sure that you work and prepare for the next step, even paying your taxes all that adds up to completion but if you have an idea make sure you execute the idea, make sure you record it but why record it if you're not willing to take criticism.  Why take criticism if you're not going to go back and improve the song?  Why go improve the song if you're not going to put a business plan together to put it out? Why put it out if you ain't going to tour and support it?   Why tour and support it if you not going to invest the money to build it? You're never complete but what it is, is like you're always focused on making sure it'll get you through your steps.  Completion will also remove you from overthinking and looking past.  If we're here and we're talking right now the goal is to complete and make this the best. That's what process over product is.  Process is make this the best interview that we can possibly make it, not worry about what comes about afterwards, this and that or if I need other interviews, no.  If I take care of this then that part is being taken care of and I think that's the main thing that we all have to realize is like.. just focus on being the best that you can possibly be.  That don't mean that you have to be the next Erykah Badu or Beyonce, just .. how good can you make you?  From a show stand point, from a communications standpoint, how good can you make your band feel when they're on the road with you, it's all across the board. There is so many loopholes, you can wake up one day and just be out of the business. So it's very important to make sure you're crossing the t's and dotting the i's from a spiritual aspect, from a creative aspect, from a business aspect.  Focus more on completion and understand what that means. If you start working on a song, don't put pressure on yourself.  It's going to work but know that that song needs to be done.  I have 3 kids now.  I still have to record, I  still have to make sure that I'm writing and digging deep as much as the 17 year old that just started recording. He got all the time in the world or the 25 year old me, who was just in Cali one day and Columbus the next day and I'm just writing and recording.  You still gotta do it and it has to get done.  It has to get completed.

NOTE: Erro will be releasing an EP Trilogy " Earth + Wind +Fire" this year with the first one dropping April 21st. Find out more about how you can be involved in the Process HERE