LIL JOHN ROBERTS INTERVIEW
First things first! How did you start playing the drums?
Lil John Roberts: Church! My Dad’s church is where it all started. His church was called Faith Hope and Love and it was on 48th and Broad Street in Philadelphia. What got me started was that all my Uncles played the drums, and pretty much everyone in my family plays instruments. My dad plays bass and my mom plays the piano and she studied classical at Temple University. She was the minister of music at our church. So being around all that music I just took to the drums right away by hanging around my uncles.
Soul Society 101: How important was music to you while growing up?
Lil John Roberts: I figured it out early, I was about around 7 and then by around 10, I really began to be serious about playing the drums. My mom and my family started seeing me taking to the drums and practicing a lot after school and I knew immediately that’s what I wanted to do. Alongside, being a track runner, I was splitting my time up running and practicing the drums after in the basement.
Soul Society 101: Do you feel that music can/is important for children to have in school/development in life?
Lil John Roberts: I really push for schools to bring music back to education. For one thing, it keeps kids out of trouble and the other thing is music trains the brain intellectually, to be able to do math better and speak better. Music really just helps a kid to be well rounded with everything.
Soul Society 101: I definitely agree, music can be another outlet for a child to find their place in the world. Thank goodness some schools still have music programs but we need all schools to have them. How do you feel about the state of music now overall?
Lil John Roberts: For people like me and my generation, we are still pushing hard representing the intellectual and the substance side of music. A lot of my peers are still in that fight to make sure that the real music prevails over the cookie cutter stuff that comes out on the radio. My partner Robert Glasper, and other friends of mine like Bilal, Questlove, and James Poyser are still pushing. I think the state of music is wide open right now, and a lot of people want it. I think that it deprives people to give people anything less than intellectual music.
Soul Society 101: We do hope the real music prevails as well! You have been in the business so long, who are some of you favorite artist that you have worked with?
Lil John Roberts: The first name that comes to mind is George Duke, who I’ve played with for 17 years. I met George when I was around 24/25, after being on the road with Janet Jackson. I met George through a lot of musicians that I was playing with at the time because some of them were playing pop gigs but they were also great jazz musicians. They had all been telling George about me, but George Howard, Philadelphia native as well, is the one that actually introduced me to George Duke. So when I met George Duke, he took me under his wing and I started playing and doing records with him. In turn he introduced me to Rachelle Ferrell and told her that we should work together. Between George Duke and Rachelle Ferrell, for a long time in the 90’s I was working with them, and they had a huge impact on my musicality.
Soul Society 101: Awesome! Yeah Rachelle Ferrell is insane what she can do vocally. She is one of the best vocalists I have ever heard and I think that some of these younger singers need to take a lesson from her and learn from her to help grow in their craft.
In June your single "Get Right” feat. Sa-Roc & Sol Messiah" from the album "The Heartbeats" dropped. How did that collaboration come about?
Lil John Roberts: It came about because Messiah and me have been friends for so long and we bumped into each other on day. He stated that he wanted me to come and see his lady perform, and Sa-Roc is his girlfriend. So I went out to the club to see her perform and I was just floored by her lyrical content and delivery. So months go by and he reached back out to me to collab, and we had already done the instrumental for “Get Right”. So I said, I have a track that I wanted to get a Hip-Hop artist on, so I sent it to them and she wrote to it that same night and came back and said she was ready to record on the track. We went in to the studio and in about an hour she laid her cuts down, and she is amazing. She is from DC and I was just floored by what she wrote about and her delivery on the track.
Soul Society 101: Your album "The Heartbeats" just dropped. What message/purpose do you want listeners to get from your music?
Lil John Roberts: Positive messages and an organic feel of the record. I had ideas for the album but most of it was done step-by-step and going with the moment. That was the part I wanted to convey and that you can do an organic record and still come across like some of these other songs on the radio. The messages are there on each song and that’s what I wanted to convey to the audience as well as a good feeling and good vibes with positive vibrations.
Soul Society 101: Great! So we know that you are a great artist but since you do travel a lot what are some of your favorite places to eat traveling and in the ATL?
Lil John Roberts: So my favorite kind of food is Thai food! I love to go the best Thai spots when I travel to any city, but in Atlanta there is one specific place that I have been going to for awhile and that is called “Thai and Sushi”. Secondly, I stopped eating meat about 8 years ago, and I wanted to change my diet and way of living. I have always been interested in living as natural as possible and still being able to eat the things that I like. I couldn’t be totally vegan because I love shrimp and fish but I was able to let go of the chicken, beef and pork. I go to different spots in Atlanta that are vegan friendly such as “Café Sun Flower” and their food is amazing. I remember seeing Erykah Badu there one day and a lot of folks come to town and eat there. I just really love to eat! My family, if you go visit anyone of my aunts they thrown down in the kitchen. We all eat a wide range of food in my family, so that’s where I really get my love of food.
Soul Society 101: While being on tour what have been your favorite places to visit domestically or internationally?
Lil John Roberts: I love Australia! I love Australia with a passion; I have had so much fun going back and forth there. I love Africa, especially South Africa. It’s a bit more modernized and it’s kind of like going to the states. I have a lot of fun there and they play a lot of great music. The culture is cool to be around and interact with actual African people. They listen to the songs that we listen to over here so it’s a great collaboration. Its cool to see how they admire us and how we admire them and that connection is amazing. I love Italy a lot, it’s a very romantic place and Rome is one of my favorite places in Italy.
Soul Society 101: What destinations would you love to travel to?
Lil John Roberts: I haven’t been to Brazil yet and I’d love to go there for the simple fact that I am a drummer and the Brazilin rhythms there. I am a big fan of their rhythms and every drummer I have seen from Brazil is amazing to me. Cuba is another place that I would love to learn from but at the end of the day its all African. Cuban music is a whole other side of African music. So, I would love check those two places out.
ALL THE DEETS
His website: http://liljohnroberts.com
Cafe SunFlower: http://www.cafesunflower.com
Thai and Sushi: http://eavthai.com
WORDS BY BRANFORD JONES