The chance to provide background vocals on Jill Scott's 2000 breakout single "Getting In The Way" and on Musiq Soulchild's "Previouscats" was one of the many opportunities that Eric Roberson had during his tenure at Jazzy Jeff's A Touch of Jazz production company. His work there with R&B superstars-in-the-making led the singer-songwriter to embark on his own solo career, which has most recently yielded Mister Nice Guy, his first album since 2009. HuffPost Black Voices recently caught up with the New Jersey native, who opened up on his latest offering, his work with artists at A Touch of Jazz and his thoughts on reuniting with Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild.
Can you talk about the concept behind the album title, Mister Nice Guy?
I was actually inspired by a spoken word piece that one of my boys from Ohio said. His poem was about 'No more Mr. Nice Guy.' We were jokingly talking about starting a Mr. Nice Guy coalition, trying to re-instill some of the things that our parents have taught us. And from there it just kind of spiraled into an album, but the album is more about a guy trying to maintain being a nice guy while also searching for love and maintain love. But once I came up with the title track, it was all smooth sailing from there. I was able to figure out exactly what I wanted to say.
What inspired the album's lead single, "Picture Perfect"?
Phonte -- that's my brother in music -- I can't say enough about him. I sent him a ton of songs, and that was the one where he was like, 'Yo man, I want to get on this one,' and I was like, 'Help yourself.' But the song was real easy. I actually wrote the song initially about my wife. My wife was pregnant and I started recording the whole album really just getting ready for my son to be born, because I didn't want to be on the road in some far land when my wife's water broke. So just watching that whole process was amazing to me, the fact that she looked picture perfect no matter how uncomfortable she was or how she felt at the time. It was really a song to uplift her and what she was going through, as well as just honoring the fact that we as men can't do it. So it's really just paying homage to her and just to women in general for being just amazingly beautiful.
To complement the track I noticed that you added a Nat King Cole/Marvin Gaye-type of feel to the video.
We just wanted something really, really clean. The video idea was almost like a soul version of [Craig Mack's] "Flava In Ya Ear," with a Nat King Cole look. And it really came out looking great. A brother I went to Howard [University] with, one of my closest friends named Derrick Savage, him and a guy named Jay Espinal actually directed the video, and they did a marvelous job on it.
How would you describe this album in comparison to some of your previous efforts?
I think the albums up until this point have mostly been pretty serious. We usually try to keep a serious look. But this album, we kind of let our guard down to kind of have a good time. There's a lot more comical shots taken on this album than any of my previous albums.
Do you have a follow-up single lined up?
"At the Same Time" is kind of fighting for it. It's one of the songs that we've added to the live show. But there's a few that's fighting as well. There's a song called "Shake Her Hand" that's getting a lot of attention as well. So we're kind of weighing it. I've learned to do music and not try to judge it too much and allow the fans to let me know how they feel about it.
Earlier in your career you were very instrumental in Jazzy Jeff's production company, A Touch Of Jazz. What's the latest status on your affiliation?
Well, it's always love. And we're still family. Pretty much that whole circle of A Touch of Jazz alum, everyone's doing exceptionally well now. But it was an honor. It was pretty much my grad school. I remember when Jill [Scott] walked in for the first time, and I remember when Musiq Soulchild walked in for the first time. ... There were four studio rooms fully equipped with all the technology and equipment that you could possibly imagine. And it was really no pressure on making money, it was really about 'Yo, just practice your craft. If we could land something, then we'll land something. If not, then let's become better.' A large list of people were there before me and after me. And Raheem DeVaughn was a member down there as well. His writing was just ridiculous, he wrote so fast. So it's just some good memories. Jeff, he and I still work together whenever we can.
How would you describe the impact of that experience on your sound today?
It's funny because that's a great question and it's probably a question that I've never gotten close to answering. But the beautiful thing was, it was really ever the first time that we (at least for myself) were in the studio working without being on the clock. And it allowed us to have creative freedom and really find our inner voices or find our individual styles. I think it was a start there, but I really started learning what I was going to do musically after that.
Now that you all are established artists in your own rights, can fans expect a possible collaboration between any of you (Musiq, Jill, or even Raheem)?
I hope so. Me and Raheem, we still talk on a regular basis. And we're both constantly recording, and at the same time it's still all love with the rest of them: Vivian Green, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild and all of them. A lot of it has to do with catching up with life -- and we all live in different areas. I would love to do another collaboration with Jill or do another collaboration with Musiq. I don't think any of us would be against it. The funny thing is, we mostly catch up in airports, that's how we maintain our friendships. So it's all about us slowing down a bit. We're all just hustling and trying to work out our respective projects. But I think if we sit down for a minute we could make something magical happen.
CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly gave Jay Espinal's name as Jay Espinola. We regret the error.