Artist: Eric Roberson
Album: The Box
Four out of Five stars
In the urban music industry, the term independent artist conjures up subpar rap outfits intent on making up for their lack of talent with the rawness of the streets they profess to represent. Independent R&B, thanks to Foreign Exchange and bands like Mint Condition (yes, bands still exist) is beginning to make an impression of being R&B with more artistic daring and topical range than the typical, Quiet Storm derivative. Eric Roberson is undoubtedly The King of Independent R&B. The Box, his 12th release and 10th studio album, is both what he’s known for and an expansion of sorts.
Roberson’s ability to weave an everyday story into the reverie and drama of romance has never left him. It is his trademark and for good reason. He can make everything from arguing with an attendant at the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) to running into familiar faces at a Howard University reunion seem like experiences brimming with the potential of finding true love. In “Do the Same for Me” and other songs about already being in relationships, Roberson rivals Anthony Hamilton in his ability to speak from the heart of everyday men. The result is authentic and free of trendy drinks at the bar and name-dropping fashion labels:
I love who you were and who you’re gonna be
Hopefully you’ll see that I’m a simple man
Do just all I can
Hope you’ll do the same for me, baby
The music is more lush and layered than the lyrics suggest. Roberson has worked with artists such as Musiq Soulchild, Charlie Wilson, Dwele and Jill Scott and clearly picked up a stylistic flourish or two along the way. Having evolved beyond the demo feel of early releases, the New Jersey native has gone beyond his established prominence in the mellow neo-soul sub-genre with a trustworthy command of more up-tempo tracks like the frenetic, jazz influenced tale of bachelor paranoia in “Pill.”
Now she’s picking colors and calling up her mother,
setting dates now I’m in trouble for sure!
The current single, “Mark On Me,” showcases Roberson’s penchant for humor and fish-out-of-water scenarios with the utter shock of a ladies’ man not used to being “caught up”:
I smell her hair, I even smell he perfume
Even though I know she’s not there, I can presume
she left her mark on me…
Experiencing The Box may intrigue enough to look into Roberson’s earlier albums (Esoteric, Music Fan First and Left are highly recommended). It is a worthwhile endeavor to experience the evolution of an artist whose storytelling, along with grittier Lyfe Jennings, proudly stands in the tradition of the late Bobby Womack.
About Dr. William Hobbs
William Hobbs (aka William Ashanti Hobbs, III) is from Fort Lauderdale, Florida by way of Atlanta, GA. While attending Florida A&M University (FAMU), the college junior was inspired to publish Pseudonymous, a collection of short stories and poems and the novel “The Chosen People: Africa’s Lost Tale of Meroe,” all in the same year. Sales allowed Hobbs to publish ” Unconditionally ” in 1996 as he graduated from FAMU. His passion for writing won him a McKnight Fellowship, which allowed him to pursue a masters and doctorate degree in creative writing from Florida State University (FSU).
Hobbs graduated from FSU in 2004 and now teaches Creative Writing at Florida Memorial University. Hobbs has published an essay and poem in Journey into a Brother’s Soul by Kimani Press. Hobbs is married to Dr. Tameka Hobbs and has two sons, Ashanti and Amiri. He has recently published an experimental novel entitled “North of the Grove.”