An Interview With Drummer Lil’ John Roberts


By Staff

Congratulations on your new single ‘Your Renaissance’ from your album ‘Elevation’ it is so peaceful, relaxing and soothing could you tell us the inspiration of this song. 

What did your collaborators Phil Davis and Keran Vega contribute to ‘Your Renaissance’ ?

What is the meaning of ‘Your Renaissance ‘? 

Renaissance in short means a renewed interest in something, and to me this song was something that I hoped would give people a feeling of hope during a time when we were unsure of what was going to happen during a very tragic pandemic as well as losing lives senselessly to hatred and racism. My friend and co producer/keyboardist Phil Davis stated “The unforeseen pathway from the present to the future from darkness into the light” And our featured vocalist Keran Vega said “Your Renaissance” filled me with peace and tranquility when I first heard it, and that’s what I wanted to convey in the vocal arrangement.”

Tell us about the other songs on ‘Elevation’ and how they were created and what you would like the audience to feel from them? 

This album was first birthed as a collaboration between myself and keyboardist extraordinaire Kenny Banks Jr. while we were quarantined in 2020 and all of our shows and creative spaces were shut down out of nowhere! It was then that we decided to put our frustrations and emotions into music. It started with one song and continued from there with other friends of mine that also wanted to express themselves with me. Kenny and I went to our friend, drummer/producer Larry Wilson’s home studio and just hit record and what you hear on the song “Serenity” is what happened live from start to finish. It’s like a movement of how we felt in the moment. It’s 18 minutes long! And I left everything on it, not thinking about the time. I wanted the listener to feel everything that we felt. I even asked my friend Lauren Shields to go in the studio with me and record her playing sound bowls along with me playing tribal rhythms on drums and percussion and create some intense vibrations between the two of us. And later on I had Phil Davis, Joe Davis, one of my former students from Berklee, and also the amazing Jamar Jones from my hometown Philadelphia, play piano, synths, and orchestrations over top of what we created with the sound bowls! it came out beautifully! And when you hear it, I think you’ll feel all of those elements come together to make some very high vibrational frequencies! I also have Imani Grace Cooper singing vocals on “Hear To Infinity” along with trumpeter great Phil Lassiter. I also have my good friend, saxophone great, Walter Beasley who i collaborated with on “Tranquility” and my amazing band mates C.C. Sunchild and Kebbi Williams on “Exhale” 

How would you classify this music Genre-wise ? 

I’d like to classify this album as an inspirational and healing project, that has elements of spiritual meditation in it. 

We understand you are working on documentary’. Please tell us what you can about it i assume it will focus on your extensive history as a drummer, band leader and collaborator? 

I just started filming footage for a documentary of my career starting from the beginning in Philadelphia with my closest friends and family. It’s not an overnight process of course because we are trying to capture over 30 years of my life from when I started playing professionally in my teenage years til now. We are doing interviews with alot of the people that I grew up playing with and for. I’m very excited to tell my story from the age of 10 until now. I’m 52 years old now. It’s a very unique story of how I started playing in my dads church and went on to play other styles of music like jazz with one of my mentors, Wynton Marsalis and R&B and Hip Hop with people like DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) and then on to playing pop with the icon Miss Janet Jackson at the early age of 23, after I studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston for 2 years. Then the list goes on with many artists that I worked with after that. 

Who would you like to collaborate with that you have not yet? Your dream list? 

Oh man! I’ve worked with so many iconic legends through the years like George Duke RIP, Rachelle Ferrell, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Michael Jackson, George Benson, George Howard, Quincy Jones, Sheila E., Joe Sample, Al Green,Kirk Whalum, and the list goes on and on. I wish I had toured with Michael Jackson, I only worked in the studio once with him, and he asked me to tour with him, but it’s a story behind that that I will tell in my documentary, but it never happened unfortunately. I’ve been extremely blessed I’ll say that! 

As you know one of the focuses of our magazine is health and wellness. With your busy schedule please give  us some of your tips on staying healthy especially with your meals. What is your favorite meal of the day breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner? 

Playing drums is a workout in itself! We are like athletes! So we have to stay in good health to function properly, and as I get older it gets harder to maintain that lifestyle, but I try my best! I’ve done Pilates for years (which is a game changer)I’ve done yoga for years as well, and my eating habits are very good. No meat for the last 15 years, I’m a pescatarian, and I eat lots of fish, fruits and vegetables. I also drink lots of water to stay hydrated and it helps with weight loss as well as clear skin. I’m a huge fan of Sea moss, thank you Dr. Sebi! I’m not big on weights but a good walk or jog and cardio is always great! I like to play tennis, something I’ve always wanted to do and finally started taking lessons in Atlanta a few years ago. Saunas are always great for detoxing, and occasional massages, acupuncture, cupping, and chiropractic care to keep me aligned! Shouts out to all of my holistic health care providers, you know who you are! And last but certainly not least, SLEEP! REST! Is essential! 

  • Lil’ John Roberts 


Lil John Roberts Biography by Andy Kellman

Lil John Roberts is a drummer with far too many significant connections to list in full. He’s one of the most significant session and touring musicians of his time, as well as a member of his own group, the Chronicle. While in his teens, Roberts played beside Joey DeFrancesco and Christian McBride as part of Wynton Marsalis‘ Duke Ellington Orchestra. During the early ’90s, he was awarded a full scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music, where he remained for two years prior to joining fellow Philadelphians DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince on the road. He then continued to perform with dozens of musicians and took part in sessions for albums by the likes of Everette HarpGeorge DukeEn VogueGeorge BensonSinéad O’ConnorJill ScottLedisithe Foreign Exchange, and Faith Evans. In 2014, Roberts released The Heartbeat, on which he was joined by a large supporting cast, including Robert GlasperNicholas PaytonAnthony DavidEric RobersonMusiq Soulchild, and Stokley Williams.

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