The number of indie star cameos in Lil’ John Roberts’s gravity-defying new video, “Space,” is really impressive: Lalah Hathaway, Avery*Sunshine, Algebra, Sy Smith. That’s not even mentioning the hunky R&B heavies who are actually singing, tag team-style, on this song—a very cool collabo with each singer giving his own take on the theme of space. Eric Roberson, imploring creative types to make music from their heart and not just for the ducats; Anthony David, requesting space to air out some unidentified hater; Mint Condition’s Stokley Williams, challenging uninspired music makers to step their game up and make deeper art; and Musiq, who demands a little space from his critics.
The video, directed by Konee Rok, was all in a day’s work for Lil’ John Roberts, a Philadelphia-raised, world-class drummer-for-the-stars (who’s also known as the proud dad of Jill Scott’s 5-year-old son, Jett Hamilton Roberts).
Lil’ John’s biography is really impressive too, almost to the point of staggering. He’s a former child prodigy handpicked by Wynton Marsalis to play in the Duke Ellington Orchestra at age 16; a Berklee School of Music student who left school to take his maiden voyage on tour with fellow Illadelphians DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince at age 23; an in-demand drummer banging the skins for a constellation of artists. (Think Stevie Wonder, Ne-Yo, Prince, Herbie Hancock, etc.) Roberts’s list of credits is pretty amazeballs.
Three tours with Janet Jackson and production work for Jazzy Jeff’s A Touch of Jazz were career high points for the funky drummer. His work on Queen Latifah’s Sugarwater Tour led to his crossing romantic paths with Scott, then recently divorced, and a passionate two-year relationship which produced Jett shortly before the couple mutually ended their engagement. It wasn’t easy for either artist, but as globe-trotting co-parents, they make it work.
To quote Roberts: “We are all over the place at times, and we try our best to make it work. She’s on tour, and then I’m on tour or she’s working on a film and I’m recording records in the studio. It’s definitely not your normal situation. But we make it work with the help of a nanny and our family helping out when they can. Like [Jill] always says in her interviews, ‘It takes a village,’ and we can’t do it by ourselves. It probably would be a little easier if we lived in the same city too, but unfortunately we don’t. But we do what we can. Jett’s father is very much a part of his life.”
Much like the pianist Robert Glasper (another Aries musician featured on Roberts’s album who’s blazed a trail from the jazz world to mainstream hip-hop and R&B), Lil’ John has serious heat for your ears too. His stellar, independently produced debut album, The Heartbeat, is a smooth blend of soul, jazz, funk and hip-hop. Click play and take a trip into space with Lil’ John Roberts’s all-soul-star crew (and peep the cute, behind-the-scenes outtake of Musiq rockin’ a capella at the end of the visual).