2008) | Interview By: Noncentz|
Dubcnn recently brought you a front
page story with Oaklandís very own Sterlen Roberts. Dubcnn is back today with
an exclusive interview with this multi-talented artist. We discuss his
upbringing, what we can expect from his debut record and MTL Records, how he
hooked up with Devante Swing, coming up around Timbaland, Flo-Rida, Keisha,
Flava Flav and much more.
Interview was done by phone in April 2008
Questions Asked By:
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Dubcnn: Sterlen, how you doing, man?
Pretty good, dude! Pretty good!
Dubcnn: What was it like growing up in Oakland?
East Oakland out here is raw, man! Itís kind of like a Compton version up in
the bay area. Itís real rough! My grandfather hand-built a church on 83rd,
which is right in the middle of east Oakland, and thatís the church I grew up
in. The house we lived in was so bad, that 10 years ago it got knocked down.
My dad, being a musician, sold the publishing to one of his songs that I think
was nominated for a Grammy, just to get us out. He preaches to me against
selling my publishing, but if I had a family Iíd do the same thing.
Dubcnn: So with your grandfather building that church, did you attend
We were in church every night of the week! Gunshots going on outside and
everything, but nobody would mess with us because, itís funny, but cats in the
hood have respect for people going in and out of the church. But that was most
of my growing up, was going to church basically every night of the week, and
on Sundays we were in church for like 8 hours!
Dubcnn: Iím all about God, man, but thatís a lot of church, homie!
It was a Pentecostal church, you know, with the hand-clapping, shouting and
all of that. When I wasnít in church, it was the happiest time of my life. But
now, Iím realizing how important it was.
Dubcnn: Growing up in the church, is that where you got youíre musical
My mom bought me a Casio keyboard, even though I couldnít play as a little
kid, but I would pretend like I was playing in testimony service. I pretended
like I was jamming because I always liked the hand movements of my dad
playing. I liked the way he spread his hands and hit the chords, so I acted
like I was hitting chords. Of course I was hitting all the wrong chords!
Dubcnn: Being so heavy in church, how did you gravitate to the more secular
music thatís how there?
I was into hip-hop a long time ago. I really started making music when I
wanted to stop depending on other people for my career and the things that I
wanted. I bought Reasonable Doubt the day it came out! I was not a
hop-on-the-bandwagon Jay-Z fan. I use to listen to Fat Joe.
Dubcnn: Growing up in East Oakland and youíre listening to Jay-Z, Fat JoeÖ.
And not buying Too $hort! *laughs*
Dubcnn: Yeah! Surrounded by cats like him, E-40, 4-Tay and you was
listening to what was coming out of New York.
From Kool Moe Dee to Big Daddy Kane! If it was between Biggie & 2Pac, I was
2Pac all the way! I bought Dreís album, Too $hort and all of that. Iím from
here, but in the same breath Iím a cat who listens to Barbara Streisand &
Frank Sinatra. A good friend of mine told me a long time ago to dig in and
listen to everything. You canít just stop at rap or whatever.
Dubcnn: Obviously, we know you write and rap, but a lot of people would be
surprised to hear that you also produce, too.
Basically, Iím a keyboardist, and really more of a studio musician. I can play
what needs to be played. I play drums, and Iím ok on the guitar. I lived with
DeVante Swing for 2 years. Heís the type of guy that can pick up anything and
make it work, and thatís the kind of guy I am. Not many producers get respect
for being rappers, and itís really a challenge. You have to take a few days to
just sit down and be a writer, and then take a couple days to just be a
keyboard player; then 2 or 3 days to be a producer. The public doesnít give
any breaks. They judge you on everything from the lyrics, the beats to the
hooks. Even though I write and play everything, I donít get a Kanye West type
of leniency. I have to come correct in everything!
Dubcnn: What separates Sterlen from everybody else thatís out there?
The intro to my record is a composition that I wrote. I played every
instrument and wrote every lyric. And I did that purposefully to show people
why, why, why Iím where Iím at and what Iím about to do. And you will have
never heard anything like it. And if you have, call me and tell me Iím a liar!
Itís a piano ballad, and Iím going to start playing and rapping that live
simultaneously. Thatís my attempt.
Dubcnn: So what can we expect from this record?
I didnít get as many songs as I wanted on there because the labels want you to
put all the singles on there, but I got some real shit. Itís going to have a
mixture of the creative stuff for the music heads, and stuff for the non-music
heads. I think thereís a good balance of things on there for people to check
Dubcnn: With declining CD sales and whatnot, what drives you to succeed in
I get a real kick out of creating new music. Thatís my passion. After creating
that new song and coming up with something thatís enjoyable to someone, thatís
the ultimate passion for me. Nobody can take that feeling away. Thereís so
many times we as rappers go through so many ideas that may be wack, and we
wonder why weíre doing this, but when you get that one golden idea it changes
Dubcnn: Now, you came up in the same crew as Timbaland & Missy and them,
Well, we were the crew right after them. It was me, Flo-Rida, Keisha and few
others that came though there right after. I was there for about 2 years and
lived with Flo-Rida as well. I was at a pretty low point in my career just
after I had a video shot and was about to get signed to Universal when it all
fell through, but I got a call from a friend who said DeVante Swing saw my
video and wanted to meet me. He didnít know I was a producer, but the minute I
got there I started playing the piano, rapping, playing the drums, played my
music and all of that. When he found out I could do all those things, he told
me to get my stuff and move in. He was already going to mess with me as a
rapper, but when he found out I was a producer he got a whole new vision for
Flo-Rida moved in after me in the next room, and we wrote a lot of stuff
together. Weíre all really good friends, and itís a blessing to see Keisha
Cole and everybody doing so well. And itís funny because Keisha was always
around saying sheís signed and all this, and then 2 months after I left
DeVanteís, I saw Keishaís video. Now Flo-Ridaís out doing really well!
Dubcnn: Tell me about MTL records.
Todd DiMartino started this label off his belief in me. Heís really the most
savvy businessman Iíve ever seen! Everything about him is on point. Heís
looking to sign pop artists and everything else, not just hip-hop. He hired a
great lawyer, the same lawyer thatís over the 2Pac estate, heís hired a great
radio person, and a great A&R. I have a great production partner named Peter
Brown. Heís my other half; for every Pharrell thereís a Chad. I went with Todd
& MTL because after dealing with the Universal thing, I wanted to try to have
control over as much as possible.
Dubcnn: So why, ďShe WorksĒ as the lead single?
Well, originally, it was a song called ďOnly The MoneyĒ, but our radio guy
said we needed something up-tempo first. Weíre doing a remix to it right now.
As we speak, Iím in the studio working on it. But it was a label decision, and
it has that sound thatís kind of going on right now. Thatís the business side
single. I do have song called ďRunniníĒ that my label is going to let me
YouTube, that talks about Oprah, which is on the creative side of this
business. To get press, any kind of press is the point of doing singles, to
draw attention to to who I am and get to the grit of who I am.
Dubcnn: Whatís the best advice youíve been given?
To always remain who you are. Keep to yourself and remain who you are and
youíll gravitate further. That sticks out in my head the most. Todd, the CEO,
believes in who I am and I think having people around me that believe in me.
Dubcnn: I was on your Myspace looking at your bio and whatnot, and youíve
mentioned growing up in the church, working with DeVante, Keisha & Flo-Rida.
Where does Flava Flav fit in to this picture?
Flav was at DeVanteís 24/7! This is right before Flava of Love started. He had
been a ghost up to this point, so when he came in my room I was like, ďOh
shit! Thatís Public Enemy! Flava Flav!Ē He wasnít as big as he is now, but the
cameras were there. We were wondering why cameras were following him at the
time, and now we know. Rome, the guy who brought me to DeVanteís, Flav and
DeVante all hung out. But Flav always called me Usher for some reason like
ďYouíre Usher!Ē I had met 50 Cent once and even he called me Usher too, so I
donít know what thatís about! But Flav on camera is just like he is in real
life. 100%! *laughs* He would come in and just be like ďOHHHH! Maaaaan!,Ē and
it was like what is he yelling at, dude? We thought he was drunk all the time
Dubcnn: Is there anything youíd like to say to everybody out there?
Just look for my YouTube. I have video called ďRunniníĒ that was filmed in
East Oakland where I was born & raised. Weíre taking it back to the streets.
Weíre doing it YouTube style! So look for that. Listen to my new single, and
be on the lookout for that new album!
Sterlen Roberts Gave Dubcnn.com A Shoutout! Check That