Hot off her latest mixtape, 0 to 60: Love Sounds, Sabi is making waves. Hooking up in the studio with Kanye West’s GOOD Music producer (and her boyfriend) Ryan McDermott, she’s finally putting out the music that speaks to her soul, shedding any image or view you had of her from her bubblegum pop past. We like when a girl gets in touch with her roots, which is why Sabi is our latest Femme on Fire.
Playboy.com: So you got to collaborate with your boyfriend Ryan McDermott on your mixtape 0 to 60: Love Sounds. Was this the first time you worked together?
Sabi: Yeah, it was, actually. We dated for about six months before we tried to work together because it can be tricky to attempt to work on something like that in a new relationship, or in any relationship, for that matter. But when we did eventually decide to get together in that sense it was magical; we were on fire!
Playboy.com: It must’ve been hard working with a lover on such an intimate project.
Sabi: It’s true; we had our moments where we wanted to kill each other. There were times where I’m sure “Forget you, you don’t know what you’re talking about because I sure as hell don’t know what you’re saying!” was uttered. [laughs] There’s ego involved with two artists, for sure. But we were always able to come back from those places, remove the ego and really see each other’s points of view. That’s the kind of relationship we have in general, regardless of what we’re doing.
Playboy.com: What’s the story behind 0 to 60: Love Sounds?
Sabi: I tried to fit in all of the different shades of love in one album. Love of life, the love I shared with some of my exes, the strong emotions that come with a major life event. A lot of them are about my new boyfriend, Ryan, who produced everything. I actually wrote “Love Sounds” for him; he didn’t know until after I recorded it. [laughs] On the track “Both of Us,” he’s actually singing on the hook! I wrote that track about when we first met. You know that feeling you get when you first meet someone and you’re excited about every moment? It also talks about that really sensual, intimate part of love. The album was also about the breakup of love, which is something important, too. “Better than This” is one of my favorite tracks because it’s about a time in my life when I forgot to enjoy the ride. I was in a place where I kept on forgetting to smell the roses. So yeah, my mixtape is all about love! [laughs]
Playboy.com: Were there any tracks on the mixtape that you were happy to get off your chest?
Sabi: Actually, this whole EP felt as if it was something I just had to get off of me! [laughs] “The Change” is like two years old. That one was done with The Costars, who are these producers I started working with a long time ago. We had done this song which just sat there for a long time, so I was happy to include it. Of course some of the songs were brand new. But all of it was something I had to put out into the world.
Playboy.com: All of your songs are so on point but really pull from different genres of music. What’s your inspiration?
Sabi: My grandpa was a jazz guy, he used to play the jazz radio station—88.1—every day. Every day when he’d pick us up, from kindergarten to high school, that station would be on. So jazz is something that’s seeped deep into my soul, and when I listen to jazz, the melodies still inspire me. The whole neo-soul movement inspired me in high school. Now that I’ve grown up I listen to a lot of alternative stuff. So lately I’ve been trying to find a way to blend all of that. There’s something about all the different genres that are so special to me, kind of like how classic hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest were able to merge their jazz and hip-hop influences. I try to incorporate and reinterpret anything that speaks to my soul into my music..
Playboy.com: That’s a good way to go about it. I like that you don’t subject yourself to being labeled.
Sabi: I hate that, I hate being labeled. That’s something that’s been an issue for me because I haven’t put any music out like this before. The music before this has been mostly pop. So for a while I was labeled as a pop artist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are other aspects to me that I want to bring to the surface.
Playboy.com: You said that you had a lot of jazz surrounding you when you were younger. Is that what eventually led you to a singing career?
Sabi: I always seemed to know that I could imitate what I heard really well, even from an early age. I’d listen to a Lauryn Hill record and just start mimicking the notes. I think that became a problem when I first began my music career, though, because I could sing any type of song. I had to figure out what type of music spoke to me as an artist.
Playboy.com: Since then you’ve had a lot of pretty awesome opportunities! What’s been your favorite experience thus far?
Sabi: I will never forget when Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale came out I went on tour with her to support the album. I have a song on Femme Fatale called “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” where I have a two-minute piece on the bridge, and for the concert they had me in full costume, rising from underneath the stage. I will never forget how sick to my stomach I was the first time I was performing it. I thought I was going to pass out under the stage when I was waiting for the lift to come down. I remember thinking that the fans were going to eat me alive! They’d be like, “Who is this bitch on stage with Britney?” When I got on the lift, my heart beating out of control, it started to rise up to the stage and I was suddenly enveloped by fog. I stepped out and did my little laugh to start my piece and the crowd went nuts. I just kind of snapped into it and it was a wrap!
Playboy.com: That’s amazing. So what’s in store for you in 2014?
Sabi: I just started a new album! I’m working away at that. I’m working on a video for the Love Sounds mixtape. I’m trying to make them epic so I’m looking for the right people to collaborate with. I just started to get really hands-on with my music videos. “Cali Love” was the most hands-on I’ve gotten thus far. Mind you, I wanted to go to film school so this is something that’s a burning desire for me to do so Love Sounds is going down!
I’m also working on a film for the Syfy channel. That’ll be fun! I don’t know how much I can say about that one, but spring time is the estimated date when that comes out. I can say that I play a high school student, which is totally flattering. [laughs]
Playboy.com: What’s your…
Favorite drink: Anything that is blended in a smoothie that has fruits and vegetables in it.
Favorite food: Right now I think it’s kale!
Worst pickup line: Oh man, I don’t know! I kind of tune people out. I think it has to be when someone tries to get in on a work thing by saying, “Yo, I think you’re really dope. I think we could make some magic and not just in the studio, if you know what I mean!” [laughs] Get out of here with that!
Most embarrassing moment: I was in a studio in New York with an awesome producer named Jerry Wonda. He has worked with the Fugees, Lauryn Hill, has a Grammy. …He has it all! I’m a big Lauryn Hill fan and I got into the Fugees when I was in college. So when I was in studio Pras walked in and everyone lit up and started up conversations with him. To me he was just another guy that walked in the studio. So they’re all talking and Jerry starts going on about how wonderful Pras is and how he’s such a genius and I’m thinking to myself, “This guy is actually pretty cool!” So when he was about to leave he’s saying bye to everyone and I stepped up and said, “Yeah, it was really great to meet you, and what was your name again?” and I swear the room got so silent. It was like crickets. I was so embarrassed. He even stopped when I said it too and he just said, “Pras, my name is Pras.” Oh shit! Afterwards, after I realized who he was, I was like, “Yeah…that was sure a moment.”
First memory of Playboy: I remember seeing Playboy in the movies and knowing it just had to be a naughty thing.