Sabrina: Looking Through The Darkness
Todd Davis

First heard providing her lush, soulful background vocals to "Election Day," a thought provoking track from the multi-platinum, Grammy nominated Nappy Roots' collective, now, sexy singing sensation, Sabrina, is finally readying the release of her very own, eagerly awaited, solo debut, No Rose Petals & Bubblebaths...

" I have a huge passion for the prisons, and my friends locked up behind bars. My heart really goes out to them, which is part of the reason I wrote "They Don't Know What I've Been Through." I talk about being a "concrete connoisseur," you know, someone who is just so used to staring at the concrete walls around them that they actually become an expert of the material itself...... ”


When did you first fall in love with music?

Motown and all the music of the '50's and '60's were a major part of my upbringing. It still gives me chills when I listen to it. They really don't make music like that anymore. It was so pure and simple; no limited gimmicks or special effects to camouflage. It was full of soul; timeless. There is no expiration date on The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder...It's a feeling that will live forever. And, Elvis was probably one of the first words that came out of my mouth as a baby. Our house was completely saturated with his music. As a kid, I went through a severe Elvis phase. When other girls' rooms were decorated with pink and purple flowers and plastered with New Kids on the Block posters, mine was covered from floor to ceiling in vinyl records, miniature jukeboxes and memorabilia from my trip to Graceland.They would bring pet hamsters in for show-and-tell, and I would bring special edition Coke bottles with Elvis' face printed on them. It was major! I would've been about ten years old when I first saw the Lauryn Hill scene in Sister Act 2, the scene where she's sitting at the piano singing "His Eye is on the Sparrow." I would rewind that part over and over. Her voice was so chilling and beautiful, but raw in all the right places. It just spoke to me. I got the soundtrack and would practice it over and over, but I couldn't even come close. I was so focused on how I sounded and afraid of what everyone else would think that I didn't put any feeling into my music. Also, I was extremely shy, especially about singing. Now, people often ask me, "Where do you get all that soul?" You know, probably because I'm white and they don't expect it. But, it wasn't until I started going through some very painful things in my life that the "soul" started to come out in my music. So, it was a journey for me to find that feeling, and there is definite experience behind every raise, lick and drop in my voice.

Where exactly do you hail from?

I grew up in northern Indiana, near Michigan, and just a short drive from Chicago.

Oh, okay. So, in addition to Motown, Elvis, and Ms. Hill, who else's music did you grow up listening to?

Growing up, I would say I was more influenced by everyday life and situations, rather than a certain style of music. When I was young, we took a family trip to Nashville where my dad cut a demo in a studio down there. We were downtown in the central part of the city where everything is live and jumping, and every other person on the sidewalk is balancing a guitar and a cigarette. There was a never-ending string of recording studios strung up and down the streets, and the Hard Rock Cafe was right around the corner. Music was coming off of every street corner and out of every window. I'd never seen anything like it! I remember sitting out in the waiting room, while my dad was tucked away somewhere behind double steel doors for several hours, and I was just fascinated with the whole thing. At one point, my sister and I walked outside to get a pop out of the machine and we turned around to see a man standing just a few feet from us, jiggling the handle on our car door and looking inside the windows to see what he could find. He turned and looked at us and started to walk towards us, and I grabbed my sister and pulled her inside. We were pounding and pounding on the studio doors to get my dad's attention, but he couldn't hear us through all the layers. So, we just sat there watching out the window as the man stumbled to the middle of the street and stood there, delirious. I was so afraid we were going to witness his execution, right there in the middle of music city. Finally, my dad and the engineer emerged from behind the doors, carrying several sleek, black cassette tapes from his session. The sound and quality of his voice on those tapes just blew my mind. The feel from that city definitely had an impact on me at a very early age...The cops picked up the man before he could get smashed, by the way.

With that being said, describe for me your overall musical vibe?

Well, because I learned the hard way from trying to force feeling into my music when I was younger, I don't try to fit into a certain category or genre of music. If I do try to do that, it just throws me off. If I say to myself, "People say I'm soulful, so I've got to make sure I put a lot of soul into this song," I'll just end up sounding like another wack-job wannabe. Like another one trying to fake it, a Christina Aguilera -- All technical, but no feeling. Made. Michael Jackson talked about that. About going to shows and watching dancers who he could actually see counting steps in their heads, and trying to be so technically perfect during their routine. He would say, "You can't dance like that, you've got to feel the music with your body." So, what I do is, when I get new music, I put my headphones on, close my eyes, and feel the music. Whatever feeling, style, or lyric that comes to mind, I jot it down. I usually get a vibe instantly and a general idea of where to go with it, but sometimes it takes a couple of hours to really shake off the day, lose myself, and just get into the music. Sometimes it's easier than other times. Like when I first got the track for "No Rose Petals & Bubblebaths," I was so blown away by the production and the vibe of the music that I just lost myself in it, instantly. It's still my favorite song that we've done so far, and I'm excited about the video for it, which has the girl from Twilight in it, Nikki Reed.

What prompted your decision to make a career out of singing?

I never thought I was good enough to sing professionally, not even close. I didn't know, because I never put myself out there. I never wanted to chase fame or be in the public eye. It was like pulling teeth to get me to sing at a wedding or funeral. I was so afraid to make a fool of myself. I wanted to be Martha Stewart. Not literally, of course, but all I wanted was to have a family and attempt to one-up all the other wives by making the perfect turkey at the holidays, and dressing to the nines just to walk to the mailbox. As embarrassing as it is, I used to collect Martha Stewart magazines, and rip out recipes and organizing tips. I had this perfect picture in my head of what I wanted my life to be like. Now I think about that, and it seems so lame. I got married young, and saw my perfect picture coming together. But, it didn't exactly go that way. It wasn't until after my divorce that I decided to pursue music seriously. It just kind of fell into my lap, and I went with the flow. Some would say that my desire to chase music was the reason my marriage fell apart, but that's not true. I turned to music when my expectations for an amazing life began to crumble. Now my whole outlook is different. I enjoy every minute I can steal with my little nephew and my nieces, and every opportunity I have with my family. But, I am so thankful to God for knowing that my future wasn't going to be sound with the man I married, and it wasn't time for me then to start a family of my own. After much healing and restoration, I feel like I have the best of both worlds right now. I've got music in my right hand, and an unbounded future in my left.

Initially, how did you even come to the attention of Hip-Hop collective Nappy Roots, and your current deal with Universal Music?

Well, (my publicist) Jonathan Hay gave me the Nappy Roots' track for "Election Day," and asked if I wanted to feature on it. Of course I jumped at the opportunity! When does a small town girl from Indiana get a chance to feature with a Grammy-nominated group like the Nappy Roots? I'm very thankful for the opportunity. The song ended up hitting every major website, and led to some other great projects as well. Like future work with Big V from the group. As far as Universal goes, technically, it's through Hoopla Media Group/LRT Music Group, with their distribution through InGrooves and Universal. There's a big team involved. And with this situation, it's really cool because I did a four-single deal with them, which is "They Don't Know What I've Been Through," a remix of "They Don't Know What I've Been Through," with Tha Chill from Compton's Most Wanted, "No Rose Petals & Bubblebaths," and "I Jump, You Jump," Produced by Focus.

No Rose Petals & Bubblebaths is also the name of your forthcoming solo debut, why did you decide on titling it this?

Well, like I mentioned earlier, I had that picture-perfect life scenario playing out in my head, and that's what I expected when I got married so young. I expected rose petals, I expected bubblebaths, metaphorically speaking. Before long, things started to slide and everything got flipped upside-down. It seemed like everything went south at once, just one thing after another. I even lost a little baby girl during that time, my little cousin, who was very special to me. So, No Rose Petals & Bubblebaths represents the devastation I was feeling in the aftermath of all of those events. When life isn't sugar-coated, it's just raw and unlike anything you expected. We all go through periods of time like that, and I'm thankful that I've moved out of that darkness and despair now. But, I wanted my album to reflect those feelings.The music is flawed and we left some of the mistakes in there, intentionally, but there's a beauty in it, I think.

Who all did you enlist in regards to the album's production?

I'm doing some work in Canada with Paul Katsnelson and Jack Shapira, so I'm getting ready to go up there for several weeks and I'm excited. There's work from Tha Chill from Compton's Most Wanted, The Thorotracks, Ant Banks, Focus..., Big V from Nappy Roots' production team called King of da Beatz. I'm also demoing some tracks for Mike Mosely, so we'll see where that goes. There's one producer in particular who I am super excited to work with, but I don't want to mention his name until all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. To work with him would be a dream come true, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It just keeps growing and expanding every day.

Are there any other special cameos to look out for on No Rose Petals & Bubblebaths?

Yes, there are definitely some special cameos to look out for, especially the ones I mentioned earlier. But, I also don't want to overwhelm it with features either, because the album is so personal to me and I want it to be a representation of my life. I don't want it to get lost in translation. I think an artist can acutally lose their identity when they have too many big features on their album. There's been a monsoon of that lately, don't you think? I've also got Shabaam Sahdeeq on a song called "I Heart NY," who's an underground legend and has worked with Mos Def, Pharoahe Monch, Eminem. We leaked the demo to 2DopeBoyz, but we're working on the final version now. I love it!

Thus far, what has been the key to your success?

God, period. I've gone through enough darkness to know that He is the key to everything.

Aside from singing, is there anything else that you're aspiring to get involved in or with?

I have a huge passion for the prisons, and my friends locked up behind bars. My heart really goes out to them, which is part of the reason I wrote "They Don't Know What I've Been Through." I talk about being a "concrete connoisseur," you know, someone who is just so used to staring at the concrete walls around them that they actually become an expert of the material itself. It's got a double meaning, obviously. But, I think people just lock them up and forget about them, or toss them off to the side as garbage. But, they are people who've made mistakes, and they need to be shown love the most. I would love to do a prison tour like Johnny Cash, just shake up the whole frickin' system.

That'd be so dope! On a more serious note, are you happy with the current state of R&B music?

Well, on one hand, I think the creativity is exploding in some aspects, like costumes and stage performances. But, on the other hand, I'm very disappointed in the level that some female artists are taking it to. Like it seems (they) think they have to be more and more sexual to sell their music. The thing is, you can only get so naked. Naked is naked, it gets boring after a while. So you're limiting yourself. Some people may disagree, but ask yourself this, "Who do you respect more, Lauryn Hill or Rihanna? Alicia Keys or Lady Gaga?" The ones who keep their clothes on, for the most part, seem to gain more respect as artists.

Very true! So, what would you say has to be your greatest quality?

I think my greatest quality is having my mom's sensitive heart. But, it's hard to define myself because I'm so wacked in the head. I'm just completely all over the place, never the same thing twice. I'm a constant contradiction: I'm rude, sweet, loud, shy, I talk too much, and express too little. Sometimes I'm brilliant, but I run into walls. I can't, I just can't. It's too hard to define this kind of circus.

LOL! Ultimately, what are your future goals & plans in entertainment?

If I had it my way, I'd be like Norah Jones, Denzel Washington, or Johnny Depp -- Successful, known, appreciated...And, completely private. But, I don't tend to make plans, so I can stay flexible to whatever changes happen. One of my producers has this poster on his wall with the Bob Marley quote, "Don't gain the world and lose your soul, wisdom is better than silver or gold." That's a priceless standard, and I want to hold myself to it.

As for the immediate, what's next for you Sabrina?

Right now, we're really focusing on the singles. I've got a lot of creative things planned, and I've got good friends like DJ Rip, the VP of the Core DJs, who's helping me out. The lead single is "They Don't Know What I've Been Through," and it's out and available on iTunes. But, I'm really excited to work with Tha Chill from Compton's Most Wanted. You know, he's worked with Snoop, MC Eiht, MC Ren, Ice Cube, and those big west coast legends. But, for those who are very familiar with his work, they're really gonna be surprised to see what we've got going on, because it's such a dramatic change from his typical style. The video is "No Rose Petals & Bubblebaths," which is a combo of behind-the-scenes clips from the movie Last Day of Summer, starring Nikki Reed from Twilight and DJ Qualls. As far as touring, we are going to do a sick, never-been-done, first-time-ever, Neil-Armstrong-walking-on-the-moon, Digital Internet Tour...Definitely more to come on that.

Definitely sounds very interesting! So, what's to be expected from a "live" Sabrina performance?

If we can pull off this tour the way we want, it's going to be a lot like watching the future. But, the people who are putting this together are big-time stoners, you see, so we'll see if they can pull themselves out of bed and off the tree for long enough to make it happen. * Sabrina laughs* I think it sounds like a great idea, and I'm not high.

Are there any mix-tape(s) and/or cameos on others' works to look out for from you in the meantime?

You just never know where I'll be popping up. *More laughter* Other than the names I mentioned earlier, I haven't really got into the whole mixtape thing. But, I'm always open to collaborations.

Is there anything else that I may have left out or forgot to ask about?

I'm doing this really cool project that's being put together by Justin Melo. It's a song called "Ooh, Here She Comes," and it's got verses from Jayo Felony, Noah Jones, Knoc-turn'al, Ms. Toi from "You Can Do It, Put Your Back Into It," Jaguar, Sly Boogy, Slip Capone, Black Owned C-Bone, Bad Azz, Charlie Clips from Dipset, and others. That will be coming out soon -- I'm always open to collaborations and remixes.

Sadly, Thursday June 25th 2009, the world lost the greatest entertainer who ever lived -- What was your first reaction upon hearing the tragic news? How does Michael Jackson’s untimely passing affect, not only you, but, music in general? And, in the wake of his demise, what does this mean for the future of recorded music?

I think I clicked "refresh" on TMZ's homepage just in time to see the breaking news come through. I was just absolutely shocked. I felt so sad, not only because of our loss, but because of the tremendous pain he must have felt while he was here on earth. And then his life was just...Over, just like that. I know he had a great life and he gave us so much, but also it had to be so hard for him dealing with all of the accusations and the pointing fingers -- The media was so cruel to him! I really realized that after he was gone, looking back on some of his old interviews. I think his death made us all realize that no one is invincible. I'm not sure what it means for the future of recorded music, but I know that, in one way or another, almost every artist has taken a piece of him and incorporated it into their lives, whether it was a piece of advice, a dance step, or a lyric.

Nicely put! Any message you want to relay to our readers?

I just want to say thanks very much to you, and thanks to all of the wonderful DJs around the world who are supporting me and spinning my music. I have so much appreciation for all of you! A shout-out to Lisa at LRT/Universal, and Jonathan Hay and Chad Kiser at Hoopla Media Group.


More R&B Features:
Rudy Currence
Na'shay: Get Ready. Here She Comes!
D. Woods: A New Beginning
Lady GaGa: Welcome To The Haus of GaGa
Melanie Fiona: Priceless
Chris J: The Future Of R&B/Soul
SHONTELLE - Superwoman


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