Two years after the release of his debut album, Maverick Sabre is back with new single “Emotion (Ain’t Nobody)”, a typically powerful track backed by a hard hip-hop bassline and a sample of a Chaka Khan classic.
The man is a huge Arsenal fan, so instead of doing your standard interview, we took him down to Piebury Corner, the award-winning gourmet pie shop that’s become an essential part of many Gooners’ pre-match ritual.
We talked about Alexis Sanchez, working with one of hip-hop's biggest talents, and the state of UK hip-hop, all while tucking into one of their gorgeous Kenny Samson pies (sweet potato, lentil, aubergine).
How would you grade Arsenal’s performance last season?
I’d say six or seven out of ten. If you had asked me earlier, I would have had a totally abysmal outlook on the whole situation.
We pulled it back though, and with the way we ended the year [winning the FA Cup], I think we can come back stronger next season, especially now we’ve got Sanchez.
We’ve got some good players coming in, and I hope Wenger has more of a spark about him this year.
Have you lost faith in Arsene Wenger at any point
There were points when I didn’t think he was doing enough, especially when we had so much money and we clearly needed players.
We badly needed a boost but nothing was happening, so there were times were I’ve thought we needed someone fresh to come in, but I think by the end of last season I was convinced again.
Do you get to go to many Arsenal games?
I want to get back into going regularly, because I enjoy it but I never really get the chance. It’s tough on Saturday’s, you know? I really want to make more of an effort this season though.
Who’s your favourite Arsenal player?
I’m an Ian Wright fan, but at the same time I’m also a massive, massive Thierry Henry fan. I’d say those two, and the other one I loved was Dennis Bergkamp - he was just a genius.
At this point, Piebury Corner’s Tom shouts over: “Hopefully the next manager!”
Aye, that would be great. Forget the others actually, Bergkamp 100%.
Alexis Sanchez has signed, where else do Arsenal need to strengthen this summer?
Sanchez looks like he’s gonna be wicked. I‘d like a defensive midfielder as well, someone who can support the defence when it’s needed.
What did you think about Cesc Fabregas going to Chelsea?
We can’t change his decision now, it just means that we need to have a good season and beat Chelsea every time we play them.
Moving over to music, we love the Chaka Khan sample in the new single.
Thank you. That’s funny, because a lot of people are 50/50 about it when they hear it.
Why is that?
I think people get the wrong impression when they don’t know about my music. They hear the Chaka Khan chorus and think I’m just any old singer with no writing skill and that I needed to throw in Chaka Khan because I was desperate.
That’s not what it was - I’m a purist, I’m the last person that wants to use someone else’s chorus.
I wrote the verses and I’d written another chorus to the song, but we only had an hour to finish the session and I wanted to do something rough so there was something complete to listen to.
I hadn’t even listened to “Ain’t Nobody” recently, but it was the first thing that came out, and the lyrics and the emotion suited what I was speaking about. I swapped it for the old chorus, and was just like “Fuck it, I’m gonna stick with it”.
A couple of friends weren’t sure about it, but nothing else felt right to me. All I cared was that Chaka Khan liked it, and thankfully we got her blessing.
What was it like recording it in Jamaica?
Jamaica’s an inspirational and humbling place for anyone, but especially for musicians. There’s a special energy around the music and the culture, it’s something you can never really experience unless you’re there.
The only thing I could compare it to is how the culture around traditional Irish music seeps into everyday life for people brought up around it in Ireland. It’s very similar to how deeply rooted history and music are in Jamaica.
You’ve worked with Joey Badass, how did that come about?
Someone told me that he put lyrics to one of my tunes, so I checked it out, and I felt something quite special about him when I listened to the 1999 mixtape.
I got in contact, and he asked me to jump on the “My Yout” remix, which ended up becoming the official version with the video.
I’ve actually got him on my new album, and we did a couple of other bits, so you’ll see plenty more. He blessed us with an appearance in the “Emotion” video as well.
He’s a powerful person, and we’ve been missing that. We need revolutionaries back in music. Music’s become “their” thing, not our thing anymore. It breaks my heart. Joey’s another one that’s fighting our corner.
Are people not interested in music with a message anymore or does it not get promoted properly?
Messages aren’t getting promoted. It’s easier to make money out of negativity.
You put a stereotypical gangsta video up and you can sell clothing labels and all sorts. You can’t bottle up happiness and charge £2.99 for it.
I’m not saying all music is negative, and there’s a lot of great music out there, but we’ve been saturated with nothingness and disposable music for a long while.
That’s always been around, but there’s normally been a balance. When was the last time we had a Bob Marley or a Tupac?
What’s changed for you since your first album came out?
Everything’s changed. I had to get rid of some people in my life that weren’t positive.
I had to cope with different things in different ways, and I had to realise my path - what route I was going down and what one I should be going down.
You can see that in the new record. It’s a lot more honest and vulnerable, and it’s more positive as well I think.
What sound can we expect from the new album?
The production’s a lot harder, I’ve gone back to my hip-hop roots a bit more. When I’m being honest, I’m being very honest on this record, so I wanted to balance that with the production.
What do you think of hip-hop right now?
I think hip-hop’s in a great state at the moment. There’s a young generation in America – Joey Badass, Mick Jenkins, Chance the Rapper – loads of kids coming up that are making really exciting music. There’s a good balance over there at the moment.
For a while we didn’t have the balance and there was too much “I’m in the club, poppin’ bottles”, which is grand and I listen to those tunes every now and then, but you can’t just have that. I think the skill level went down a bit, and there wasn’t as many emcees, it was more pop stars, but it’s coming back now.
I’d like to see UK hip-hop stand up a bit more. I haven’t heard as much from over here lately, but Devlin’s coming with some new stuff I’ve heard that’s wicked.
I’ve been working with Chip and he’s coming back with some classic UK hip-hop too. It takes a lot for me to say that because UK hip-hop changed my life when I first heard it, guys like Klashnekoff and Skinnyman, but Chip’s coming back with some incredible stuff.
Follow Daniel on Twitter, @dan_anwar