VIXEN Boombox: Sabi Talks Working With Britney Spears, Admires 90's R&B Artists Aaliyah, TLC
If you haven’t already, grab a ticket to the nearest Britney concert near you and get hipped to the new wave singer that is Jenice Sab-bion Portlock, better known by her stage name, Sabi (Sa-bee).
One-half of former female rap duo, The Bangz, Sabi’s career has been one full of high-highs and low-lows. Proving she is a survivor as well as a hustler, Sabi has been moving from one opportunity to the next, proving to anyone who will listen that she’s here to stay. In an exclusive interview with VIBE Vixen, Sab-bion which means ‘wise’ in El-Salvadorian culture, opens up about the injury involving former band mate Ella Ann, her A-list collaborations and how she manages to stay in her lane, dodging skeptics who add her up to be a young version of Rihanna.
Peep the interview below of a young vixen in the making who truly embodies wisdom, but manages to still communicate in the language of the people.
Give me a brief history of your background, and tell the world who Sabi is.
Born and raised in Inglewood, CA. I’ve always loved music from as far back as I could remember. I decided to take it seriously when I was 17 and found a manager. Then, after working with different writers and producers, they introduced me to a group of producers called the Co-Stars, who put together a girl group called The Bangz. It was me and another girl, Ella Ann. I’m 23 now; I was 20 when I signed my first record deal with Warner Brothers/Asylum Records as a girl group. We did our thing as the girl group and got a little bit of record/radio play. She was injured and we decided to move on and try to keep the brand of the girl group going. So I just performed by myself as The Bangz, to keep our name going and did a year of that. Then I was picked up in a solo situation by Warner’s pop division. Ella is doing well by the way. She still has a long way to go, but right now, she’s focused on getting 100 percent better.
What exactly happened to Ella Ann?
Wrong place, wrong time, type of situation. She’s still learning to walk till this day. (Authors Note: Ella Ann was hit in the neck by a stray bullet back in 2009). So here I am today now on my solo project, working with producers like Benny Blanco and this new guy named Circuit. I did a bunch of features such as the New Boyz album Too Cool Too Care's “Tough Kids”, Cobra Starship's “You Make Me Feel," then Britney Spears' “(Drop Dead) Beautiful." I’m looking forward to doing more features soon. I’m working on doing my solo album at the same time, and yesterday I dropped a new song; it’s called “Wild Heart”. I dubbed it urban electro because the vibe is urban, but it has that dub-type feel. I’ve been on tour with Britney Spears, so the first seven shows of the tour, I was performing. That was on the West Coast and now we’re on the East Coast. I’m going to do six or seven more shows, then also a couple of more shows in Canada. That’s pretty much the deal, I go onstage and do my song with her, and I’ll be doing shows with Cobra Starship as well.
How did the collaboration with Britney happen?
So, I got the call to collaborate with Ms. Spears and they asked, “Do you want to do a song with Britney?” At first I was like, “Is this a joke? This is not funny,” and I went in and recorded my part, but I didn’t think it would be a song with her because we recorded separately. Then when I saw the actual album with my name on it, I thought “Okay, this is the real deal.” I heard she’s always looking for talent and keeps her eye on new things and I just happened to be a lucky draw.
You have a rap featured on “(Drop Dead) Beautiful." Is rapping something you’re trying to regularly integrate into your music career?
There will be rap in my album for sure. It’s funny because when Ella got hurt, The Bangz always had a rap element. Ella would rap and I would sing, but when she got hurt and we had to keep going, we wanted to keep that element in the songs. So while she was recuperating, I’d end up rapping her parts as well as singing on stage when we would do shows. Then while moving forward, they would ask, 'Can you rap on here?' So I would rap and keep singing, and one of the reasons why they wanted to sign me as a solo artist was because I could do both. I consider myself a singer, but I rap sometimes when I feel like it.
Though The Bangz are no longer together, does the Jerk movement and music still influence your sound?
Yeah, I think the thing that I have still from the jerkin’ period is the urban rawness that I want to keep. I think everyone from the jerkin’ movement has evolved in some kind of way. Most of the artists are still doing all kinds of music. There’s a jerkin’ artist you can find that’s doing
more rock stuff, more pop stuff, so we all kind of branched off and evolved. But, I think we’re all trying to maintain that raw edginess.
Online, in the comments section of your videos on YouTube, I noticed a lot of people commenting on your sound, comparing you to a young version of Rihanna. How do you respond to that?
I don’t really respond to that. Everyone when they first come out is going to be compared to someone. So, I’m not even worried about it. In time I’ll show which lane I’m in and my lane is totally separate from that.
Who are some of the artists that influence your sound?
I remember falling in love with R&B when I was in middle school, Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, TLC. Then I got into my No Doubt, Gwen Stefani days. Then I got into Outkast, and those are still people who I find inspiration from till this day, from style to everything.
What exactly does Aaliyah mean to you because you were cited in ZINK Magazine to have listed one of her albums as a specific album can listen to over and over without pausing?
It was Aaliyah’s self-titled album Aaliyah. I think it came out the first or second year I was in college, and I used to listen to it while I was walking to class every day. I think she was so graceful, beautiful and feminine. That’s why I loved her, and that’s why I love TLC because they were edgier and were a little more hardcore. I just liked one or the other, or I liked having different sectors of things. [Aaliyah] was the softer, feminine one that I loved, Gwen Stefani was the cool, funky girl and TLC was the rougher, funky group. I just loved watching her videos and her dancing; she was just the total package to me.
Her 10-year anniversary is coming up. Do you think she should be honored and her tribute will be up to par?
I definitely think she should be honored. Every artist, every person that’s gone should be honored, period. Aaliyah had so many fans, and she touched so many people. So they should do the honoring of her whether or not it’s up to par; they should just do it just for the sake of doing it.
Who are some of the artists you’d like to collaborate with in the future?
Andre 3000, Kanye West, Janelle Monae. I would love to just have a conversation with her. The Weeknd and Frank Ocean.
What has the help and assistance of your label Warner Brothers done for your career?
They helped [The Bangz] because when Ella Ann was injured, they didn’t drop us. When it happened, we thought immediately, 'This is the end.' But, they let us know, 'Hey, we’ll work with you guys. We’ll be here when she gets better, but let’s just keep the brand going.' They really worked with us. Then after that, they saw something in me and decided to move me forward which I am madly grateful for.
How has your experience been on tour with Brittney?
It’s been a learning experience. I’ve never performed for crowds that size before. So to do it on a regular, it’s like 'Wow!' So now I’m getting the hang of it, so when it’s my show, I’m not going to be like, 'Oh, this is so many people,' because I’ve already done it. I’m just watching how things operate on that level. I just learned a lot about things to do, anything from merchandising to ticket sales and the travel fees for all those people to come to each place and rebuild the stage everywhere. It’s just interesting to see how that works.
Have you seen Nicki Minaj since you’ve been on tour or had a chance to talk to her?
I’ve seen and met her a couple of times but not really converse with her. We see her all the time walking from where she’s about to go on or when she comes off or something. She’s dope though; her set is crazy! It’s very theatrical, and she kills it! Her energy is out of control!
Any other career ventures you’re interested in doing?
I tell people this all the time, but my first paycheck in entertainment was through commercials I did when I was 17, right before music started. Any form of performance that includes self-expression was always my love in the beginning, but acting was one of them. I tried doing that when I was younger. I did one for Universal Studios in the summer of 2007. I remember it aired because my mom and I taped it, it was really bad (quality) and very fast. (Laughs) Another one was for a Pepsi commercial online and the other one was an ABC Family promo. Both didn’t air but I still got paid.
When should we expect your debut album to surface?
We’re working on the singles now, but it should surface around the first quarter of the New Year. I really feel like it will be around that time.
To all those who don’t know Sabi and just becoming exposed to your music, why should they listen in the first place as well as continue to listen?
I think you should listen to my music if you feel it and you connect to it. So if you hear to my song and it reaches out to you, you should continue to listen to it because I plan to make more music that you will hopefully be able to identify with.
Interested? Check Out Sabi's Official Website: www.officialsabi.com
Photo Credit: Smallz + Raskind