Between emceeing and delivering soul-steeped vocals, 21-year-old English rapper Maverick Sabre will certainly find favour with fans of The Streets and Plan B. His album, Lonely Are the Brave, is out next January.
His stage name is not an ode to Maverick from Top Gun. ‘My name is Michael Stafford. I remember starting a MySpace page when I was 14 and I was like: I can’t have MC Mickey or Mikey, everyone’s going to think I’m going to rap about potatoes and pots of gold. So I got out a thesaurus and found two words under my initials. Maverick means to think outside the box and that’s what I want to do with my music.
Nor is he a fan of Star Wars. ‘As for sabre, the meaning I found at the time but haven’t been able to find since was someone who puts on a hard front to get through hard times. I feel like everyone has to do that at some point in their lives.’
He was born in the East London borough of Hackney, he moved to Wexford in Ireland and now he’s back in Hackney. His accent is therefore rather odd. ‘I’ve got hard “R”s so people think I’m from Bristol. The accent was a big deal – I probably didn’t become comfortable with the way I spoke until I was about 17 because it was so all over the place. I’ve just accepted that my accent is a hybrid, it’s messed up. I just call it London-Irish.’
He started writing songs aged nine; his dad was a big influence. ‘My dad was in a band so he sort of brought me up around music. Instead of putting on nursery rhymes to help me fall asleep, he’d sit at the end of my bed and play acoustic sets of folk, early American rock’n’roll, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, his own songs, and I loved that. My dad saw that and was like, “Why don’t you take my old record collection upstairs?” I sat in the attic for the next couple of years and just listened to music. Every day, another record.’
In terms of song lyrics, his album is pretty diverse. ‘I’m not knocking anybody, but you see a lot of albums where everyone’s in love throughout the whole album or it’s all political, or you’re in the club 24/7. I wanted to show different aspects of me. Sometimes I’m in love; sometimes I’m not. Sometimes I need to speak about social issues I see. Sometimes I can talk about being paranoid sitting on the bus.’
He doesn’t want to preach in his lyrics, but feels it’s important to say something real. ‘It might sound clichéd and cheesy but I remember Tupac Shakur said, “I may not be able to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the mind that will change the world.” There’s a song on the album called “They Found Him a Gun”. I watched Bowling for Columbine around the time of the Virginia Tech massacre, and that sparked a light. I saw this interview with a student from Virginia Tech and she said, “He didn’t fit in, he was crazy.” If you sum it up by saying he’s crazy, you’re never going to solve the problem. That’s like saying the London riots were because of thugs. But they’re our kids, they’re people we went to school with, people your parents brought up. They’re the future politicians, roadsweepers, doctors. You can’t just call them thugs, it misses the point. We need to ask, “Why are they doing it?”’
His single ‘Let Me Go’ was about addiction. So what better place to shoot the video than Las Vegas? ‘I couldn’t enjoy Vegas as much as people think I did because I was only 20 at the time. The song is really about me being wild. I was getting into a lot of fights, there were a lot of issues, but I loved it at the same time.’