Meet Graham Saber: The All-American who quit his sport to rap
Few cultures are as intertwined as hip hop and basketball.
So it should come as a surprise that one of the most successful athletes in Christian hip hop hails not from the court, but rather the pool.
Following a highly successful water polo career, San Diego-based emcee Graham Saber has taken the subgenre head on, appealing to a different demographic than most with his most recent project The Quarter Life. His love for music goes so far back it’s difficult to pinpoint a time when he first got involved in making it.
Around the age of three, Saber started playing the piano and taking lessons from a teacher that he loved. Unfortunately, his teacher died shortly after starting lessons with him, forcing Saber to take lessons with other teachers that he wasn’t quite as fond of.
“They told me stuff like, ‘If you’re not going to practice and do the book work, then you’re wasting my time and your parents money.’ And I had to ride my bike to piano lessons, so that was horrible,” Saber said. “I kind of got over it and just wanted to create piano pieces. Even at a young age, I would play by ear and I would create stuff.”
Upon moving to San Diego, Saber connected with a teacher that recognized this mentality and allowed him to learn the instrument in a way that catered to his interests.
As he played piano over the years, Saber also familiarized himself with some of the pioneers of Christian hip hop, such as The Cross Movement and T-Bone. Given that his parents would not allow him to listen to mainstream artists, this is how Saber began to build a love for rap — something which his father could never really understand.
“Quite frankly, it was like ‘gangster’ Christian rap,” Saber said. “It was kind of funny. My dad never understood it. He was like, ‘It doesn’t make sense that my son loves this hip hop.’”
However, as he continued to enjoy hip hop, it was ultimately his father who got him the necessary equipment and software for beat making, which eventually pushed him to start rapping himself. Saber continued to rap and make beats as hobbies through high school and college. And, even though he ended up majoring in music production, it was never really his main focus.
Saber had been heavily involved in athletics since childhood, but as he entered high school, he was soon introduced to the sport that would become his everything.
“My buddy got me to come try out for the water polo team freshman year of high school,” Saber said. “I went out, and I happened to be really good at it. My first game I scored two goals, and really didn’t even know what I was doing at the time.”
Saber’s skills continued to grow as he slowly quit all of his other sports teams in order to focus on water polo, a decision that paid off big time for him. In high school, he earned All-American sixth-team honors, led his team to become the California Interscholastic Federation runner-up in 2006 and scored 160 goals in his senior year.
Saber proceeded to play water polo in college. After playing at Pepperdine University for one year, he felt that the University of California San Diego would be a better fit for him in terms of his water polo career, and Saber finished up his four-year degree there.
In his time at UCSD, Saber made a multitude of all-star teams including NCAA first-time All-American, as well as All-Tournament in the NCAA 2011 Championships. His senior year, he achieved 16 hat tricks and scored 83 goals, the sixth most single season goals by an individual in UCSD history.
“We were fortunate enough to have him transfer to UC San Diego, and he was absolutely an exceptional standout for us,” said Denny Harper, the head coach for the UCSD water polo team for the past 35 seasons. “He’s a super energetic, enthusiastic, positive, Christian kid. He’s just fun to be around.”
As Saber’s time at UCSD wrapped up, a handful of options were open to him, as far as his future in water polo went. After declining to play professionally overseas or train for the national team because of the time commitment, he applied for a coaching job at his high school.
Although, after discussing the position with one of his old coaches and mentors, it became clear to the coach and himself that his heart was still in music.
“The conversation basically went like 30 minutes of talking about water polo, and what it’s going to take, and how to coach, and all this stuff I have to do. And then, at the end of that it was, ‘So, tell me about your music,’” Saber said. “The energy went up, my attitude went up and everything. And so, he was like, ‘You don’t want to coach… Don’t give up on your dream of music.’”
Since making this decision, Saber has put out a multitude of projects, most of which were released under the alias of Marcus G. Throughout these years, he has been able to work alongside notable names such as Michael Tait of the Newsboys and John Givez.
“He has a real good ear for what hooks should sound like,” Givez said. “I’ve always appreciated that about him. The demographic that [he] comes from is like the polar opposite of mine… He does a great job of being the voice for those type of kids that deal with the issues that he deals with.”
On June 9, Saber released his debut retail album, The Quarter Life, and he has not regretted his decision to trade water polo for rap.
“I’m finally to a point now where there are a couple years under my belt where I have been doing it, where I really feel like my content, my lyrics, my production skill, and all that stuff is finally to a point where it’s better. It’s good. It’s pretty good,” Saber said. “I still have a lot to get better in, but it’s finally to a point where I feel like it’s a good product to push.”