[INTERVIEW] SAINt JHN
Brooklyn native SAINt JHN is no newbie to the scene. He has already worked with the likes of Usher and Joey Bada$$. SAINt JHN has rockstar traits with a smooth blend of sensual melodies and deep lyricism that’ll take you to a new space. Born in Brooklyn, SAINt JHN also lived in Guyana spending some years of his childhood there. With singles such as ”Roses” and ”Reflex” each smashing over 10 million streams on Spotify, it would be crazy to not keep your eye on this young man. SAINt JHN released his debut album ”Collection One” earlier this year and will be heading to London to play at XOYO on the 5th of June as part of his European tour. I had the pleasure of speaking to him about the project and his life so far.
When did you fall in love with music, I know your big brother had a big role, but what else made you fall in love with the art?
SAINt JHN: I fell in love with words, bringing them together. I liked sentences, I liked similes, and I liked metaphors. I like how colourful they can be. So, when I started writing I wasn’t a very good rapper, but I was good at the poetry of it. The poetry side is so edgy you could be so smooth and aggressive all at the same time. That’s what brought me to music, the range of things that you can do.
You grew up in between Brooklyn and Guyana do you feel like this gave you a different perspective on life in comparison to a lot of other rappers out there?
SAINt JHN: Yes, I got to grow up in two different types of poverty. It gave me a true perspective of my life. My mum made sure she could do anything for us and built that mentality into me. In the projects it was goals, it was hope, It was possibility. Being in Guiana, being barefoot, shirtless, you know a 8-year-old saving money to gamble and stuff, It was about knowing how to survive.
So Roses, 3 below, and 1999, all solid tracks that gained millions of streams. It gave me an alternative Rockstar vibe that you don’t see coming out of Brooklyn. How is your support system in Brooklyn? And do you feel like you are an inspiration to the kids who don’t want to be the stereotypical rapper from Brooklyn?
SAINt JHN: To have someone like me from Brooklyn and express himself this way, yeah there is nothing geographical about my musical approach or taste, the things that fundamentally drives me is what I believe in. But yeah in due time, you will be able to see the true length and impact of my music.
So Carlos Saint JHN, I’ve listened to your old tapes on datpiff from a while back and you can definitely tell the difference in your sound now compared to back then. You are way more melodic now. At what point in your career did you feel like you found your sound?
SAINt JHN: I would say a couple years ago I felt what I was expressing exactly what I wanted to say, in the way I wanted it to sound. I didn’t know that I found my sound, I don’t know if I’ve completely found my sound. I asked someone the other night, I was listening to someones album and I tapped him, this was at the end of Coachella, I asked him “do you think this project is a complete cohesion? Does my project sound like this project?” And I was asking that because I don’t have the perspective to listen to my music for the first time. You need someone else’s ear, and opinion to just help you give you an idea of who you are on the map. Are you actually being the arrow of the movement? The micro/macro perspective of what’s happening, and they say “yeah you certainly have a distinct sound” but I don’t think like that. I express what I want in the way that I want to, and I’m fortunate enough now that my thoughts have manifested into actual tangible songs. Back then when I was making those records. If you could listen to the songs between then and now, you will notice that the language was the same, the same guy coordinating those ideas are still coordinating these ideas, you can trace that. It’s important to know that you’re still the same person. I found the way to communicate my truth.
You took a break, from making music and went into the field of writing. I believe artists that can also write for other artist are probably the most talented in the game because you are making a song tailored to another artist such as Hoodie Allen, Usher and Joey Bada$$. How did you develop that skill?
SAINt JHN: I don’t know how I did. I know that I can find elements about people that I like. The way music has a certain visual component to it. What I mean by that is I’ve been fortunate enough to have the ability to see where my favorite artist should go next like “I want to see them do this next” or “I can visualize them doing this next” so I haven’t had the ability to step into their shoes, but I’ve had the perspective to see where they sit in the future, from their past which is already well documented.
For the likes of Usher, I wrote a track that I cared about, and I could just imagine him singing it because that’s the direction I thought he should head for and fortunately it happened. That’s how I create, I create for the future version of myself.
What’s the difference in the process of you writing for yourself compared to you writing for another artist?
SAINt JHN: Same process but slightly different because I have no one else to communicate with. When I’m writing for myself, when it’s done it’s done, the song is finished and ready to present to the world. I have all control over it. When you’re creating and collaborating with a few more people it requires a few more things because you must think more out load and share these thoughts with everyone involved.
In terms of your album, what was your creative process in making a solo song for yourself? From picking/creating the right beat, laying vocals down and mixing.
SAINt JHN: I prefer to work with one guy. The idea of a monogamous relationship when it comes to my music because it requires aspiration, it really does require trust. You can’t trust someone you don’t know, You can’t trust someone that you have a little to no rapport with and you haven’t had these exercises and experiences with, it’s really a chemistry. I’m open to work with whoever gets me to the future version of myself that I see in my head, so yeah, I am open to it because I don’t think there’s just one way of doing something. The hill I’m on right now, I can see the vision quite clearly. I think it’s better to have one person so there’s no confusion of the vision that I have it’s all about precision, so I worked with one person on Collection one but yeah, I could change in the future but I like the idea of this, I like the identity of what we are building.
In terms of process it changes from song to song, one element, actually two elements, one is trust, do I trust the person in the room that they trust my vision, the second thing is truth, am I telling the truth and can I communicate it to you, then I figure out the most colourful way to communicate it so that I will be impressed myself the first person I’m trying to impress is me I don’t care what anybody else has to think. That sounds like a really generic answer when people say I don’t care what anybody thinks.
So, you‘re a part of a collective Godd ComplexX, can you tell me a little bit about you guys?
SAINt JHN: So, Godd ComplexX is a group of spinning creative people. Some of us to make music, some of us design clothes, some of us create the vibe and it’s what you would imagine from a well-intentioned group of creative people that comes from an urban Environments and know poverty like the back of the hand.
Touching on the fashion side of things, you dress different and it looks like it comes from authentic inspirations. Are you yourself looking to start your own clothing line instead of just merch?
SAINt JHN: Yeah 100% I don’t believe in merch, I don’t believe in the idea of it. I think it’s like cheap gift shop shit, I don’t ever want to wear like someone’s merch. The only way is if it’s something that somebody believes in, that somebody wanted to express or communicate or impress. Often the idea of Merch is putting in the artist name or face on a Hoody, I’m not buying that fuck out of here. I want to wear Something because I’m excited about the look of it. Some of it is cool but it’s just the meaning behind, it is so uninspired. And peoples make it just to make extra money. If I just wanted to make money I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now, this isn’t the easiest way to make money. I believe in making a product that you believe in that you’d want to wear, a product of myself so that I can wear it and be like shit I made that, just like how I make the things that I want to hear in my music so why would it change for clothing. If I start making cooking products it’s over, people are going to have to start selling their shit somewhere else, it’s over. I’ve put the finest material into what I want out there and what I would love to consume myself.
Yeah, your aesthetic, in general, comes across as very clean but you don’t care at the same time, do you have a name for this style?
SAINt JHN: Hell yeah, it’s ignorant! I call it champagne ignorance.
What about the one blonde dread that you have, why one?
SAINt JHN: It’s just how I’m feeling, I’m selfish and I have commitment issues, so I couldn’t get a head full of dreads. I can only pay attention to one at a time.
Your visuals are basically movies. They’re very cinematic. 1999 reminds me of warriors. Do you ever feel that you could get into movie making, short films and even acting?
SAINt JHN: Maybe, before I want to make music I did want to act. That is the very first thing I wanted to do, and it didn’t happen, so I went down this path. I still have love to an affinity for it and would like to sometime, maybe, I don’t want to be too ambitious but whatever happens, happens.
I reckon you can play an evil villain
SAINt JHN: Yeah, I can definitely play luxurious villain pretty easily but I’m not so ambitious in that field as for now because my main focus is just this the music. I like acting but that’s a whole other art form and I’m here right now and I express myself in that way in my visuals because I am inspired by it. My true recreation is on spending money, ratchet bitches and watching movies. No, I’m playing, but the top of my list is movies and cinema because I get to escape in that way. I would hate to plant my seed in the place where I don’t feel completely comfortable in knowing exactly what my intentions are and what I’m going to do with it. I’m really specific in that way so if I’m going to go act only I’m going to act, I don’t even care about all the other actors and that’s how I think.
And I get that vibe off your album. You only have one feature on your debut album. I feel like you’re very independent and feel the need to be able to do it and focus on yourself first.
Yeah, I didn’t even know that I was doing that at first, to be honest with you. I didn’t know that that was such an important statement to make because that was the only statement that I could make. It’s like a baby being born and their first word is the only word they know, I didn’t learn any other words yet, so I didn’t even know that was like even an option, I just really focused on me and what I wanted out there.
You went to Jerusalem recently, and you shot a music video there. Was it Hermes?
SAINt JHN: Yeah, we did and I went to a lot of strip clubs.
Tell me about your experience in Jerusalem and a bit about this Hermes shoot? If it‘s not too early to speak on.
SAINt JHN: I’m still going through some of the footage, but you know when you have an intention to shoot a video and you see the footage and then you have to work with hard material. The intention was to make something aggressive and someone to play with the idea, the ideology of religion because you know in the Hermes freestyle I’m saying, “Jesus H Christ and the H is for Hermes” So I’m in Jerusalem shooting the video that’s just a vibe alone in itself.
Yeah, everything’s seems to just go hand in hand. The aesthetics matches the lyrics, the lyrics match yourself.
SAINt JHN: And you want to know something, you want to know a secret, none of this is intentional, everything is lining up and I’m attracting what I’m attracted to. The law of attraction is crazy, right? And this is purely happening with one singular vision and intention. I went to Israel to shoot the end of the video for one song and ended up shooting Hermes, another song and completely abandoned the initial idea and went to Jerusalem to do it. It Felt like the right thing to do but I didn’t set sail to do that. Most of what’s happening I’m not setting sail, I’m course correcting. You’re getting the elements of what my real inspiration is and that’s when things line up when inspiration meets execution. ooo Nigga write that.
You got a starring role in Sarah Bahbah’s short film for Gucci Guilty. How was that experience? Seems like that adds to the luxury in your champagne ignorance image.
SAINt JHN: Yeah yeah I think you put it well very luxurious. It’s funny I saw Sarah at this party I performed at. I flew from Jerusalem spent the day in London for one night and then to LA which is like an 11-hour flight which I will never do again, that was depressing that shit hurt my heart, and I booked the flight on my way to the airport, so you know I didn’t get a good seat. but yeah back to the story, Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Pacino and a couple other stars were there. Sarah was like two seats away from them and Wiz was over there in the corner it was that type of thing right. As I was walking through I didn’t even expect to see her, and she was like “what’s up” and I was like life is cool we did Gucci ad together, how cool is that. I don’t even have an album out how cool is that. I can’t plan this any better than how it’s happening because of the truth.
You‘re a very versatile artist, and just from talking to you I feel that your love for words and poetry allowed you to be so versatile. You can write a hard get ‘lit song’, then you can make a soft but aggressive song. The intro song “lust” to your new album Collection One is a very power and cinematic track. How was it making “Lust” with Janelle Kroll?
SAINt JHN: Yes, she is super talented and I think it was probably unusual. That might have been even unusual for the people that are close with me. But my team trust me enough to know that I know what I’m doing. Something that I just did to see how it will turn out and it was a success. To start with a duet knowing in the back of your mind all the things that you already heard from me and then you pick up my collection one and then you hear “Lust” you’re a bit confused because you picked up a Saint John album. You hear a woman’s voice with a tender male vocal in the background and then it Jolts into something else.
That’s what makes it so cinematic. This intro song kind of sets the tone of what to expect in the album because it changes so much in that one song. It’s hard to put you in a genre.
Thank you thank you so much. I applaud you for just noticing that because that’s what I wanted to do on the first album I wanted you to understand what the whole album is going to be in just the first three minutes of the first song. I needed you to understand what you signed up for.
What’s your favourite track on the album and why?
SAINt JHN: God bless the Internet.
I want the meaning to come from the listener. How do you feel? what do you think it means? it’s about perspective people see things, hear things, and feel things completely different, never the same.
With this song, I had a topic and then it’s kind of like just me talking, the topic brings out a lot of other conversations but yeah, the hook is about me not being disloyal to my girl but still valuing her more than the other girls I messed with.
But listen to this I was in a restaurant with this girl sitting down and I told her something like I don’t believe in fantasies because I only want to do what I want to do. I said look around the room, look at the guy in the corner with a hat talking to the girl across with the blonde hair, you can’t work out what they’re saying you can kind of work out what they’re saying but it’s not crystal clear. I said that’s because they are the extras in your movie. They are there to make the room look good for you, you’re the star. You’re the most important person in your life that’s why I want people to find their own meaning in my music because I’ve just provided the background music to your life, so I want to know how literally it made you feel while you were doing what you are doing.
What artist would you like to work within the future?
SAINt JHN: I want to do you something with Swae Lee. I should’ve said something to him this weekend I was hanging out with him yesterday. I should’ve been like yo fam let’s make a song, but I was tripping, and I respect his art so much. I like his ability as a writer and I want to say his pen leads his voice. You can hear in his music that he is living in a free world. He’s good at mirroring the way he lives.
Last question to round it off, what should we be looking for in the future for Saint Jhn?
SAINt JHN: I think you should just expect me to become your favourite artist or whatever that means.
Words by Tobee Oyeleye