By C. ISAIAH SMALLS II, The Miami Herald
MIAMI (AP) – SAINt JHN doesn’t like the camera setup. He had chosen the location – in the living room of his high-rise condo in Sunny Isles where the view stretches from the Miami skyline to the Guitar Hotel – but something had changed. It didn’t work anymore.
Accompanied by a photographer from the Miami Herald, he spent the next 15 minutes exploring his apartment for the perfect angle. Finally, SAINt JHN settles in his garage, grabs a chair from his kitchen and the niche between the Ferrari he bought after his track “Roses” went platinum and the Porsche he took to the Grammys.
SAINt JHN is intentional, even meticulous. He has made a number of his music videos under the pseudonym “Taylor Foor” (“I don’t want any of these n —- s asking me to do their music videos,” he jokes when ask him his name). There is a vision – for his image, his music, his career – that lives in his head. And his efforts to bring it to life have paid off.
“In my mind my life would be here no matter what happened, I would be here in this garage with this porch, this Ferrari, this view, this duplex,” he said.
By now you have certainly heard SAINt JHN. âRoses (Imanbek Remix)â was everywhere in 2020: on the Billboard Hot 100 (it peaked at # 4), on TikTok and on Spotify, where it currently has over 1 billion streams. Its success, which lasted nearly four years, launched SAINt JHN into an elite stratosphere.
Now, with her 27-stop “In Case We Both Die Young” tour underway, the Grammy-winning artist has a new focus, which extends beyond music.
“I’m running for ideological freedom,” SAINt JHN said, before listing the industries he plans to make his mark in: skin care, perfumes and housewares.
SAINt JHN does not want to be held to the limits and standards of artists before him. Even the way he presents himself – he wears a white t-shirt with âSaintâ inscribed across the front and black sweat shorts from his Christian Sex Club line inside out – doesn’t match the old Brooklyn artists.
It was this individuality that earned him a friend and eventual manager of Kareem “Biggs” Burke, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records who had retired from music more than 10 years earlier. A friend had played him SAINt JHN’s “Collection One,” a 2018 project that features melodic manifestations of luxury and lust over menacing trap beats and airy, synth-heavy compositions, and Burke was hooked.
âI just fell in love with (the music) in an authentic, organic way,â Burke said in an interview on Zoom. Only one song did not stand out, rather “the fact that it was a cohesive project.” Everyone loves the songs but for me I love the whole work and I think that’s what it introduced. I hadn’t heard a piece like this for a long time.
In SAINt JHN, Burke saw something he hadn’t seen since discovering an arrogant producer and soul sample lover named Kanye West.
âThese are two people who stand out, who love to be individuals, who have their own fashion sense. And also, what SAINt was telling me about his next three albums, where he had the names of the albums, the names of the singles – that was the same conversation I had with Kanye when I first signed him. Burke said.
Born Carlos St. John Phillips, SAINt JHN spent his time between Brooklyn and Georgetown, Guyana, growing up. He discovered hip-hop as a preteen thanks to an older brother who had Lloyd Banks’ latest CD on repeat.
âThe first time I fell in love with (hip-hop), I locked myself in and didn’t give myself any other option,â SAINt JHN said. âI didn’t know what would come out of it. It wasn’t money. I had no goal attached to it. I was not aiming for a distinction. It was just as good as anything that could be felt at the time.
Reflecting on his youth, SAINt JHN speaks with learned wisdom about a man who was determined to leave behind the poverty he experienced in the United States and abroad. In another life he might have been a motivation coach – inspiration nuggets are a mainstay of interviews – but his life has changed dramatically over the past year. Of course, there have been a few accolades to note – two Grammys and a Video Music Award, in particular – but the birth of Billion, the baby boy to her PR manager Simone King, seems to have given her some perspective.
Even his mentions of freedom are rooted in Billion’s desire for a better world, which he refers to with the worship of a proud uncle.
âI’m an adult who finally gets to look at a child, whispering hope,â SAINt JHN said. “If I said anything to Billion, it must be true because (if not), as he grows up and lives by these rules that anything is possible, then that was a lie, because it was impossible for me. “
SAINt JHN could be seen as the personification of positive thinking. Long before helping to create the 2019 pro-noir anthem “Brown Skin Girl” with BeyoncÃ© and Afrobeats star Wizkid, he wrote songs for Usher and Jidenna. At one point, he flew to Los Angeles to work on a few songs with Rihanna, although none made her album. The experience did not discourage him; it only reinforced that he was on the right track.
âYou have to afford a trail to make your dreams come true,â SAINt JHN said. “I told myself to continue no matter what.”
In 2014, SAINt JHN met Lee Stashenko, a producer who would later adopt the name Fall, while writing songs in New York. Together, the two would begin to create the melodic trap sound that has come to define SAINt JHN’s music. Songs like “Reflex” and “Roses,” which both appeared on “Collection One” in 2018, were premiered in the Bushwick apartment that Stashenko shared with two roommates.
âI was in a three bedroom apartment and had my studio set up in a small corner, like a bed here and a mic here – like really tight,â Stashenko said in an interview on Zoom, waving his hands. .
Even then, Stashenko could see that SAINt JHN was different. âIt was intense. He’s a perfectionist. He’s very specific about where he wants to go and the music he wants to make. Google has fallen and one of the first links is to a Reddit page that asks a simple question:
“Would SAINt JHN be so successful without the downfall of its producer?” ” It’s a good question. Stashenko has produced the vast majority of the music for SAINt JHN. However, Stashenko dismisses the fact that one would be lost without the other. Instead, he compares the two to another successful artist-producer duo: Drake and Noah â40â Shebib.
âWe were kind of meant to connect and make some amazing music,â Stashenko said. With SAINt JHN’s subsequent projects, 2019’s âGhetto Lenny Love Songsâ and 2020’s âWhile the World was Burningâ, production has leaned down, building on the lightness that made previous releases like âReflexâ stand out. “. One of the album’s rare production outliers, “Roses (Imanbek Remix)”, finds a place in “While the World was Burning”, a project influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic that finds SAINt JHN trying to capture “where we were at the time,” he said.
SAINt JHN is not bothered by the late success of “Roses” either. It is only when he discusses the circumstances that gave birth to “When the World Was Burning” that his confidence briefly falters. Although his own faith in his art never wavered, he did not know how the project would be received as “people tend to consume music based on how they feel”, which was not. necessarily clear when recording.
âI was emotionally uncertain about the music, the art, what was to come next, but I wanted to sum up where I was at the time,â he added. âWhen you don’t know what people are feeling, you are making art as blindly as possible. “
As it stands, it’s unclear when SAINt JHN will release new music. He presented a new track to Lollapolooza to the delight of thousands of fans, and he and Stashenko have a treasure trove of unreleased tracks. But music is something SAINt JHN only tackles when he’s mentally ready.
âI don’t play music frequently or rarely: I’m precise,â SAINt JHN explained. âWhen I’m ready to deploy art, I deploy art. When I drive cars, I drive cars. When I take care of skin care and clothing, I do.
For now, SAINt JHN seems focused on pushing the boundaries outside of music.
âI really care about the candles and I’m going to be in the candle space, in the fragrance and skin care and housewares space,â said SAINt JHN, who has a wall littered with candles in the room. inside his condo. Black men are generally not associated with entrepreneurship in these fields, but it is something that he embraces.
“Even though there isn’t an abundance of people like me, not an abundance of Blacks in skin care, housewares, perfumes, candles, whatever you have seen that has been dominated by other beliefs and colors, after me it won’t. This is not the case because the freedom I am looking for allows me to go everywhere and I will do whatever I dreamed of.
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