A casual buzz, rising streams, and an authentic fanbase. SAINt JHN had it all early on off the strength of just a few organic singles. But now that the ‘3 Below’ singer has unleashed his first official project, aptly titled Collection One, he’s hitting the road on his debut headlining tour.
While JHN’s newly-released 13-track moody project takes listeners through the brooding artist’s experiences reflected in bass-heavy late`-night anthems and self-reflective synth-dripping sonnets, there’s still a lot to learn about the rising fashion-forward star, who first emerged in 2016 with the head-turning smash ‘Roses.’
Ahead of SAINt JHN’s promising upcoming show in Toronto – which happens to be his first stop on a lengthy world tour – we took a deep dive into the background of the self-proclaimed Ghetto Lenny to get to know the artist behind the cool exterior.
1. He grew up between Guyana and New York
The Brooklyn-based artist was raised in a humble interchange between life in Brooklyn and South America. And it was the duality in both his underprivileged experiences that later fueled his perspective as an artist, both musically and through his pen game.
“What was pivotal for me was experiencing two different types of poverty…Understanding that and transitioning back and forth between [intercity] poverty and the barefoot poverty living in something, almost … not exactly a hut … but that being the reality of the situation of what’s around you,” he previously told Cinemathread in an interview. “Like you’re barefoot running around, cooking in the bush, and understanding survival skills. It’s two different types of ‘broke’—two different types of struggles—like third world struggle, first world struggle. So that’s what my childhood was like.”
2. Before he took music seriously, he was a model and songwriter
Although the flashy sonic shapeshifter may have a lengthy resume that boasts modeling stints with Gucci alongside Adesuwa Aighewi and songwriting credits for the likes of Usher, Joey Badass and Jidenna, the NYC artist felt discontented living out someone else’s vision, so he inevitably chose to focus all his attention on his own dream.
“It was a challenge. You’re an artist so you’re contributing these ideas, feeling like you’re giving some of your best ideas to other people. And then somewhere in the middle of it, that gets lost,” he told The FADER back in 2016. “The art of contribution gets more important than how you feel. You start becoming an instrument. I started realizing that I was just a vessel.”
3. He started out making music under his government name, Carlos Saint John
Once he first began his music career, he went by his birth name after entering the world of rap by copying his older brother. JHN had first watched his sibling spit on a Brooklyn corner during a cypher and then started mimicking his skills.
“My brother was the only older representative as a male. So, if he was a rapper, I was a rapper. If he was a fisherman, I was a fisherman. If he was a cop, I was a cop,” he explained to XXL. “I was in junior high and I would just rap his shit. Kids thought I was a genius. I always took rapping seriously, but I didn’t know how to start. It’s like when you’re introduced to something, but you don’t have the technical skills to know how to start. I was like spinning in a room for a good nine months then I picked up a pen and wrote my first terrible rap and that was a great thing for me.”
4. The first show he ever attended was Beanie Man and Supercat
He may ooze sauce in every bit of his aesthetic, from his music videos to photoshoots, but his distinct level of cool is nothing new to the East Coast artist. He was influenced early by dancehall legends and experienced their energy live at a young age.
“I’ll never forget because I was a baby, and because he’s like a hero to me, and also, because it was lit as fuck. I saw Beanie Man and Supercat. It was 1999 and I was in Guyana. That was a show. Supercat and Beanie on the same stage and they were giving you work. It was epic,” he once told Billboard. “I didn’t know what to do with the information at the time. I didn’t know that it was going to be something I was going to draw or pull for motivation. But it left a lasting impression. It’s vivid.”
5. He was born to do this
It takes confidence and determination to stay focused on making a dream come true and after many detours and hurdles, SAINt JHN has finally come close to living his purpose as a multifaceted artist.
“If something makes you happy, it feeds your soul, and it’s natural that you will become obsessed with it. When what makes you happy happens to be your occupation, then it’s sort of a dangerous place to be. You can no longer separate regular activity from occupational. I don’t even feel like I’m working,” he said to SSENCE. “I want this so bad. I want this for my personal life. My private life. This is who I am. It’s my identity.”
Catch SAINt JHN at Mod Club on May 2. Get ticketshere.