Before we listened to rapper SAINt JHN’s solo album, Collection One, we asked him what we should expect. His answer? “You can expect a lot of ratchet shit. You can expect luxurious ratchet shit.”
“All the music I make is so I can play it in my car,” he says. In terms of what he’s looking for from his audience, JHN (born Carlos Saint John) proclaims as a matter of fact, “A bunch of people with better taste.” He describes his process for creating Collection One as fairly no-frills as well–that it’s a talent he was born with, a skill he learned to hone in earlier days, and a perspective he still utilizes in his writing and performance. “The only thing I care about is the simple truth. My songs carry a simple truth, all of them, no matter how decadent they are, how dense they are, there’s a simple truth. That’s where I start.” In writing Collection One, this was his main goal—to tell a truth he’d want to hear.
The way JHN speaks about his creative flow sounds wise beyond his years and it’s because, even though this is his first album, it is far from his first professional musical offering. Born in Brooklyn, New York, JHN spent his childhood traveling back and forth between Guyana and America with his eight siblings and surrounded by poverty and crime. It would have been easiest to follow in his brother’s lawless music-obsessed footsteps. “My older brother felt like a father. He was only two years older than me so that was all I had. Whatever he would’ve done I was going to do,” he remembers. When he did try to deal drugs, he quickly opted for rapping instead and chose to stay in the states permanently to pursue it.
He describes his earlier rapping style as more aggressive, best showcased on early mixtapes like In Association (2010) and The St. John Portfolio (2011). The attention he garnered from music blogs eventually caught the attention of Zach Katz, the chairman of BMG publishing. After a quick flight out to Los Angeles, he began his career as a writer for the likes of Usher, Hoodie Allen, Kiesza and Joey Bada$$. “In being a writer, you participate like a teammate,” he says of this experience. “You could be the sixth man on the bench or you could be the point-guard, depending on who you’re playing with or writing for. It’s a multi-person sport.” Now, as his own artist, JHN understands that a lack of compromise is what his vision requires for success. “When I’m writing songs for myself, I’m just working for myself. It’s not a collaborative effort. It’s a vision I have.”
That vision includes a certain kind of swagger too. In everything from his vintage-inspired tour tees to his fur-lined music videos, there is a personal stamp that is recognizably JHN. In last year’s “3 Below” music video, for instance, JHN walks through the east coast streets with his crew, known as Godd Complexx, spitting on rooftops, riding light-up motorcycles and posing with a bevy of beautiful, chic women in basketball courts and laundromats. “If you have any taste, you want that taste to carry over in everything. I listen to music and I want the best possible music, because I want the best possible things to influence me. I look at fashion, and I want to wear the best possible things, the most provocative and inspiring things.” It’s that combination of perspective and good looks that got him a starring role in Sarah BahBah and i-D’s short film for Gucci’s Guilty fragrance line. And he’s going to keep building on this momentum too–to inspire his fans with a fashion collection in conjunction with the release of the album. He doesn’t believe in the concept of merch, and instead wants to present an extension of what he would wear. He elaborates, “Now I don’t just wear silk; I now sell silk.”
In terms of what to expect from him in the future? JHN stays coy, “I could tell you everything I plan on doing–all my intentions–but that would just spoil the fun. I can’t tell you I’m gonna walk in the room naked, then you’ll be looking for it.”