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‘Roses’ singer-rapper Saint Jhn has some thoughts on ‘off-world vehicles’ and silk pants

Saint Jhn
(Jason Denison)

Saint Jhn’s woozy 2016 track “Roses” became a global smash after an unauthorized remix by a young DJ from Kazakhstan spread quickly across Spotify and TikTok. But the 34-year-old singer and rapper (and part-time fashion designer), born Carlos St. John Phillips, didn’t just stumble into stardom: He learned the ropes writing songs for Usher, Rihanna and Beyoncé — that’s him on B’s “Brown Skin Girl,” from “The Lion King: The Gift” — and displays his knack for sinuous melodies over hard-knocking beats on a new LP due this fall.

Describe your album in three words.
Sexy. Ignorant. Aggressive.

“Ignorant”?
I like people with a brash, child-like innocence. Getting back to that feeling empowers you to do what you want.

Why should we stream your record?
I would never try to sell something that sells itself. Ignore it — then watch as everybody else plays it to you.

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How did COVID shape the album?
I wasn’t going to make this collection. I was supposed to be touring the world. Timing, opportunity and a certain type of handcuffed freedom made this collection.

Explain what “handcuffed freedom” is.
You can move around in the street outside your door, but you can’t go in anywhere without a mask. You can’t stay anywhere too long. You can’t go anywhere with more than six people. And you’re in a certain perpetual fear.

Fear of what?
Let me be clear: Fear isn’t a new concept for me. I grew up in East New York, Brooklyn — fear is something that I live with on my left shoulder.

But fear of disease is new?
You can’t summarize 2020 with just COVID. They found UFOs and off-world vehicles; they found the [Jeffrey] Epstein documents. I think this is the first time we’ve gotten to see the truth in so many different arenas — politics and economics and technology. This s— is nuts.

What are your plans for Nov. 3?
Vote.

What do you envision for that day? Folks have laid out some dark scenarios.
Bro, I saw a cop kneel on George Floyd’s neck. Breonna Taylor got shot in her crib. I’d be ridiculously presumptuous to tell you I know what Nov. 3 is gonna look like.

Vice of choice while making the album?
I do edibles, I like porn and I keep a couple ratchets around. And scents — I like things that smell good.

Most people encountered “Roses” through a remix you didn’t commission or through one of thousands of TikTok videos you didn’t make.
I don’t make it a point to tell you how to consume my art. I make clothes and I make music. When I make some silk pants for someone, I have an idea of how I want them to wear them. But you think I get the opportunity to walk them through a 10-minute tutorial? Do what you want with what I create. I’m comfortable with that.

Has making clothes affected the way you make music?
It just taught me I’m sexier than I thought I was.


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