Who is Guyanese-American Grammy Award Winner SAINt JHN?
SAINt JHN Photo/Facebook
Success is often unexpected. There is no guarantee that years of hard work will pay off in the end. Some even say that hard work is a mythological concept that chains us to a consumerist society and all we need is a stroke of luck or some connections in the industry to achieve our dreams. When SAINt JHN’s remix to his 2016 track ‘Roses’ with Imanbek ravished the globe in tandem with the pandemic, soaring to the top of European and Australian music charts in 2020, there was no denying that SAINt JHN’s decade-long musical crusade was worth it. How did this Guyanese-American rapper, producer, and songwriter find his way to the top? Let’s start from the beginning, from when Carlos St. John Phillips never imagined that one day his song would be the biggest song in the world.
SAINt JHN’s Early Years
Carlos St. John Phillips, better known as SAINt JHN, spent his early years moving back and forth between Brooklyn, his birthplace, and Guyana, the place that eventually became synonymous with the word ‘home.’ This constant rotation between North American and South American continents allowed St. John to gain inspiration from a myriad of acts whose distinct genres formed the blueprint of his hybrid identity. From Jay-Z, Fabolous and Beanie Sigel to Beenie Man Spragga Benz and Buju Banton, SAINt JHN’s early musical influences were neverending.
His main inspiration, however, will always be his older brother. His ultimate idol. At age 11, he remembers seeing his brother surrounded by a crowd and leading a rap cypher. “He felt like a puppet master - whatever he did, he controlled the audience,” he told Billboard. He even admitted that he stole some of his brother’s lyrics back in high school to impress his classmates.
SAINt JHN’s desperate passion for rapping never waned. It only intensified as the years went by. Despite the many challenges that cropped up along the way, it became his one-way ticket to escaping the violence and poverty he grew up around. In an interview with GQ magazine, SAINt JHN confessed that music was his saviour when he was surrounded by gunshots and bullets. “It saved me from having a tremendous amount of sadness,” he said. “I was forecasting that I wouldn’t be in a scenario that was violent. Where I wouldn’t have to come home and duck shots. I wouldn’t have to carry a gun to school. When music came into play, I inserted [it] into the dream and started to carve out everything around music.”
On The Road To Success
In 2010, SAINt JHN’s career officially kicked off when he released two projects under his birth name - an EP entitled ‘The St. John Portfolio’ and a mixtape entitled ‘The Association.’ He recorded these tracks while he was living on a friend’s couch in Harlem. He could hardly afford rent, much less a studio, so he used a collaborator’s spot in Queens to bring his records to life. To make his work seem more official and to gain more recognition, he created a fake public relations agency called Taylor Foor PR.
Luckily, his fake agency attracted the attention of former BMG president Zach Katz in 2011, who stumbled across SAINt JHN’s collaborative piece with Azeem, “Hurricanes and Tornadoes.”
Los Angeles was not the dream that SAINt JHN imagined but his two months in the city was the first among many gateways to his inevitable success on the charts. He initially attempted to write and record tracks for Rihanna but to no avail. After returning to New York, however, SAINt JHN was able to write for some of the biggest names in the industry - Hoodie Allen, Nico and Vinz, Kiesza, Gorgon City, and even Usher.
Though the success was never quite his own, SAINt JHN couldn’t stop making music. Destiny began to conceptualize in 2016 when he released ‘Roses’ which later appeared in his 2018 debut album, Collection One. Despite being a hit and club-favorite in Eastern and Central Europe, ‘Roses’ didn't quite hit it off with the US audience. SAINt JHN’s popularity and fanbase were steadily growing though, and he concluded 2016 by being the opening act for Post Malone’s West Coast tour.
SAINt JHN welcomed even more merits in 2018 with the release of Collection One. His pre-released tracks, ‘I Heard You Got Too Litt Last Night’ and ‘Albino Blue’ had accumulated over 50 million total streams across various streaming platforms before the release of his album. He also embarked on his first tour to promote Collection One and he was hired by Gucci as a model for its ‘Guilty’ campaign alongside US model Adesuwa Aighewi.
‘Brown Skin Girl,’ ‘Roses’ Remix, and While the World was Burning
In August 2020, SAINt JHN collaborated with international megastar Beyonce, Jay Z, and their daughter Blue Ivy Carter alongside Nigerian singer WizKid for ‘Brown Skin Girl,’ a revolutionary track that was included in the soundtrack album, The Lion King: The Gift. ‘Brown Skin Girl’ won Best Music Video at the 2021 Grammy Awards, making one out of the two Grammy Awards currently under SAINt JHN’s belt.
For the rapper, however, ‘Brown Skin Girl’ was more than just a collaboration with one of the biggest names in the industry. The song itself tackles the issue of colorism and SAINt JHN told MTV, “When I started ‘Brown Skin Girl’ I knew I wanted to do something important. I wanted to have a song that one day, if I ever had a daughter, I could sing to her. I could tell her ‘you’re beautiful’ but I wouldn’t have to use my words. I could trick her by just playing the song ‘Brown Skin Girl,'”
SAINt JHN’s ‘Roses’ remix with Kazakh DJ Imanbek brought the rapper his second Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording. For the first time, SAINt JHN’s hit track was entirely his. The accolades produced by this single remix were attached to SAINt JHN’s name alone and not associated with any of the other artists he previously wrote for.
In April 2020, the remix hit #1 on the Australian and UK singles chart. It peaked at #4 on the US Billboard Hot100 and its remix featuring J Balvin hit #1 on the Billboard 100. It currently holds over 1 billion streams on Spotify, more than 192 million views on YouTube, and has three million TikToks that used the remix as background music, including a TikTok from the platform’s biggest star, Charlie D’Amelio. ‘Roses’ was also certified Platinum by numerous music associations across the globe including the RIAA, BEA, IFPI, and ARIA.
“I didn’t know it was going to be the biggest song in the world,” SAINt JHN told Billboard, “I thought the original ‘Roses’ was the biggest song in the world in 2015. I still believe that. I didn’t know this was the mechanism or catalyst for this to be exactly what I thought it was going to be.”
Continuing with a booming career, SAINt JHN released his third studio album, While the World was Burning, on November 20th, 2020. The album features tracks from the biggest acts in the industry such as Lil Uzi Vert, DaBaby, Kanye West, and Kehlani. The album peaked at #16 in the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
Writing music was SAINt JHN's entrance into the music industry. However, had set his sights higher and was willing to exhaust every opportunity to accomplish his dream. With hard work and perseverance, the spotlight eventually swung his way. Today, the rising music artist has taken center stage performing for thousands of fans at his 2021 In Case We Both Die tour.