SAINt JHN emerges as 2020’s breakout music star.SAINt JHN
After a decade of chasing his musical dreams, SAINt JHN’s mainstream breakthrough came in a timely twist of fate.
As screen time skyrocketed this spring during the COVID-19 pandemic, an upbeat dance remix of JHN’s 2016 song, “Roses,” suddenly took off on TikTok. The viral rework by Kazakh producer Imanbek propelled “Roses” to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning collaborative co-signs from stars like J Balvin and Future and elevating JHN to the Billboard Music Awards stage.
“There’s something romantic about that—the world freezing and I kept going,” says JHN. “You do the drills, you plan, you prep, you coach yourself, and you’ve got to leave a little bit of room for magic.”
The 34-year-old singer-rapper—born Carlos St. John Phillips—knows a thing or two about beating the odds. He grew up in generational poverty, bouncing between Brooklyn and Georgetown, Guyana, while his mother struggled to support his family as a nurse’s aide.
“In Guyana, I was this barefoot kid bathing in the rain,” JHN recalls. “In America, I was this kid living a block from the projects, making sure the colors I wore didn’t communicate the wrong things.”
Drawing inspiration from his older brother, JHN started rapping at age 11 and released his first mixtapes in 2010. His tunes began bubbling up in the blogosphere and caught the ear of music executive Zach Katz, who invited the artist out to L.A. to write songs for Rihanna. However, none of JHN’s songs ended up being used, and he returned to New York in dejection. “The failures were my most healing moments when I really got to see myself and make adjustments,” he says. “The successes don’t teach you as much.”
Although he eventually placed a song with Usher, JHN was busy honing in on his own music project. He released his first full-length album, Collection, in 2018 and followed it up with Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs in 2019. The releases allowed JHN to tour Europe and build a cult fan base, particularly in Eastern Europe, where Imanbek’s “Roses” remix first caught on.
JHN originally wrote “Roses” with Beyoncé in mind during his peak songwriting period. “I don’t know if she ever heard it,” he shrugs. “Maybe the story was supposed to be like this.”
Now armed with a billion-stream global hit, JHN is determined to maximize the moment. He just dropped his third album, While the World Was Burning, Nov. 20, featuring the likes of Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, DaBaby and Kehlani. “He has his own vibe, his own aesthetic, his own fashion, and he’s doing his thing,” says Lenny Kravitz, who is featured on JHN’s soulful duet “Borders.”
JHN has also launched two clothing brands—a high-end label called Christian Sex Club, catering to “silks, leathers and extremely premium textures,” he notes, and a streetwear imprint named NOT A CULt.
“The goal all along was to be in every format. To dominate every space. To conquer every niche,” he says. “I’m not dreaming small. If I’m gonna fail, I’m gonna fail big."
Photography by: Jason Denison