(Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)
SAINt Jhn breezes into the BET offices smelling in a way that I can only describe as “expensive.” He’s got a moderately sized entourage, including a Yorkshire terrier wearing a “Pawlengica” hoodie and a thick chain. His scent lingers on me long after our conversation is finished to the point where I had planned on testing out Rihanna’s fragrances later in the day but simply could not imagine my nose adjusting to anything else.
I first met SAINt Jhn a year ago on a trip to Bermuda, where he was booked as performing talent, and I was interviewing the former Black bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay. He mercilessly teased me for not knowing how to play Spades. I still don’t know, by the way, and to me, it seems only appropriate to blame him for that. In a lot of ways, nothing has changed about SAINt Jhn in this time frame. In other ways, everything has.
First of all, he looks the same, that is to say: tall, dark, chiseled and impeccably groomed. While his looks are a constant and his handsomeness and subsequent confidence are typical of a famous performer, he is quick to emphasize it wasn’t always that way.
“The 4-year-old me was getting laughed in school at for being too dark,” he reminisces, reconciling the newfound appreciation for his looks with his personal history. He is, technically speaking, a model now, but seems to have an aversion to the title when I bring up his new campaign with heritage streetwear and athletic brand Ellesse.
“Oh, am I a model now? What’s a model?” he quips, playfully suggesting that he’s not actually a model, but a quick look at his Instagram declares that he is, indeed, a model. “You know, ever since I became top GUYANESE model in the WORLD, things been different,” he writes.
The Brooklyn born and raised ethnically Guyanese musician is proud of his roots and quite passionately rejects the suggestion that he has moved to Los Angeles. “Why would you think that?” he challenges after I ask about his life in L.A. To be fair, the last time we saw each other was in the Hollywood offices of Viacom, where he was playing his new album, Ghetto Lenny's Love Songs for our team. Plus, one of his most recent Instagram photos features him perched atop his blue Porsche in a street in L.A. He then wants to scroll through his own feed to prove to me in no uncertain terms that he lives both everywhere and nowhere.
“I mean, this is Moscow," he says pointing to a shot of him on stage with a mic. “This is Paris. This is Vegas. This is Moscow. I don’t get L.A. from here,” he says, making his point. OK, so no L.A., but it doesn’t sound like anywhere is home.
When I ask him, he says, “Well, I pay rent here. Does that mean I live here? What are the rules?” By “here” he means New York City, where he’s currently gearing up for his performance at Rolling Loud. Since it sounds like he’s on the move often, I ask him where to next.
“I’m here for a little,” he answers quickly, and then pauses to revise his statement “Actually, I have to go to Paris to shoot a video with Lenny, but then I’ll be here for a little,” he corrects himself. Lenny, as in Kravitz, who guests on SAINt Jhn’s latest album. This is one of the significant ways that his life has changed over the last year. He’s on a first-name basis with Lenny Kravitz. He’s featured on Beyoncé’s "Brown Skin Girl." He attended Rihanna’s Diamond Ball wearing a turquoise tuxedo and a diamond brooch as a bow tie. None of this seems normal.
“I’m living my dreams,” SAINT Jhn says. I ask him if he believes in manifestation, since, when you add all of this up, it’s pretty wild. “If I say I’m rich enough times and enough people say it back to me, I gotta be rich, right?” he responds.
Right. Note to self to try this.
Aside from an uptick in success in his musical career, SAINt Jhn is also gaining notoriety for his style. Today he’s wearing what’s become somewhat of his signature look, black leather pants with a rip in the knee, an open, printed, short-sleeved button down, a black leather jacket and cowboy boots. He also has on piles of jewelry.
“It’s always silver. I don’t really like diamonds,” he says adjusting his bracelets before naming the credits. “OK, this one is vintage Van Cleef and this is Chrome Heats and By Chari.” His fingers are also similarly adorned in rings, his neck in various chains. The jewelry is more sentimental to him than his clothing is, of which he has so much that he often loses track or simply gives it away. He’s just lost a jacket he wore in a recent music video.
He’s not upset about the jacket, but losing the jewelry would feel bad. “It’s more personal to me. I remember exactly when I got this ring” he says, pointing to an elaborate ring carved out of coral. He thinks of his stage-wear in similar fashion.
“I am building an archive. I don’t need for anyone to tell me that I matter. I am just going to record it for myself.”
You also won’t be able to find typical tour merch because, as an artist, SAINT Jhn is building a brand. Sure, he does sell the hoodies, T-shirts and sweats that are expected at any concert, but he also sells high-end silk sets printed with perverse religious messaging for his brand Christian Sex Club.
“Merch is cheap. I didn’t want to do merch.”
He tells me an elaborate story about the first time he got a big check and he went to a ubiquitous New York City boutique to buy a shirt for his first GQ party. “When you first get $600, you should be cautious about spending $10,” he says before confirming that he did indeed buy a Dries van Noten shirt for $600 only to find out in the cab that the material was not silk at all, but instead a more common viscose.
“Viscose! I was hurt,” he says, but he used that pain to try to solve the problem for himself as a customer. “Affordable is relative. You might not be able to afford a $150 shirt. But I wanted to make sure that it was actual silk,” he says of the first Christian Sex Club merch. It was actually gorgeous and it's no longer available, but I kind of wish I had some now.
It’s funny to look at SAINt Jhn and recognize elements of his style that mirror my own. The androgynous way that he dresses is par for the course for someone fluent in fashion, but for a rapper, it is still somewhat unconventional.
“You’re the first person that’s said that,” he remarks, nodding in agreement about the androgyny. It’s true though, a lot of his outfits are things that I would wear myself. This kind of gender-bending is becoming more and more common, but rap still has a long way to go if we want our musicians to be better dressed and better-scented, according to Offset. For SAINt Jhn, neither is of immediate concern as GQ has recently dubbed him as in possession of the best skin in the rap game.
“Well, you tell me,” he says with a devilish smile, where a tiny gold embellishment glints off a front incisor. He pats his extremely smooth and blemish-free face. Yeah, I’d say it’s pretty good. “Self-care. I got that from my mom. Even if we had nothing, we were always moisturized. So much Vaseline. In the dead of winter, I was hot. I had a whole other layer on.”
Well, it looks like these days, SAINt Jhn is glistening in a different way.
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