Standing over six feet tall, Carlos St. John, better known as SAINt JHN, is what most girls would call a hunk. Earlier this year, he won the "Artist of the Year" Revolve Award, which he referred to as the "Sexy Person of the Year" award in an IG caption. But the rapper, who's a part of the Swisher Sweets Artist Project Class of 2019, can do more than just flex his abs. SAINt JHN first started his career as a songwriter, and later caught our attention with the release of his 2018 album Collection One, featuring standout tracks like "Lust" and "Roses". Most recently, he secured a banner year by dropping his second project, Ghetto Lenny Love Songs, and announcing a 19-city tour dubbed IGNORANt FOREVER.
Complex caught up with SAINt JHN during his last leg and final tour stop at New York's Webster Hall.
You woke up this morning and it's the last day of tour. How are you feeling?
There's no better feeling than when I go outside and I see the faces of people who paid their money just to see me, that tells me the music is going where it's supposed to and that's encouraging.
So you've had a pretty banner year. Tell us what that feels like.
I think it's a good start. I had a good start. I did a record with Beyonce. I did a record with Lenny Kravitz. I put out my second collection of music and then my second collection of clothes.
Why is your collection of clothes called Christian Sex Club?
It's a brand. It's an idea. I grew up in a church. My mom is a minister so she would make us go to every possible church she could muster. I don't know why she did this. If my mom's here, please let her explain this. She's probably not here yet (Ed. Note: SAINt JHN's mom appeared later to watch her son perform). She forced me to go to church and then when I grew up I was like, "Ooh, Christian Sex Club." But she's not bothered [by it]. So I'm cool with it.
She's not bothered?
Nah, she loves me the same.
You mentioned your upbringing. How do you think that that materializes in your music?
It's everything. The only thing I know is the only things that I know. You can't ask me to talk about something I have no information on. I stay silent. It'd be foolish. So when I talk about something, it's something I at least have a little bit of familiarity with me. And that's what's in my music.
We talked about some of your creative process. Can you tell us how creating this last album solidified your identity as an artist?
Honestly, I didn't know that it helped define me in any way. They're both collections. Collection One is a part of a series. Ghetto Lenny's Love Songs is a collection. That's just the title of the collection. In the future, I might come out with another collection that has a different spirit and a different motif. For this one, I want it to be, I guess a little bit more specific because the motivation for this: I was picturing what it would be to marry a stripper. In my mind, I was like, "Whoa, I got to imagine what this relationship would be like."
I think it'd be passionate and volatile and beautiful and tumultuous and strange, soft, aggressive, all these things. I never married a stripper, but it felt like it.
You sing and rap. Can we expect more of that?
Here's the thing. I don't think about what I'm doing ever. All I know is I'm right now. We all exist right now. Even the people that see this 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now, it's right now. And I was expressing whatever the fuck I felt at the moment with whatever tools I had at my disposal. So oftentimes, I don't know whether I'm singing or rapping or I'm chanting or yodeling. I can't tell what the fuck it is. I just know I got to do it and it feels like something has to be said. So I say it, I don't have any other alternative, but I leave it to you. You put it in a box, whatever box you feel is comfortable, just make sure it's big enough to house all my silks.
Who inspires you?
That's a daily thing that changes on a daily basis. A simple answer for that; poverty inspires me. I don't come from nothing and I remember real vividly every day, everything that I do that feels new, any type of luxurious experience that I have, I remember where I came from. Sometimes something feels foreign to me. It's because I'm not used to having much. That inspires me. I want to go forward. It's so much I haven't done.
How do you stay grounded now that you've gained more momentum?
Honestly, I just think about my next step. That's how I stay grounded. I'm not thinking about what happens 4,000 years from now. I'm in the middle of a dream that I dreamt a long time ago. I just want to keep my balance at this point.
Do you remember the first moment you realized you had a gift?
I never thought I had a gift. I never thought I was gifted. I didn't really think I was talented. Not like self-loathing, not like I don't think anything of myself, but I didn't.
I thought I was intelligent. That's the only tool I had. I'm like, I'm intelligent because I had to think on my feet. I had to think my way out of situations that were challenging, so I knew I could think and that's all I had to everything else that I've ever experienced. If I'm talented, it's because I'm smart. If you think I'm sexy, it's 'cause I'm smart. If I smell good, it's 'cause I'm smart. Does that make any sense?
That makes sense. Why music?
I think that's just what I fell into. I think that's the way I was supposed to introduce myself. It won't stop there.
Let's talk about the Artist Project and Swisher Sweets. How has it helped you?
Oftentimes you find partnerships or there might be companies or conglomerates and there's no real partnership. There's no real marriage. [Partnership] requires that, it requires two people putting their arms around each other, or two sets of ideas, wrapping their arms around each other and saying we believe in the same thing. And that's what it's been with the Swisher project. No interjections, no interruptions. I'm just being exactly who I am with a supportive and incredible team.
Complex saw you earlier this year in Vegas at Life is Beautiful. Do you like performing at festivals? What's different about it?
I like festivals. I think they're pretty cool. You just get to be the most ignorant version of yourself. I'm already ignorant, like I'm on a hundred all the time, but every now and then I get to 110 and it's really fast. It's like when the roller coaster goes down and you go, "Woo!" Festivals are like that. Whenever the roller coaster is falling but you know it's going to catch you because you never know what audience you're about to run into.
So taking off your shirt has become an iconic SAINt JHN act. Why?
You want to know the truth? My nigga, it's hot. There's nothing complicated about it. It's hot. I take off my shirt. That's exactly where it came from. It wasn't born out of some incredible idea to do something great and be on a poster and one day be looked at as anything iconic. It's hot. I take my shirt off.
Mosh pits, too. Why?
'Cause I want to be there. When I'm doing a show and I'm performing, a lot of times you're on a stage, you're on this pedestal where people are looking at you as if you're some type of figure that's suppose to save something. You're a hero in some format. But I'm just a guy from Brooklyn. I remain that. I'm okay with that. I've always been okay with that. So that's grounding myself. We're all in the same place at the same time. I want to have a show too, one that I can remember. Nobody wants to be the dancing puppet on stage, not even the star.
Why is it called the IGNORANt FOREVER tour?
Because my hope, my pledge to myself is that I can stay like that forever. I don't mean without growth, I just mean I want to stay as the way I was when I was like four, five, six when you had all the imagination in the world and you just wanted to do the craziest things on the planet. Remember when you believed in yourself so much that you thought you could do anything? I want to do that. I want to go back to that exact same place, except the difference is I know where the Band-Aids are now. So if anything goes wrong, I patch myself up.
Nice. What are some examples of a Band-Aid?
Music for me is an incredible Band-Aid. Our clothes, they're a Band-Aid but not the type of Band-Aid you would think. They're a Band-Aid for expression. I get to make things that I want to wear. Music is something you feel, but nothing you ever touch. I wanted to affect all the senses so you can hear music and then you can touch clothes and they make you feel beautiful or they can make you feel aggressive. You get to become whoever you want to be whenever you put on your own superhero costume. I think clothes serve that function.
Do you ever compare yourself to other artists?
Not publicly, meaning it's not something I ever do outwardly. I don't look at other artists and then look at myself and then measure. I might be inspired by something someone's doing and internally I'll go, "That's incredible." I say to my team, "That's great. I'd love to be as great as that if not better."
You're about to step up on stage. How are you going to hype yourself up?
I don't got to. I'm SAINt JHN. I walked in the room that way. Hug me. Hold me. Kiss me. Love me.
Catch some of SAINt JHN's performance in the video above and listen here.