Meet Sainté, Leicester’s New ‘Wild Card’ Rap Prodigy

“I enjoy being the wild card. I enjoy being the outsider and being different. I wanna be able to bring my own bowl of food to the gathering, you know?”

sainte out the blue interview
Photography by DomShotThis
sainte out the blue interview

Sainté’s music makes his hometown of Leicester feel like the centre of the universe.

Famous for its multi-ethnic population, Leicester City Football Club, and for being the first major city in the UK to have its own local radio station—BBC Radio Leicester, launched back in 1967—it’s pretty much bound into scripture that Leicester would conjure up a talent like Sainté.

Since dropping his debut single, “Envy Me”, in 2019, Sainté’s name has been bubbling behind the scenes, and today he stands as one of UK rap’s brightest prospects. Grabbing more attention with his Local MVP project at the top of the year, the rapper walked the relentless balance beam that is quantity versus quality. Seemingly managing both with ease, the 21-year-old bagged his first viral hit with “Champagne Shots”. Imbued with a fluid yet frank delivery, Sainté builds a musical prism weighted in duality; somewhere in-between the cocky one-liners and lyrical diary entries lies the nucleus of his creative driving force. 

While it’s all too commonplace to call every artist unique, Sainté’s music radiates standalone energy. He has less in common with his UK drill and trap contemporaries and more similarities with cloudy Stateside rappers like Dom Kennedy or Isaiah Rashad. Everything from the Dave Meyers and Hype Williams-inspired visuals for “No Love” to his carefully curated wardrobe—a futureproof take on what you’d see in an old issue of The Source or XXL Magazine—Sainté is stepping different to everybody else in today’s UK music scene. 

With an almost mutant level of artistic growth coursing through his veins, Sainté channelled his efforts into seven gems packaged as songs that we know now to be his latest EP, Out The Blue. We caught up with the rising star to discuss his latest project, his vast array of influences, fashion, the state of UK rap and his plans for the future. 

“I enjoy being the wild card. I enjoy being the outsider and being different. I wanna be able to bring my own bowl of food to the gathering, you know?” 

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COMPLEX: Congrats on the release of your new EP, Out The Blue. How have you found the reception to this project compared to your last one, Local MVP?
 I don’t really compare the two projects, you know. I’m pretty happy with how both of them went. I feel it’s crazy that I released two EPs this year, so between Local MVP dropping and Out The Blue, there are things I’ve done differently, even rollout-wise. But the reception for both has been so amazing; I’m just grateful I’ve built such a strong support network. I did the Out The Blue listening party and it was sick, man! It had a 250 cap, and 600 people pulled up. Crazy!

But the reception and everything, it’s been wild. I’m happy with everything, but I’ve just gotta do better now.

Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—UK rap is very London focused, despite regions like the Midlands bursting with talent like Pa Salieu, Trillary Banks and M1llionz holding things down on the rap side, and the Mahalias and Jorja Smiths of the world killing it with R&B. Being from Leicester, how are you finding it manoeuvering through the scene?
I love it. There are times where you probably feel a way about it or doubt yourself, but I feel like that’s normal. I like that I feel weird about it sometimes because it reminds me that I do care about what I’m doing, and I do care about how I’m doing things, but at the same time, I do love it. I enjoy being the wild card. I enjoy being the outsider and being different. I wanna be able to bring my own bowl of food to the gathering, you know?

Are there any Midlands/Leicester-based artists you’re currently rating?
The group Easy Life are going crazy right now! They’re from Leicester, and the last project they put out, Life’s A Beach, was sick! They’ve even inspired me and motivated me to push for things I want out of my own career. I mean, they did Coachella, and to see people from Leicester do that is kind of mad. You’ve also got old bands from a while ago, like Kasabian, then you’ve got wewantwraiths, JB Scofield, and, of course—as you mentioned—Mahalia. There are loads of new artists coming up, and it’s really exciting to watch.

There’s a stacked list of producers on Out The Blue—what was the selection process like for picking those final seven beats? There’s a wide range of styles and sounds on the project.
If I’m going to release an EP, it should sound like a mixtape or album. If I drop an album, it should sound like whatever’s bigger and better than an album. I don’t ever want to settle. With producers, I have to connect with them on a personal level and vibe with them. That’s the best way for me to connect. I love for my relationship with a producer to be natural and organic. The producer Brad Baker is a close friend of mine. You’ve also got Parker Jazz on the project—he did the whole of Local MVP, and he’s like my friend from the American side. Then, of course, we’ve got people like Elevated, Clonez and Honeywood Six as well.

On the visual side of things, it gets pretty cinematic. How much of a hand do you have in developing your music video concepts?
I’m always gonna be 100% involved in everything, at the end of the day. That’s showcasing me, my music, my identity and my personality. I think the music videos I do are an extension of me and my interests. It’s something I’m gonna want to get right, which is the best way to tackle a song’s visuals.

Are there any films that have influenced some of your past videos?
You’ve got some films that you watch that are literally like a Pinterest board in motion. You got movies like Paid In Full, and you’ve got Belly. Literally, every shot is a moodboard shot in Belly, and it’s sick! You’ve also got other films that are influential in different ways—movies like Snatch, Fight Club and This Is England, which is a really deep film.

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Out The Blue is a really personal offering. Is it ever challenging to weigh up how much of your personal life you want to put into your music, or does that kind of tipping scale of art and real-life balance itself out naturally?
I feel like I’m still new to that: opening up and being vulnerable in my music. But I do enjoy that part of it. At the same time, that balance is needed. I look at music like art, and that’s how the fans are going to connect with you. For me, I love R&B, and I love listening to tracks that get me in my feels, as I’m sure every music lover does. It’s about having the right balance, but it’s come quite naturally to me so far.

My favorite song on the project is “You Never”. How did that track come about?
That’s my favourite track on the project, too. It’s a lot deeper than the other tracks. I remember my friend, RJ, he’s from Leicester as well, we used to be basketball teammates and we’re still friends to this day. He produced the beat, sent me the instrumental, and I remember just thinking it’s kind of upbeat, but also pretty emotional. I was writing to it non-stop, to the point I was deciding which parts to keep in the song and which elements to take out. But yeah, it just came freely. I remember being in that mental space where I felt like venting a little bit and talking about what was going on in my life at the time, and it just came out.

“Summer Is Blue” with A2 and Knucks is shaping up to be the fan favourite from Out The Blue. What was the collaboration process like for that track?
It was sick, man! Very straightforward and organic, and I guess some might say that I’m lucky to have brought these guys together at such an early stage in my career. They’re both cool guys, A2 and Knucks—they’re very humble and in their own lanes. They’re not too fussed about trying to please people, and I’m the same. I was listening to Knucks before I started making music, so it was kinda like something that was meant to be. We just hit each other up; I had the track and I just thought that it would suit them. It was a flex! I’m one of the youngest in the game to do that, so I love it.

What was the easiest song to record, and what was the hardest one to get off the ground?
I wouldn’t say any of them were easy. Some just came together faster, in terms of writing. For example, “West” and “03” are kinda laid back, just sipping-on-peppermint-tea writing. At the same time, I will always try to go the extra mile to make it better than what it is. Like, I’ll never be complacent and think to myself, “I can write this verse easily.” If I write something and it feels too easy, I won’t be happy. So I’ll think: “Okay, now what can I do to perfect these verses?” With “03”, I’m pretty sure everyone noticed it sounds like “Champagne Shots”, but on steroids.

Scattered throughout your lyrics and music videos, I see a lot of Pharrell’s influence—from the BBC Ice Cream varsity jackets to casual references. How would you say Pharrell and The Neptunes has impacted your own sound and creative trajectory?
For me, it starts with their production. There’s no doubt that The Neptunes are one of the greatest [production outfits] of all time. At one point, they were literally producing for everyone in the game. I like how unique they are and can just be creative with any brief they’re given. I just love the world they created. Like, if you listen to one of their tracks, you’ll know it’s them. With regards to Pharrell directly, if you know me, you’ll know I’m into fashion. And with fashion, it goes pretty hand-in-hand with the music.

Are there any brands you’re eyeing up right now?
Yeah, there’s a few. Actually, my friend has their own brand called Townships, and it is super cold. He made me a custom piece and it says ‘Local Champion’ on it. Chrome Hearts and Billionaire Boys Club are doing good, and shout-out to Louis Vuitton as well. They put me on when they did their little social campaign with Virgil [Abloh]. There’s so many! I feel like, for me, it’s one of those things where if I like it, I’ll wear it. If there’s personality or there’s something about it that draws my attention, I’ll wear it. I’m not too fussy. It’s not always about name brands.

If we were to give you five slots for an all-star musical five-a-side team of your choosing and you’re the captain, who would you pick and why?
We’ve spoken about Pharrell so I’mma count Pharrell and The Neptunes as one. I’d pick Drake, Larry June, A$AP Rocky… There’s so many more, I can give you a top ten! But for the balance, creativity, aesthetic, and sound, Frank Ocean has really impacted the game.

Okay, so your musical five-a-side is Pharrell, Drake, Larry June, A$AP Rocky and Frank Ocean?
There’s more, of course. I wanna say Tyler, The Creator as well, Skepta, Sampha… I could go on.

We now know which artists you love and would put on a fantasy team, but are there any artists you would call directly inspirational?
I would say Drake, for sure. Curren$y, he’s been in the game for a while but he’s definitely one of them. With Curren$y’s music, it’s very laid back—and you can tell he’s in his element—but when you deep the bars, the ways he subtly flexes on you is just different [laughs]. Jay-Z, too.

Anyone from the UK?
It’s not strictly American. Some UK guys might not go as far back, but you’ve got Skepta—I love what he’s doing, even if he’s not making as much music these days. I gotta mention Sampha again, as well as Ed Sheeran and James Blake. And, in terms of the younger guys, I rate Kamal. and Bakar’s music a lot too. 

With such an eclectic range of hip-hop thriving in the UK right now, how does your puzzle piece fit into the UK rap jigsaw, and where do you see it going next?
The goals I’ve set for myself and the accomplishments I’m trying to reach, I try to think internationally. Why should I not try and do what people probably think is impossible? I definitely feel the UK rap scene is probably the best it’s been in a while, though. Right now, there’s a lot of people doing their thing and trying new stuff, and I love to see it. I’d be wrong if I said I’m not trying to push boundaries, though, so expect some more surprises from me.

What can we expect from you going into 2022?
A lot more creativity, and a lot more of a personal and vulnerable Sainté. Definitely a Sainté that’s going to continue to develop.

Is there an album in the works?
Maybe not an album, but deffo another project. I’m a project artist. Maybe a mixtape! We’ll see how it goes.

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