SAINt JHN's Second Album is an R&B-Oriented Inverse of Collection One
Evan Dale // Aug 23, 2019
Collection One was spectacular. Brooklyn’s all-in-one creative bad boy, SAINt JHN introduced himself in 2018 under a banner sewn of the most fervor, uniqueness, and sex he could summon. The outcome was definitely the best debut and quite arguably the most notable project of any kind throughout the year. Shoving aside any sort of traditional stylistic delineation, Collection One stands today as a thesis on just how wide-ranging, inventive, and eventually influential SAINt JHN was always destined to be.
On a breakneck pace to take over pop culture’s musical and fashionable direction, he has since only expanded his image as an icon. On top of a seamless ability to fold silky, emotion-evoking vocals into the unholy cadence of his rap delivery and the intrigue of his penmanship, SAINt JHN is an stone-carved model for labels ranging from GQ to Ellesse, a flamboyantly bold designer for his emerging streetwear brand, Christian Sex Club, and a key voice to The Lion King’s soundtrack shining next to Beyoncé on Brown Skin Girl. He has – in little over two years since some of his earliest singles (3 Below, Reflex, Roses) began gaining legitimate traction – become one of the most important names in hip-hop culture and its surrounding grey areas of post-genre non-delineation. If any modern artist is a more fervent definition of the transcendentalism of modern artistry, we have no answer for who it might be. And if any artist throughout time was graced with a more starlight-laced personality in balance with musical genius, they might only be named James Brown, George Clinton, Prince, Pharrell, A$AP Rocky, and Anderson .Paak. And even then, so early on in his career, he gives them all a run for their money. Just ask his Instagram.
On August 23, SAINt JHN released his sophomore album, Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs – a title in ode to his rather undeniable likeness to a young Lenny Kravitz that’s every bit as humorous and absurd as it is meaningful and oddly wholesome. SAINt JHN wields a surprisingly evocative voice and is a master of emotionality. So, as somewhat of an inverse to Collection One’s primary direction being a project bubbling over with absurdist, hyphy hip-hop anthems, only dotted by softer explorations of R&B adjacency and an apparent affinity for 80’s and 90’s-inspired romantic ballads, Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs – as a 2019 album – is not so far removed from the very auditory aesthetic that drove Lenny Kravitz’s golden years.
It goes deeper than influence. A three-track-stint (one of the best in musical memory) in the album’s heart highlighted by soft keys, softer vocals, and the most pillowy emotions – Borders, Call Me After You Hear This, and Trophies– is spearheaded by a vocal bout from Kravitz himself. On paper it seems a comical inclusion pointed only at SAINt JHN’s longtime nickname, but when listening it’s obvious that the pair have much more in common than their looks. Borders is a dominant standout of GLLS as Selfish was to Collection One. And for fans of SAINt JHN’s knack at exploring his emotional, R&B-inspired roots, so are Wedding Day, Who Do You Blame, I Can Fvcking Tell, Call Me After You Hear This, Trophies, Monica Lewinsky, and High School Reunion.
But Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs isn’t an R&B project. It’s not a hip-hop project either even though Anything Can Happen, Trap, and All I Want Is A Yacht are some of the most intense and addictive hip-hop party anthems of 2019, and SAINt JHN is as he’s said, a rap god. Instead, GLLS is something else entirely because SAINt JHN is something more – something we’ve never seen before. The project – much akin to Collection One in its impossibility to describe – is a carefully-curated balance of music’s firm past taking fluid futuristic form. We’re living in the midst of a phase change and SAINt JHN is our auditory alchemist.
He draws clear influence from the illustrious hip-hop past of his Brooklyn roots. The energy and boorish braggadocio are unwavering on All I Want Is A Yacht. He pulls inspiration from a number of modern R&B artists of schools from PARTYNEXTDOOR to Brent Faiyaz that have paved the way for the vocally-dominated traditions to have evolved into something else entirely. Trophies is an insightful exploration of two-way sexism and the struggle for depth in relationships while at a sonic level, being an emotionally-ridden anthem. He pays homage to his Guyanese roots with Caribbean and subsequently West African musicality. Call Me After You Hear This rides a similar type of drum pattern and vocal play pumping through the world’s music by way of the West African Cultural Renaissance. He can be compared to Drake and Kid Cudi where his sound seamlessly weaves between vocals and rapped lyrics, while in production, analogue instrumentation bleeds into explosions of electronic technique on almost every track. SAINt JHN knows no stylistic bounds and has emerged from GLLS broader, less definable, and somehow more all-encapsulating and refined.
Even just a half-decade ago, it would be impossible to conceive that one artist’s project could successfully transcend so many spectrums that have long existed as hard-edged genres. Hip-hop fans in particular have seen a number of epochal greats stumble when trying to crossover their sound. But in an era of expected creative breadth, SAINt JHN doesn’t at all stand alone as the only artist exploring transcendentalism and post-genrefication, but he does stand alone above all his multitalented compatriots with the release of Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs. As good a rapper as anyone in hip-hop; As unique a vocalist as anyone in R&B; As evocative a songwriter as anyone in music; The life of the party; The voice of reason; And painfully relatable in his emotional expanse. He can do it all. And that’s just touching on his music.
At this point, it’s starting to feel repetitive how often we continue belaying SAINt JHN with praise as music’s next all-encompassing superstar. But until he missteps – until he even stops growing, experimentation, and subsequently driving the greater direction of music and culture – we have no choice but to keep it up because even in doing so, we’re not even close to keeping up with him. Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs deserves everyone’s consideration as album of the year.