SAINt JHN Explains Difference Between Working With Kanye West On “DONDA” Versus His Own Album

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SAINt JHN speaks about his “In Case We Both Die Young” world tour and the unique concert experience he’s creating through it.

Guyanese-American recording artist SAINt JHN is as captivating a speaker as he is a performer. Hearing him unpack some of the core ideas in his music is as magnetic as listening to the live renditions of his songs, which often end with deconstructed a capella versions of popular cuts including “Sucks To Be You” and “Roses,” where SAINt shows off his powerful vocals and leads a chorus of fans to chant along with him.The Gødd Complexx founder is presently on his headlining In Case We Both Die Young tour, for which he recently announced new dates in Europe, Russia, and North America. On November 3, 2021, SAINt stopped by Rebel in Toronto, Canada, and we caught up with the artist following his performance to chat about his recent work with Kanye West on While The World Was Burning and DONDA, wanting to be as good a performer as Beyoncé, and some of the most unique steps he’s taking to ensure a positive fan experience at the tour.


Image provided to HNHH by SAINt JHN’s publicist

A line wrapped for several blocks around the concert venue before twin duo Angel + Dren entertained early-bird fans with a DJ set. As they hyped the crowd up by playing some favorites by Toronto-based artists like Drake and Pressa, they set the stage for Post Malone protégé Tyla Yaweh to rock out with the audience. The certified rager boy was a highlight of SAINt JHN’s stop in Toronto, bringing the hall’s energy to a high as he performed atop his bodyguard’s shoulders in the crowd. He asked fans not to go easy on him, asking them to “fuck [him] up” in various moshpits as he performed his biggest songs, including “Tommy Lee,” “High Right Now,” and “Stuntin’ On You,” as well as his latest single “Hands Up” with Morray.

SAINt JHN took the stage afterward, and it’s clear that he strives to put on an incomparable live show for his fans, heading out every night with the intention of organizing an unforgettable experience. With a custom motorcycle installed on the stage and a sideways cross on the other side (which SAINt uses as a platform to perform for his fans on the VIP balcony), the artist also communicated a “no professional photographer” policy prior to the show, and his reasoning showcases how important it is for SAINt to have his art consumed as it was designed.

“The thousands of people that are showing up when I say I’m going to be in a city and I’m going to perform the songs that they love, I want it to be from their lens and my lens. Not anybody else who’s dictating it,” said SAINt about his tour photography. On the In Case We Both Die Young tour, members of his team have been handing out iPhones to fans, asking them to capture photos and videos of the performance instead of hiring professional photographers. “I want you to see it the way you live. So I wanted to take it out of the hands of the people that control the things that we see and put it in the hands of the people that control the things that we use,” explained the artist.

 

As he unwinds following his performance in the green room, SAINt JHN radiates confidence, despite being exhausted from a full day of press assignments, a sold-out performance, meet-and-greets with dozens of fans directly following the show, and to cap it all off, our interview.

Read the unabridged editorial copy below of our exclusive interview with SAINt JHN, where he speaks about his work with Kanye West, updating older songs for WTWWB, and much more. Buy tickets to his stunning In Case We Both Die Young world tour here.


HNHH: Congratulations on the world tour announcement! Tonight, you touched down in Toronto, Canada. What’s your favorite thing about the city so far?

SAINt JHN: I don’t know, let’s just say food, let’s say food. Let’s keep it real PG.

What are you gonna remember from this specific show?

Well, it depends on what my guys tell me when we get back to the bus. I had a show, everybody who came with me had their own show. We’ll review the show together later. But tonight was really remarkable. I thought it was my second time in Toronto, but apparently, it was my third. So maybe the first time was a bust, and the second time I remembered, and the third time became the second time. I had a really good time though, especially being a sold-out venue and watching it grow year after year. I think the venue was three times smaller [last time].

And like you said, the next time is gonna be even bigger.

It’s gonna be even bigger, where we’re going is better than we been for sure.

How have things been different since the pandemic, performance-wise?

I don’t know how to answer that. I’m at the beginning of my tour. And I’m working through things that I haven’t worked through before for the first time. Difference with me or difference in the world?

With you, specifically.

With me specifically, I’m more attentive to detail. I’m a Virgo, So I’ve always been attentive to detail, but I’ve learned things that I didn’t know during the pandemic. Just personal deliveries and personal eloquences, things that I want to display. And I’m really serious about them. So my shows this time around, they have that, ‘I want to be better than Beyonce‘ sentiment. Don’t misquote me… I’m saying my shows have that sentiment because I want to be that good so I have that degree of impassioned vulnerability, I want to keep going and I want to make it great.

For the rest of the tour, you don’t have any professional photographers capturing the performances. Instead, you’re handing out cell phones to your superfans to take pictures and videos. What was your reasoning behind that?

Well, when I look back and I want to think of my memories and the things we did while we had the planet in a headlock, I want it to be for our vision. When I say us, I’m talking about me and the people that believe in the things that I believe in. The people that are willing to stand behind our art are the people that are brave enough to follow their dreams. The people that are showing up, the thousands of people that are showing up when I say I’m going to be in a city and I’m going to perform the songs that they love. I want it to be from their lens and my lens. Not anybody else who’s dictating it. I don’t want it to be from a television producer with a DSLR with a heightened sense of self and more self-worth than the audience that they’re serving. I just want it to be from the kids with the phones who are talking and consuming the environment, and they got their favorite apps on their phones. I want you to see it the way you live. So I wanted to take it out of the hands of the people that control the things that we see and put it in the hands of the people that control the things that we use.


Image provided to HNHH by SAINt JHN’s publicist

I love that. Tyla Yaweh is opening up for you on this tour. What made him the perfect choice for you?

Tyla’s family and his energy is incredible. Tyla’s a rager boy for sure, and he’s been like that from the jump, his energy is unbeatable, so to have anybody set the crowd up, build up the expectation and line them up for whatever is about to come, I think he’s the most suited person for the show.

With the announcement of your world tour also came the release of the promotional song “In Case We Both Die Young.” What can you say about the record?

I wouldn’t say anything. I was just letting you know I got a tour coming. My delivery system for how I release music and how I communicate with the audience that’s listening is a strange and deliberate and a micromanaged one. I do it myself. That’s me on the back of a tour bus in the middle of the night uploading a song that I talked to nobody about, with the video that we made, that I didn’t talk to anyone else about, on an iPhone. I like the peer-to-peer usability. I like that. I want to remember my life like a direct message. It was just me, it was just you, we were just talking about something that we all cared about. That’s how I’m going to think of it.

At the end of last year, you started working a lot with Kanye West. On DONDA, you have a writing credit on “Lord I Need You”. Ye also has some feature credits on your album as well. What was the difference like, working on his project and working on yours?

Oh, man, I feel like it might have been the same. He did what the fuck he wanted and I did what the fuck I wanted. And because I did whatever the fuck I wanted, I really really respected his approach. For DONDA, when we did the song, I was initially on the song doing a lot of the vocals, and when I heard this song, I heard the song when it came out just like everybody else. I had no heads up [that my vocals were removed]. And it’s his record. It’s his vision. It’s his directorial display from his curation. And on my collection, it’s my record, my vision, my directorial display. On “Pray 4 Me” on my collection, on While The World Was Burning, it was a completely different beat than he and Rick Rubin did. And I completely changed it. That’s not the direction I wanted for my project.

“For DONDA, when we did the song, I was initially on the song doing a lot of the vocals, and when I heard this song, I heard the song when it came out just like everybody else. I had no heads up [that my vocals were removed]. And it’s his record. It’s his vision. It’s his directorial display from his curation.”

You changed a Rick Rubin beat?

Look it’s my art, my canvas. I’m painting the way I want the world to see it. So if I don’t have the latitude to do that, who the fuck should. So the difference, Kanye got to be Kanye, SAINt JHN got to be SAINt JHN and it was cool.

[Me and Ye], we can say we got a couple of records together. That’s crazy. It’s just real life and I’m just doing it but when you say it, I don’t think of it until I hear it back like, he really got some records on my collection. That’s Kanye West. Man, it’s probably… I’mma really think about this when I get back to the bus. I’m a little too excited right now. This show is killing me.

On WTWWB, you include updated versions of popular songs including “Monica Lewinsky” and “High School Reunion.” What was the reasoning for updating those songs with new features and new ideas?

I think it’s not always an easy task to re-imagine something that you’ve already painted. And I think the imagination is broad enough that if you could re-imagine without bastardizing, then you might be better than you think you are. It’s me against me, it’s one on one and the world is watching, no matter what sport you see me playing. So when I re-approached “Roses” production-wise, or I re-approach “Monica Lewinsky” vocally and lyrically and flow-wise, and I re-approach “High School Reunion” production, flow, lyrics-wise. If I can re-imagine it, I’m really just testing myself, it’s really just me versus me. And I’m doing that for the public to see in ways that most artists wouldn’t even allow. I could just take a remix and put somebody else on it. But to re-approach it myself means that I still have the same excitement for it. And I see other possibilities, and I want to do that. Some people got that message and some people didn’t but all in all, all the people that heard it thought it was really good.

You just announced your world tour, which will keep you busy for a few months. What’s the plan for after that though? Is there a new collection coming next year?

I don’t want to make false promises about time because one thing I learned from the pandemic is time is something you surrender to, not something you can necessarily control. You navigate it, you serve it, you don’t fucking try to dictate where it goes. So if we don’t die young, we have a collection. Not saying this year, I’m not saying what year, I’m saying we gonna have a collection and even in case we do die young, we gon’ have a fucking collection because the world needs to hear my art.

I love it. Anything else I didn’t touch on that you want to talk about before we close out?

A lot of things, but it’s one o’clock in the morning.

For real. I appreciate you for taking the time, enjoy the rest of the tour, and get some rest!


Image provided to HNHH by SAINt JHN’s publicist

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