On Collection One, rapper-singer Saint Jhn debuts with vulnerability and swagger | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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On Collection One, rapper-singer Saint Jhn debuts with vulnerability and swagger

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For years, Saint Jhn wrote for the likes of Usher, Joey Bada$$, and Jidenna, and even modeled on the side. But he grew tired of being another artist’s voice or a designer’s mannequin; with his debut album, Collection One (Godd Complexx/Hitco), Saint Jhn—who grew up in Guyana and Brooklyn—aims to tell his story for himself. In the vein of rappers/singers such as Tory Lanez, Bryson Tiller, and PnB Rock, he talks about getting with women, the temptations of alcohol, and reaching success, over standard contemporary R&B production: rumbling bass, stuttering hi-hat trap beats, and minimal melodies. Despite his songwriting background, where he shines is in his ability to convey emotional vulnerability with his voice. On “Reflex,” first released as a single in 2016, he complements the airy production by effortlessly softening, wavering, or lightly tapering off his singing; like he suggests, I could practically “Picture me ballin’ / Picture me with the fifth of Henny” over a bed of clouds. And while another rapper might not be able to sell the lines “Tell that bitch I am the man / I been the man since a child,” he delivers these otherwise average lyrics on “Surf Club” with such swagger I let out an audible “Oh damn”—Saint Jhn is letting us know he don’t fuck around. An artist should be musically adept and have a way with words, but most importantly should offer something someone else can’t: a unique persona or perspective. That’s the difference between Usher’s songwriter and Usher. Collection One is too lyrically and sonically vague to indicate whether Saint Jhn is a bona fide artist, but its few glimpses of his nimble delivery and personal charm are promising.   v

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