Like most people, it’s rare for me to look at a freshman list and be completely familiar with everyone on there. Saint James was one I was not familiar with but seemed to have a good track record within the culture. I had just recently made a natural connection with him, and I was excited to be able to interview him for Rapzilla and learn more.
The day we FaceTimed, he was in Florida recording an album with a friend. James states that he loves to take time for vacation, especially if he can lump it in with work.
He’s an upbeat spirit and seems pleased to be able to answer a few questions. He begins to speak right away, considering out loud the reason I’m calling him. “All of this is crazy because I just came into the faith like three years ago. So, when Andy Mineo dropped The Arrow, that was my first introduction to Christian Rap. Then that same year, Lecrae dropped All Things Work Together.
At that time I thought it was crazy because I didn’t know there was music like this. I never expected to be on this (freshman) list, but now I’m part of this community. It was probably because of self-doubt, then also to think that I’d ever keep up with these other guys. Thinking about this, it’s a blessing to be noticed at all.”
He’s got one really successful project that according to Spotify has gobs of streams (1.3M as of the writing of this article.) I’m intrigued to hear how he arrived at this place.
“Grace Deluxe dropped this year, but the first iteration of it dropped in October 2018. The deal is, that I dropped another album about six months after that, but I felt like it was rushed. It caused me to rethink some things,” he explained. “I went back to that Grace album and tweaked it over the last two and a half years. Switching up some of the music, changing the order of the story, and making it all sonically fit together, before I finally moved on from that. Because I rushed my early stuff, and there was no strategy behind it, I felt like it never got appreciated.”
James continued, “But since 2018 there’s been a million streams on it. Since a lot of those tracks have been out for a while, the count was a bit deceiving. I hit that mark a week after the deluxe version released.”
I joke that I am relieved to hear that because a million streams in one week is pretty exceptional. Not that his music isn’t dope, just like he said, those optics can be deceiving.
If you listen to his music, there’s a certain tone, a mood to it all that connects to all different people. I think the number of streams reflects that. The style of music is definitely what grabs the listener’s attention, but it’s the content that can keep it.
“It’s important to be vulnerable in your music whether it’s to relate to other Christians or even to reach people outside of that community. Vulnerability is the biggest thing we can do to draw them in. If I never talk about dealing with depression, addiction, doubting God, dealing with everyday struggles, etc. It’s hard for someone to hear what I’m saying and relate to it. It can seem sometimes like we’re perfect. We sometimes can put up this facade, but every day is a different battle. The difference is though that we have God, and that’s what makes life easier.”
James has a mission to what he’s doing with his music, a passion he shares with his collective there in New York.
“The collective is called AO1 which stands for Audience Of One. It was pressed on me to get back to focusing on glorifying God through my music but also going after that one person, that one soul in the crowd. If I’m in a stadium full of a million people, but one person’s heart is pricked, they start to question, and they open their heart up to God. Just one person, that’s enough for me. I can go to bed happy with just that. Our mission is focusing on getting souls for the kingdom whether it’s one or a million.”
James is a very talented musician and producer, producing 23 of the 25 tracks on his project alone, and collaborating with various other artists, he has been surrounded by music his entire life.
“I grew up in church, ” he says. “My mom threw me on the drums at 10-years-old. I’ve been playing music for a while. Both my parents went to college for music. In high school, I was in choirs, in college as well.”
He talks a bit about his day-to-day and points out with every project he’s part of, there’s room to grow.
“I think with (my new music) you will hear some growth, and I think from sonically, to songwriting, everything is gonna be more mature since this last one. I produce and engineer for like 7 to 10 artists at any given time around the clock. With them, I’ve been able to grow as a producer and engineer so I feel like coming to my personal stuff this is a level up.”
Saint James said before he started going back to church and before he got saved he was part of another team. “I was writing songs for Chris Brown & Trey Songz. We were close to finalizing a deal with some major labels, but at the last minute, everything fell through. It was at that moment God started to shift my life. Now I’m in the Christian scene of music.”
Now, it’s his full-time job. “God is good, it’s been a blessing. I went from being a plumber to working retail, to now this. So now that I’m here I feel like I have to stay locked in. Whether it’s independent artists or whatever it is I’m gonna stay pushing. It was a blessing as I grew up to learn about the backside of the music industry from my parents.”
He concluded, “But I really feel like the quicker you can learn to trust God the quicker you can turn your life around. I just started truly doing that when I was 21, and it really changed everything for me. Just trust God, not to sound cliche, but man that’s been it for me.”