Leicester sure isn’t a city shy of history. I bet you didn’t know that’s where Blu Tack was invented. Or that the very peculiar practice of extreme ironing – where contestants take their iron and board to extreme locations and well… iron things – comes from there too.
The city is more widely recognised for Leicester City Football Club, or for being the birthplace of the modern standard English Language, or more surprisingly, for being the first city in the UK to have its own local radio station. Over the years, Leicester soil has grown itself a reputation as fertile breeding ground for great artists, including world-beating talents like Mark Morrison and Kasabian. But now the city is ushering through a new wave of stars, all eager to etch their names into history of world music. And one of the city’s most promising starlets is Sainté.
Since the release of his debut single, “Envy Me”, just two years ago, Sainte’s rise to success has been anything but normal. The 21-year-old scored his first viral hit with “Champagne Shots”, a track that pretty much sums him up as an artist. Strikingly confident, hilariously witty and frankly, cooler than everyone else. Spiralling out that came his breakthrough debut EP, Local MVP.
Out of the Blue, Sainté’s follow-up project, injected new, far-reaching dimensions and sonic textures to landscape of UK rap. Spread across seven tracks, he enlisted expert help from Odeal, Tay Iwar, Chi Virgo, Miraa May, A2 and Knucks, to present a truly masterful display, with flashes of powerful storytelling, moments of both vulnerability and braggadocio backed up by flawless production from start-to-finish. We caught up with the rising star to discuss his latest project, his scope of influences, and life before music.
Tell Me what your experience growing up in Leicester was like?
“Oh, it was cool. I mean I’ve always I’ve always loved the city. Obviously it’s not as big and mainstream as a power city obviously, like London, Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham. But there’s pros to living in Leicester that have helped me become the guy I am today like, just how small and intimate the city is. It’s comfy, like you end up making friendships with a lot of people around the city.
“But um obviously I played basketball as well and it was a cool way for me to connect with other people and just to let you know, get a good reputation so I feel like that’s kind of helped me with my music, most people my age in the city that know who I am because we’ve come across each other in sports or music, so I feel like its a cool place to grow up.”
When did you first fall in love with music? What artists first engaged you?
“Um, that that question is difficult. It’s like asking me what my favourite type of food is. I feel the music I listen to is just so all over the place. Ranging from like jazz, hip hop to classical, to R&B, there are some salsa type songs that I like too. So, it’s just a whole salad fruit bowl of different sounds.
“So, I was always around music, but I wasn’t as focused in being involved it was more like a subconscious thing, like I’ll just be hearing it and not deeping it. I’d just focus on sports, but my brother and his friends used to just rap at home. Typical but yeah, I remember hearing them make music. The music made was trash. Garbage. But I guess that made me think ‘Oh, this guy’s strong and he’s older than me, so that must mean age doesn’t matter. I remember writing things down, but never doing anything with it. But from like two years ago, I started rapping and freestyling on the coach when we used to drive to games. Everything else grew out of that, just kept experimenting with it.”
I‘ve been told you’re finishing up university and just recently started making music. What pushed you to pursue rap?
“Um, so I was in second year. Honestly. It started off in my last year at college, I released something but I didn’t do anything after for a while that was really experimental. Then I released “Champagne Shots” in my first year of university. And at the time, it didn’t really do anything. But I wasn’t mad about that ‘cos it was just for fun.
“Then kind of randomly, it just started slowly picking up. I really didn’t expect it to get more than 50,000 views. The next thing I know it’s on 500,000! Then in my second year of uni, I dropped the tape, and that experience was crazy. It picked up so much! But I was at a point where I was playing basketball, still studying and doing music. I had my eggs in loads of places but the eggs in the music basket were hatching. Quite uniquely to the point where I was getting offers double, triple than my student loan. All of a sudden, I could see a future where I can get more than my manager at Nando’s. That still didn’t stop me from working there, I just saw everything as a motivation to go harder.
“But then it became really serious towards the end of my second year, and balancing everything was tough. Nando’s was important to me because I was working to get money for studio time. But then I had to have that conversation with my parents about potentially taking a gap year. My mum was like “NO!”. But my dad was a bit more understanding. Eventually they both understood that I was very driven to be creative. Academically, I’m not really all that, but I tried. But this music thing came a lot more naturally to me.”
So at that point, why were you so hesitant to snatch at the offers? I know what I would’ve done.
“I’d like to believe that I’m somebody that’s very calculated, and responsible. I feel like you should never rush into anything, no matter how bad your situation is. I mean, it’s understandable why some people do, but that’s just me being me. Hearing everything out, seeing it, thinking it through and then making a decision.”
But yeah, there were a lot of label talks, offers and stuff, which was great don’t get me wrong, but at the same time it was scary. But in a way where I was like, okay, the fact that I’m here talking to these people means I’m doing something right. But I don’t feel like I’m content enough yet to put myself in a situation like that, and I feel like I’ve still got so much to show and prove independently.”
But having been at uni, what was the original plan?
“I wanted to be a basketball player. But being in the UK makes it more complicated. I feel like I had got to an age where everything just started to look really unlikely. Just like with football, if you’re not in an academy at 18 your chances are way slimmer. With basketball, if you’re not in Spain, France or America, it’s a bit long as well. Like obviously, the UK leagues are cool but they don’t really get as much praise or credit as the places you really want to be at.
“So yeah, I then started to reconsider my future out I wouldn’t say I was lost, but I was lost. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I was in love with something sport related, but the business side too. I feel that the more I tapped him with the music, the more I realised how much I enjoyed making music.”
Your style is a nice blend of American luxury raps and a signature UK sound. What influences did you pull from for your debut EP, Local MVP?
“So, for Local MVP, I was listening to a lot of artists like Larry June, Curren$y, Cardo, Dom Kennedy. There’s so many people on that side that influences the sound but I wanted to add my own little twist. More than just my accent, I wanted to hear more UK slang or some UK punchlines in there. That was just something I enjoyed. I just love the jazzy instrumentals. The musical sounds that you get from it, it makes me feel good about myself. So I thought why not? Let’s try it.”
It’s safe to say you’re a bit of a wildcard in our landscape. Does that idea frighten you or excite you?
“It’s probably a bit of both, but more excitement. It scares me in a good way, weirdly. Because it’s like I can’t really rest. I’m glad that I’m unique enough to be called a wildcard, but now I have to maintain it. I don’t want to blend in. So yeah, I think it’s a good thing.”
The sonic influence of west coast rap is quite prevalent on the new tape. Why’d you go in that direction?
“That’s the kind of music I listen to. It’s the kind of music I connect with, I just feel like it compliments my personality. Of course I can switch it up and go upbeat, or go a bit more aggressively, but it’s something that just connected with me naturally and organically without me having to force anything. Not that I force anything ever.”
I loved how dynamic the production on the tape was. What was the idea behind that, or were you just having fun?
“We were definitely just having fun, but at the same time, I’ll always keep in mind what I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to tell the audience, and how I want the audience to perceive what I’m thinking. So, when I’m writing songs, I’m always thinking about how they’ll actually receive it. I want them to really know how I felt when I did it. So, I always keep that in mind when I’m thinking about the production, like the dynamic switch ups and stuff. I don’t want people to get too comfortable. I want to keep switching it up, if you don’t, you get boring.”
How would describe your sonic identity?
“I feel like I just have a feel for music. On the inside, I just connect with certain songs and sounds. And I have this thing where I really like build and develop. So, I can’t really pinpoint a sonic identity that I have. I feel more like a football scout with but sounds. I might hear something and really like what somebody’s done with then but then immediately I’m thinking “if I add that and that, how will it turn out?” Like a crazy professor, I want to make my own Frankenstein, but a pretty one.”
In that case, would you say “having a sound” is more restricting than anything else.
“Yeah, and no. It depends on the artist. Every successful artist ever whether it’s painting or poetry or whatever, probably had a style that helps them pop, or a style that relates to them. There’s two ways of looking at it. I understand why it can be frustrating for fans when an artist changes their style, ‘cos I’m a fan too. They don’t understand why they did it. But fans usually forget that some artists want to challenge themselves and try new things, too. Or maybe they want to play it safe and stick to something they’re sure about because at the end of the day the artist has to feel comfortable. It’s a weird one.”
Your self-idea seems to be as sure and strong as anybody’s. Have you always had this steely confidence?
“I’m actually a shy guy. But like obviously when you’re when you’re in a room with people you share similar interests with, of your course you’re going to be a bit more open. But if you put me in a room with a bunch of antisocial people, it might be a bit weird. But I’ve always been a pretty confident guy. But bro, back when I was playing basketball, I used to be so nervous before every game. Every single time. You know that nervous pee you have to do before a game, and if you don’t do it, you’ve convinced yourself that you’ll play bad.
“But yeah, I still get like that before performances and interviews sometimes. Like even today, I was nervous coming here but you’re sick guy and this is a sick conversation we’re having. But to answer your question, my confidence is growing everyday, but I’ve definitely had days when it’s deep down there.”
You’ve also got a really unique and distinct way of attacking your visuals. Why’s that so important to you?
“I mean, it’s music videos, visuals, content that you put out as artists or creative or anything. It plays a big role in and showing who you are and showcasing your talent. And of course, if you’re like me, we want to be unique. That is gonna be one key element to proving yourself as a unique artist or creator. I want to know where you’re compared to a lot of people in the same pool. So, for me it was just like finding what I enjoy and what I want to show, how I want to film things, how I want to present and showcase my style. So I don’t know it’s a weird one too. And I feel like it’s just me, my music is my personality.
“I don’t want to discredit anybody that does this but I try to shy away from you know, getting girls on camera and twerking and stuff. That’s just not the way I want to brand myself. I’m more into fashion, cars… just good vibes man. I do want to tap into some new styles in the future which still revolve around that base. Just want to push some more boundaries man. I look at some of the greats in the game and they do it. You got people like Frank Ocean, Pharrell, A$AP Rocky, Skepta, Sampha, James Blake; there’s so many people. They’re people that are not shy to exit their comfort zone to paint a picture they’ve always wanted to paint.”
How are you settling into London? How have you connected with the music space down here?
“It’s happened organically. I had already released a few bits and a few people had already come across my music. And the thing that’s so interesting is, even though I’m from Leicester, the core base of people that are pushing my music exists in London. I remember when Knucks first hit me up – and I’ve been a Knucks fan from early – and told me “bro, this is COLD!”, I was so shocked. Everything’s happened organically which is sick.”
What is your favourite Sainte song?
“Oh, man. I don’t really listen to my own music you know. But if we’re talking about songs that are out now, I’d probably say Reference or You Never.”
Sainté is clearly one of the most exciting artists at the moment, be sure to keep it locked on GRM for anything Sainté related. If you missed the last instalment of our Under The Radar interview series, be sure to check it out our convo with Finn Foxell right here