Something’s in the water over in Brockton, Massachusetts. Twenty-year-old Saint Lyor is but one of a crop of talented artists bending the confines of sound to their will. Earlier this year, we spoke with Luke Bar$ about rap and healing. In the spirit of family, Luke appears on “LESS FRIENDS MORE BANDZ,” a standout track on Saint Lyor’s debut, IF MY SINS COULD TALK. Together, Lyor and Luke demolish a tricky beat with their piercing vocals. When not assisted by friends, too, Saint Lyor sounds colossal. On early sleeper hit “GOSSIP,” Lyor barrels forward, his momentum on the mic undeniable. The way Saint Lyor raps, you would think he is trying to melt metal with his voice. He spits with a burning ferocity.
“Everything started [at] like 12 years old,” Lyor tells me over the phone. “My sister is the first person who introduced me to music. The first artists she introduced me to were The Fugees; I fell in love with Lauryn Hill. She was my gateway into the music world, into other artists, and falling in love with hip-hop music.”
The music Saint Lyor makes privileges catharsis and release of energy. Growing up in a Nigerian household, Lyor explains he did not have the option to express himself emotionally. Now, when he gets in the booth, it’s all about unwinding and being himself.
“It’s hard navigating this place with an immigrant parent,” Lyor says, “because they’re telling you: ‘We came to America to find a better life.’”
Following in the footsteps of The Fugees, while also pulling in influence from Lil Uzi Vert, we get a song like “THIS IS NOT AN IMAGE,” which features immensely important messaging on not chasing clout over a bed of satirical punchlines and a thumping delivery. A touch less bombastic than the rest of SINS, when Lyor raps, “I know my mind my greatest weapon,” we see the trick of the song come to life. Beneath the fun Lyor injects into his music, there is great depth and homage to his hip-hop predecessors.
“That song is one of my favorite songs,” Lyor says of “THIS IS NOT AN IMAGE.” “It’s one of the most important records on the project. It’s not an image; that’s my take on the creative landscape. We so focused on images. Instagram got us so caught up in images and trying to be this idea we have in our head. We’re so much more that. You’re not an image; you’re a story. You’re constantly changing. You’re evolving. Why would you wanna be a picture?”
There is so much emotion behind Saint Lyor’s work. Too, his perspective on navigating the music industry as a Black man, securing ownership, and thinking on contributing to a culture built on the backs of Black folx always deserving of their due, is refreshing and endearing. Saint Lyor exudes surprising wisdom and an unparalleled methodical nature over the phone. He is a calculated artist with the world ahead of him. It’s a matter of when—not if—for Saint Lyor.
My full conversation with Saint Lyor, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did music first come into your life?
Saint Lyor: Everything started [at] like 12 years old. My sister is the first person who introduced me to music. The first artists she introduced me to were The Fugees; I fell in love with Lauryn Hill. She was my gateway into the music world, into other artists, and falling in love with hip-hop music. I was kinda an old head back then: Tupac, JAY-Z, Tribe, OutKast, Mos Def. I was going back in time to see the dope shit made in the past. Through [sharing music with my friends], it was like, “We can make our own music!” We played around on FL Studio, recording at home, and sharing songs. Gradually it was, “Maybe I could really do this? I got some shit to say.” I started releasing songs and putting out music as an artist and figuring out my sound.
I love that, because I have a special edition The Score vinyl.
That’s one of my favorite albums, ever. That’s the first album I fell in love with. I still pull a lot of inspiration from that album to this day. It’s just the way it happened because I’m an Internet kid. I grew up on the Internet. I’m one of those kids that just researched everything—if I see something cool, I’m going to research everything I can know about it. I was super curious at that age.
I read you’re pursuing a degree from Bentley University, can you tell me about that?
I pull inspiration from a lot of people. I look at someone like Issa Rae, Childish Gambino; these are both artists that went to school. They’re normal people—just like me—with great ideas. They educated themselves. Now they’re killing it. I feel like I’m the same as them. I’m studying marketing, and it’s bigger than that, it’s business. Historically speaking, Black people in the entertainment industry, we’re not as educated as we could be on the business side of things. For me to be going to business school, it’s crazy. I’m super prepared, and I’m very educated. The school I go to, we have a great education program. As an artist, navigating white spaces, it be pressure, it be kind stressful, but the reward beats the temporary stress I might receive. I know what I’m walking into for the rest of my career.
You’re from Brockton, MA. What’s your music scene like? We love Luke Bar$, for example.
There’s a huge immigrant population in Brockton, so you find yourself meeting a lot of first-generation immigrant people. It’s hard navigating this place with an immigrant parent because they’re telling you: “We came to America to find a better life.” Sometimes it can be a little too much, so you find yourself meeting a lot of these kids just looking for a release from their home life. The responsibilities that their parents are putting on them to succeed can be burdensome. All my friends are Haitian, I’m Nigerian, and we all make music. Music is that release for us, from those pressures. It’s a community here where people make dope stuff. We support each other; we all want each other to win. Outside of Brockton, nobody knows Brockton. It’s a lot of talent here because there’s kids who figured it out. We’re students of the game, still learning every day. It’s just about getting the right platform and the backing.
Being a child of immigrants, do you feel the weight of trying to balance parental expectations with your dreams?
I’m Nigerian, and I’m so proud to be Nigerian. We have a way of doing things. Our culture is big on education, success, and status. My mom instilled that in me at a very young age. Just like you were saying, I find myself fighting myself. You wanna do what makes you happy, but you don’t wanna upset their family or let them down, or disappoint them. If you’re just an immigrant, coming to America, it can be rocky. My mom attributes success to going to school, graduating, getting a good job. Rapping is out of the picture. “That’s not what we do.” For me to be thinking or acting like an artist, going on stage and rapping, she never imagined her son would be doing that. It’s really, on my part, brave and very rebellious doing that. She’s coming around, and I think she understands the benefits of being a musician.
Let’s dig into your debut EP IF MY SINS COULD TALK. What inspired the title?
I came up with the title after I made the project. “What am I talking about?” All the songs pointed to vices, sins, and evil thoughts. I felt like [the title] was appropriate considering the subject of the songs. This is my debut EP, so I wanted to make a statement and get people into my perspective when I make music. All my self-destructive desires, my definition of success, what I’m willing to do to get there.
Across this EP, you rap with undeniable ferocity. Where does that hunger come from?
It’s just an energy thing. It relates to being in a Nigerian household and the things I’ve learned being raised in that household. Emotions are not shown, because that would be shut down. You have to keep your composure, even when you’re mad. When I got into the booth, it’s a release. I’m letting that all out. I feel like, one of my influences [Lil Uzi Vert], I pull a lot of influence from him, because I’m having a lot of fun when I make these songs. I want you to hear that when I play the record.
I love the message, “THIS IS NOT AN IMAGE.” How important is it for you to be yourself in your music?
That song is one of my favorite songs. It’s one of the most important records on the project. It’s not an image; that’s my take on the creative landscape. We so focused on images. Instagram got us so caught up in images and trying to be this idea we have in our head. We’re so much more that. You’re not an image; you’re a story. You’re constantly changing. You’re evolving. Why would you wanna be a picture?
You spend a lot of time on SINS talking about not caring for clout. Career-wise, what do you care for?
It’s crazy you’re asking me this, ‘cause I had a conversation with Luke [Bar$] yesterday about this stuff. I’m contributing to something bigger than me, especially as a Black creative. We’re [pursuing] ownership, and equity, in this industry. I’m really passionate about Black people and what we create. As an artist, I’m supposed to tell our stories. It doesn’t matter what medium I choose.
On a bigger scale, not even just Black people, on a human level… We are stepping into a new world. When you look at [COVID-19], when things go back to normal, it’s gonna be a different world we’re stepping into. Even now, the anxiety amongst people is so high right now. We’re gonna feel that. We need to have artists telling—reminding—people we are humans at the end of the day. We should be nice; we should be compassionate; we should not empower fear. That needs to be shown and given a platform. If we don’t, it can be very damaging.