Four Years And One Remix Later, SAINt JHN’s “Roses” Is A Global Smash
For months it’s been approaching from afar, like some dot on the horizon growing larger as it comes careening into focus. Remixed into an electronic party track by a Kazakh DJ named Imanbek, “Roses,” a 2016 track from Brooklyn rapper SAINt JHN, was barreling out of obscurity and into the spotlight. First it began climbing the Spotify charts. About three months ago, around the time the world went on lockdown, it cracked Billboard’s Hot 100. Then, last week, the song climbed all the way to the top 10, nearly four years after its release. This week it’s up to a new #7 peak. In countries including the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands, it has already gone all the way to #1.
When SAINt JHN released “Roses,” Barack Obama was still president. Colin Kaepernick, gainfully employed by the San Francisco 49ers, had not yet started kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games. Frank Ocean fans were still waiting on his follow-up to Channel Orange. Neither Moonlight nor La La Land had yet premiered, and the Oscars snafu involving those films was still six months off. “Roses” is a transmission from a different world. And in its original form, it’s quite different from the remix that turned it into a smash.
Carlos St. John split his childhood between Brooklyn and Guyana. A decade ago, when he was still recording under his birth name, he invented a fake PR firm to gain attention for his music and establish a foothold in the industry. This led to a failed stint in LA penning songs for Rihanna, which in turn led to gigs writing for acts like Hoodie Allen, Kiesza, Gorgon City, and Nico & Vinz around the time they were bubbling into the mainstream. By 2016 he landed a couple writing credits on Usher’s underrated Hard II Love, including the exquisite “Crash.” Around the same time, he rebranded as SAINt JHN.
“Roses” was one of his first singles under the SAINt JHN name. It first emerged as a slow-creeping dancehall-rap ballad; over an ominous foundation of drawn-out synthetic bass notes, SAINt JHN howled, “Turn up baby, turn up, when I turn it on/ You know how I get too lit when I turn it on.” It sounded like mournful party music. SAINt JHN wrote the song with his close collaborator Lee Stashenko, a DJ/producer known as Fallen who also worked on the Usher song and several tracks from Summer Walker’s debut. They kept working in this mold for a while and, in 2018, self-released his debut album Collection One.
SAINt JHN stayed on his grind, and about a year ago, it started to pay off big time. Last July, “Brown Skin Girl,” his collaboration with Beyoncé, Wizkid, and Blue Ivy, was one of the only tracks from Bey’s The Lion King: The Gift to make a dent in the public consciousness. In August, L.A. Reid’s revived Hitco label released SAINt JHN’s second album, Ghetto Lenny’s Love Songs, featuring collabs with major stars Lil Baby, Meek Mill, and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. (Also Lenny Kravitz, but Ghetto Lenny does not refer to him; it’s one of SAINt JHN’s aliases.) Somewhere along the line, he signed to Roc-a-Fella Records co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke’s management company. After such breakthroughs, a dance remix would normally be an afterthought. Instead, when Imanbek dropped his “Roses” remix in September, it turned out to be the most pivotal event of SAINt JHN’s quietly huge 2019.
According to a recent Billboard feature, the original “Roses” had slowly been building steam in Eastern and Central Europe, such that SAINt JHN could play a sold-out show in Moscow last August around the time his album dropped. Backstage at that show, Imanbek played him the remix. The transformation was jarring: Imanbek had sped up the tempo significantly, pitched SAINt JHN’s voice up to an androgynous chirp, and undergirded the track with an electro-house keyboard pulse. That mournful quality was gone, replaced by a carefree, club-ready vibe.
“I didn’t know that it was going to be the biggest song in the world,” SAINt JHN told Billboard regarding his first listen to the remix. “I thought [the original] “Roses” was the biggest song in the world in 2015. I still believe that. I didn’t know this was the mechanism or catalyst for this to be exactly what I thought it was going to be.” It’s certainly a different flavor than what SAINt JHN usually serves up, but it’s the one that caught on at TikTok, the teen-infested social network that has become pop’s surest breeding ground for hits. As of Billboard’s story early last month, the “Roses” remix had already appeared in 2.7 million TikTok videos, including several by the platform’s superstar poster girl Charli D’Amelio. Suddenly lots of new listeners have become familiar with SAINt JHN, but he wonders how many people that discover him via the remix will appreciate his usual sound.
He is right to be skeptical. “Roses” isn’t the first old song to become a hit years later thanks to a remix. Jamaican pop singer OMI hit #1 with “Cheerleader” back in 2015, three years after its initial release, thanks to a remix by German DJ Felix Jaehn. It came and went, and OMI has never enjoyed a moment of mainstream success since. (Notably, he just launched what he hopes is a comeback single last week. We’ll see.) One thing SAINt JHN has working in his favor, though, is a new remix that adds a verse from Future to the original “Roses” track. Plus OMI didn’t have the support of powerful industry figures like Reid and Burke. Given all this plus the hustle SAINt JHN has already exhibited, maybe he’ll avoid the fate of disappearing back into the horizon, never to be seen again.
DaBaby and Roddy Ricch’s “Rockstar” spends a second straight week atop Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart this week. The next three spots remain steady as well: Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s “Savage,” the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” and Doja Cat’s “Say So,” all of them former #1s as well. Justin Bieber and Quavo’s “Intentions” jumps to a new #5 peak, up from its previous high point of #8. According to Billboard it’s Bieber’s 16th single to hit the top five and Quavo’s third, all of them alongside Bieber. (The last two were the DJ Khaled posse cuts “I’m The One” and “No Brainer.”) The rest of the top 10: Drake’s “Toosie Slide,” SAINt JHN’s aforementioned “Roses” at a new #7 peak, Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” Roddy Ricch’s deathless “The Box,” and Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain On Me.”
It’s an extremely boring week on the Billboard 200 albums chart. No new titles debuted within the top 40, so the top 10 entirely comprises releases that have been lingering near the top of the chart. Lil Baby’s My Turn, the biggest rap album of 2020 so far, returns to #1 with 65,000 equivalent album units. As Billboard points out, that’s the smallest total for a #1 album since a year ago, when Billie Eilish’s debut spent its third frame on top in another down week for new albums. The rest of this week’s top 10 comprises Lady Gaga, Gunna, Future, Drake, DaBaby, Polo G, Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, and the Weeknd.
6ix9ine – “Trollz” (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
There are a lot of fair critiques to throw at Tekashi 6ix9ine, but I have to hand it to him: Few artists have carved out such a vivid and unmistakable visual presence. On a side note, how bizarre will it be if, after a decade-plus hunting for her first #1, Nicki Minaj tops the chart by first teaming with Doja Cat and then this guy?
Tyla Yaweh – “Tommy Lee” (Feat. Post Malone)
As you can see from the “Tommy Lee” video, Post Malone’s influence on Tyla Yaweh extends beyond music to visual presentation. It does not get much more Post Malone than four-wheelers and limos in the mountains. As for the song itself, although Yaweh proves adept within Posty’s native soft-rock trap music environment, when those Auto-Tuned yodel-trills come rolling in it’s a reminder that Post Malone songs succeed largely on the strength of singing chops that are not so easily replicated. The value of his distinctive vocal presence cannot be understated.
Ozuna – “Caramelo”
Sounds like summer.
Maren Morris – “Just For Now” & “Takes Two”
These were clearly left off GIRL for a reason, but they’ll play like comfort food for anyone who enjoys Maren Morris — and given her current crossover foothold with “The Bones,” I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them pops off. (Hopefully GIRL highlight and current promo focus “To Hell & Back” is the one that hits big, though.)
Luke Bryan – “Build Me A Daddy”
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Iggy Azalea confirmed she and boyfriend Playboi Carti welcomed a baby boy. [EW]
- Billie Eilish spoke out against the Atlanta police who killed Rayshard Brooks during a sobriety test at a Wendy’s drive-through: “Watching this video made me so fucking angry. FUCK THIS SHIT. JUSTICE FOR RAYSHARD BROOKS.” [Instagram]
- Dixie Chicks have announced a new 7/17 release date for their comeback album Gaslighter. [ABC]
- Lizzo clapped back at fat shamers with an exercise video on TikTok: “So, next time you wanna come to somebody and judge them for whether they drink kale smoothies or eat McDonald’s or workout or not workout, how ‘bout you look at your own fucking self and worry about your own goddamn body?” [TikTok]
- Selena Gomez turned her Instagram Stories over to Killer Mike to share lessons on organizing and activating. [Instagram]
- DaBaby released a “BLM” remix of his #1 song “Rockstar,” with new lyrics that reference burning cop cars and the rapper’s experiences with police abusing their power. [Spotify]
- In their late night TV debut, BENEE and Gus Dapperton did their Top 40 hit “Supalonely” from home on Fallon. [YouTube]
- A Danish music producer claims he wrote the guitar hook to Travis Scott’s “Highest In The Room.” [TMZ]
- J Balvin released an animated video for “Azul.” [YouTube]
- Jason Derulo ate 20 burgers in 2 hours on TikTok, and challenged the Rock to a July 4th hot dog eating contest. [TMZ]