Photo Credit: Krisana Sotelo
Carlos St. John Phillips is recovering from a severe case of anonymous success. A decade into a career that was not without its own successes, he was launched into the stratosphere with a billion-plus streaming TikTok remix of his single “Roses”. He was everywhere at once while existing nowhere; few knew his name, and fewer still knew anything about the man behind the stylized moniker SAINT JHn.
While The World Was Burning serves as his third studio album and is received as a bid for more credibility as an album artist. To promote himself in the past, he created a fake agency called Taylor Foor PR. Now, his PR was out of his hands, apportioned by an algorithm that isn’t liking what he’s giving it. “Roses” was originally shopped around to songwriting teams for Beyoncé and Rihanna, among others. SAINt JHN had his own version mastered when nobody took the bait, and the song attained relative success before its remixes went viral. Now, he’s attempting to catch up to himself.
The album pulls superstar features including Kehlani, Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Da Baby, and Kanye West, and fumbles nearly all of them. West’s inaudible annunciations are Playboi Carti-lite, nearly desperate for relevance and threatened by the relatively non-threatening presence of SAINt JHN on the mic. Da Baby stays calm and collected as always, but he can’t save “Monica Lewinksy, Election Year” from sounding slightly generic.
Lil Uzi Vert shows up to more entertaining success when hopping on “High School Reunion, Prom.” The two artists’ energies meld much more naturally and create an atmosphere to get lost in as you sympathize with SAINt JHN for being played. His lyrics throughout While The World Was Burning are never as inventive, radical, or reflexive as the peers he tries most to emulate. Future appearing on a track was inevitable, but his presence only tarnishes SAINt JHN’s allure by casting him as a replica.
The album is heavily anchored by its airy production that still feels brash, even brassy (“Quarantine Wifey”, featuring an energetic verse from Dreamville artist JID). Most songs retain the same level of chill-playlist vibes, no doubt contributing to his long game plan to build hype for other songs besides just “Roses.” With live music still sputtering, time will only tell whether SAINt JHN retains enough attention to emerge from quarantine victorious, new fan base in tow.