The Leicester rapper talks clout killing creativity, going bar for bar with Potter Payper and all things Still Local, his debut mixtape.

On its surface, Still Local, the debut mixtape from Sainté, grapples with the robust aspirationalism that’s defined his success so far. Hailing from Leicester, the rapidly rising rapper’s hometown is far removed from the hustle and bustle of east London, where he now resides, but his most fleshed-out work to date defiantly reminds us of where he came from. Pitched up in a black Benz outside a suburban estate, the mixtape’s cover art – shot by infamous grime documentarian Simon Wheatley – sees him surrounded by friends and family riding high with the rap vanguard and his obsessively streamed back-catalogue.  


“If you grow up with your friends, and then you start making money, who are you gonna do all this crazy stuff with?” He ponders at the beginning of our phone call. “I always find it weird when people cut their friends off to spend time flexing with strangers.”


The line of thinking is typical of Still Local, as Sainté keeps one eye on his opulent manifestations while the other glares fondly at his humble beginnings. He treads a tightrope that teeters between vulnerability and braggadocio: an evolution of his diaristic storytelling that opens us up to the familiar obstacles that come when an artist starts to break into the mainstream. 

Sainté and I meet via Zoom a week before his debut mixtape is released. Taking time away from the rollout, he sits on the sofa oozing all the swagger of someone confident in their art and ability. He speaks in an exuberant but considered tone akin to the buzzy instrumentals that marshal his caviar-like lyricism, which grow in delectability with every release that passes him by. A few days ago, he was basking in the Spanish sun, filming a hazy, Mediterranean video for ‘Y2K’ and the warm weather has melted any nerves into an appreciation for where his record has taken him artistically.  


‘Y2K’ is certainly a highlight. Analysing his lifestyle and the emotional consequences that come with chasing your dreams, the wordsmith sings a syrupy hook, dissecting the dichotomy of wanting to love but having no time to. Wearing a white vest, with a yellow flannel shirt strewn over one shoulder, he relays the pros and cons of relationships to me before hyper-fixating on his long-term vision. “I can’t get distracted when the stakes are so high. I’m really trying to do something bigger and I can’t stop that for lust. Love and all that sounds cool,” he pauses. “It’s sweet. But sometimes it’s not the time to love”.


Romantic musings aren’t a new phenomenon in R&B-inspired rap, but there’s clearly an appetite for experimentation on Still Local. Spectral melodies, rumbling 808s and his bottle-popping flows skip across the tracks, but the impressive feature list brings out a whole new side to Sainté. Single-in-waiting ‘Safe’ utilises a warped amapiano instrumental courtesy of Lil Silva, who sets the scene of a sandy evening rave in the heart of Johannesburg alongside the rapper’s dusty rasp and summery love themes. It’s a new bag that he’s evidently comfortable in, and his chameleonic qualities sprinkle the stardust needed on a collaboration with an avant-garde producer like Lil Silva.  

Sainté’s undeniably elegant discography is an attractive prospect for the UK’s hottest hip-hop stars. Having collaborated with Loyle Carner and Knucks, he welcomed a message from Potter Payper while recording Still Local on an Oxfordshire farm. Going toe-to-toe with someone as skilled as the Gascoigne Estate graduate didn’t faze him, but he knew his pen game would have to be perfect. “To hear that Potter is messing with your bars really means something. When I got the message, I thought, ‘This is so sick but what would a Sainté and Potter song sound like?’” The answer, like a soundtrack to a cyberspace drag race. Their flows are delivered with the impetus of two cars speeding down a neon-stripped runway, leaving riders in their wake as the cybernetic production wisps in and out of focus.  


Although the bulk of Still Local’s story is owned in Leicester, the record has a global conscience. Historically, UK rappers struggle to impact overseas markets; it’s only now that we’re starting to see superstars like Central Cee and Dave included in conversations with our American counterparts. Alongside Cash Cobain, who Sainté collaborated with on the flirtatious single ‘Air4’, Chow Lee is part of a new wave of NY rappers pioneering a sample-heavy subgenre called sexy drill. Bed-hopping tales of sensual obsession are relayed with enough vulgarity and vividness to make any new listeners squirm, but the scene is one of the fastest rising from the Bronx.  


Chow offers up his sweet singing voice on ‘Fancy’, honeying the track like how Hennessy sugars coke with its oaky textures and regal aromas. Sainté reacts to the promiscuity with a verse that empowers his friends and flirts with unhinged materialistic hedonism. Before messaging his brothers across the pond, he tells me: “I needed to hold my own and prove that I’m a hard artist,” puffing out his chest and reminding himself of his worth. “I messaged Chow as a fan and bro was cool, so we became friends and then I sent him the track. Ideally, everyone that I work with I catch a vibe from beforehand, then we know it’s real.”

Although he’s had them, chasing viral moments has never been of concern for Sainté. Social media success is hard to manufacture, and ultimately, it’s never down to the artist and rather up to the people viewing their content as to what trends and what doesn’t. One of Still Local’s most provocative lines comes on ‘Alone’, where he announces: “Underground rappers don’t make music speaking their mind”. Having broken into more mainstream territory over the last couple of years, he finds it hard to comprehend people’s obsession with creating viral moments that don’t correlate to their personality or any form of longevity. He thinks that clout is killing creativity. 


“People are always trying to blow without thinking about how they feel. Bro, how do you really feel?”, he questions. “That’s really important to me. As much as I talk about flexing, there’s always truth to it. I get that there are pressures to compete with others and exterior factors, like it not being cool to be upset, blah blah blah. But I just think, fuck it. People want to know how you feel”.


Sainté’s name is lucky enough to hold a hefty load of cultural currency, meaning he doesn’t have to create an artificial personality to engage a community of over three million monthly Spotify listeners. Rewind to 2020, and while the world was still getting to grips with a devastating pandemic, he was wagging the tongues of UK rap fans with his exquisite witticisms. Local MVP, his debut EP which has racked up well over 200 million plays, sounds like someone shaking wads of cash from a Gucci duffle bag. Wordplay sparkles off his gold cap grin and iced-out chains, as he doubles up on stylish metaphors that hold the wealthy glamour of marbled floors, diamond chandeliers and crushed velvet sofas.  

Such refined taste was always going to wake up the fashion world. While still working at his local Nando’s, he received a co-sign from the late, great Virgil Abloh, who used ‘Hunnids’ in a Louis Vuitton marketing campaign. “The grinds on I’m just tryna get the bands in / we stand out cah you know we can’t stand in,” he remarks in understated monotones, as chromatic monogram trench coats, backpacks and snapbacks walk across Parisian pavements. The video presented a redefined bourgeoisie class that spoke to a new generation of aspirationalists and Sainté’s Rolly Royce raps proved the perfect anecdote.  


Like a magpie surveying the trinket trays on the windowsills of our rich and wealthy, Sainté has always had an eye on the finer things in life. Not having them at a young age spurred him on to go harder and gave him the drive to succeed in whatever line of work he landed. “Sometimes all it takes is for someone to flex something the wrong way,” he laughs, remembering when he couldn’t afford his drip. 


These times, music wasn’t even on Sainté’s radar. With dreams of becoming an NBA basketballer while at Loughborough University, the aspiring sportsman traded his athletic ambition for creative flare when Covid came along. “Music and basketball were always connected. Even though I didn’t know I was gonna make music, I loved music through basketball,” he says. “On our way to away games, we’d freestyle on the bus: strictly for fun, with no seriousness whatsoever. But then people started saying, ‘You’re actually hard.’”

Local MVP was meant to be the last batch of songs he released, as like any underground rapper, he struggled to actualise his lofty intentions. The rest is history. But maybe a part of his subconscious was telling him that music was his deeper calling. Growing up, his mum played gospel and jazz on long car journeys, before his brother grabbed the aux and introduced him to hip-hop. Bluetooth music exchanges followed, informing Sainté’s love of grime and millennial rap, while Guitar Hero opened him to rock and an appreciation for pop came from his sister. Music was all around him, he just didn’t realise how impactful it would be later on in life. 


“I’m that same old bruddah with the steeze,” Sainté states on the opening line of many of his hits. It’s a mantra he’s keen to emphasise throughout our conversation but with a sold-out European tour forthcoming, prominent festival slots over the summer and merch drops that sell out almost instantly, how long will the likely lad from Leicester be able to keep up such a down-to-earth demeanour? “Money changes everyone. If that person is driving a Ferrari, they’ve changed,” he acknowledges. I don’t release music like I’m being held at gunpoint, trying to blow. I’m trying to find something in my deeper self. I don’t want to be an artist that people remember for just getting lit.” Sainté won’t be changing himself for anyone anytime soon.

Listen to Still Local now


Related Articles

Undiscovered: Cristale, Teezo Touchdown, bb & Sainté

Undiscovered is a weekly playlist sharing our pick of the best new music from the world's most exciting emerging musicians. You heard it here first.

N91: Sainté

Way past releasing music for fun, Sainté stepped into this year with purpose and a new seven-track EP.

Notion Now: Supershy, Loyle Carner & Poppy Ajudha

In Notion Now Week 33, new tracks from the likes of Supershy (Tom Misch), Loyle Carner, Poppy Ajudha, Sainté, and more.