Photos by Arturo Lopez, courtesy of Saint Millie
Saint Millie is a rapper from Chicago's West Side with a very modern style. Like many of the third generation nu-Chicago rappers, he does not fit easily into either the drill or poetry-influenced genres that have come to define the city since 2012; instead, his style is a descendent of the Cool Kids' late-00s wave, a cool, stylish, modern approach that is neither gangster nor particularly earnest. Although he's worked with a cross-section of Chicago artists—his manager also works with West Side bop stars Sicko Mobb, and he's affiliated with the Treated Crew, whose membership includes staples like Million Dollar Mano, Mic Terror, and Gzus Piece—he has his own distinct lane.
Saint Millie's first major release, Adderall, dropped last week. It's a murky, melodic rap record from a newcomer, whose only previous release (2015's Glory) now feels like a prelude. The West Side rapper has stepped up his songwriting and enlisted Chicago staples like Million Dollar Mano (The Weeknd's "The Hills"), Paris Beuller, Brenmar, Sicko Mobb, and Michael Rocks (The Cool Kids). Atlanta's predominant production team, 808 Mafia also show up for the strip club-oriented "Freaks." Yet the album has a consistent sound throughout, thanks in large part to Millie's understated sing-song rap style.
A few days after the tape's release party—where Millie rapped along from inside the DJ booth at the back of the Jugrnaut streetwear shop in downtown Chicago—we spoke with the rapper about his background, inspirations, and how he developed his sound.
Noisey: Tell me about how long you've been putting this project together. What was the process like?
Saint Millie: It's taken about a year. I dropped a project, Glory, and I took about a year to re-format, restudy the game, restudy how I do things. I got a chance to work with 808 Mafia when I was in Atlanta. I got a chance to work with Brenmar, who's amazing—we made the "Thinking of You" record. Paris Beuller was one of the craziest sessions I've had, energy-wise. Me and him were on a whole 'nother vibe when we created "Little Bit." The energy level was so high in the room nobody was able to sit down. Everybody was moving around the studio partying and shit. It's definitely been a journey. I wanted to be more melodic this time around. I wanted to focus on having bigger hooks this time around. Having a vibe that like—even if I'm not in the room, the music itself can carry.
What would you say is your favorite song on the project?
My favorite song is probably "Little Bit" or "No Heauxs." "Little Bit" we recorded at Private Stock Studios. It was me, my manager Gwop, and Paris Beuller in the studio. Sicko Mobb had a studio session before that, and something happened where they had to go do something real fast, and I recorded "Little Bit" within that time. They let me work with Paris and it was cool. They had left, and Paris was just flipping through beats. He played some shit, and I just started jumping up and down because I thought it was so crazy. If you ever seen me perform, you know the music can take over. That feeling came in the studio. It was like, "Yo, this shit is crazy"—I'm jumping up and down, he started jumping up and down, and that's how it started.
Tell me about putting together "No Heauxs." I think that was an obvious standout at the listening session.
I got the beat from C-Sick. I worked on a bunch of different stuff, but I didn't really like what I came up with. But I was like, man, this shit is so smooth, I really want Mano to throw a verse on here. So I sent it to Mano, and Mano was like, "Yo, I got a hook and I dropped my verse." I went over and he played it for me, and I was like, "Yo this shit is infectious!" He got the stems from C-Sick, did some co-production on it, I laid my verse. A week later I texted Mano like, "Yo I think we really got something bro." He was like, "I'm gonna send it to Mikey [Rocks, of the Cool Kids] while he's in town and he's gonna come lay his verse at my crib." I was like, damn, Mikey's gonna be on this shit! Mind you I grew up listening to the Cool Kids. Ain't no kid from Chicago that grew up in the MySpace era that didn't know about the Cool Kids. They were everything I represent to this day, being fresh kids that wanted to party and have fun and do their thing.
It was funny, we were talking about how everybody talks about how many hoes they got. Everybody got hoes. And we was like, yo, in all honesty, if you're really out here chasing your dreams and you're really focused on doing your shit, hoes are really a distraction from what you really got going on. Mano, he was in a relationship. Me starting to date more. A girl asks you like, "I know you got all the hoes, you a rapper, you got all the hoes," and I'm like, "naw, I don't have no hoes!" So that's it in a nutshell.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the Austin neighborhood in Oak Park. While in high school I moved to the West Side, on California and Warren. That's how I came up with the name Saint Millie. When I moved to the West Side, I felt like there was so much negative stuff around me, I felt like I had to be the positive influence, with all this negative shit going on. So I started making music.
What music were you into as a kid? What were your parents listening to?
My mom was incarcerated early. I never really got a chance to talk to her about my music interests. My dad was a huge house head. My grandparents listened to gospel. I was going to school with all different types of kids and shit, so I was listening to everything from Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana and Linkin Park to like—my first rap albums were Reasonable Doubt, my cousin used to listen to Scarface. I grew up in a household with my cousin, and he used to listen to hella Scarface, hella 504 Boyz, hella Dipset shit. My first rap album I bought was College Dropout, though. That was my first album that I purchased. Everything else I would just steal from my cousin. He'd be mad as hell [laughs].
I went to Catholic school growing up, when I was really young. We had music class and our teacher was like, "Yo, I want everybody to compose some type of music and bring it in for a project." Everybody was playing the clarinet and shit like that, and my ass wrote a verse. I wrote it to that Boost commercial that Kanye had out at the time ("Whole City Behind Us"). I wrote my verse to that beat. I found the beat on Limewire. My teacher didn't even think I wrote that.
My cousin listened to so much rap music, I thought his ass could teach me how to rap. When I asked him, he was like, "nigga I sell drugs, I don't know how to rap, I can't help you." So I had to craft my own shit, and after that I started getting into poetry, and towards high school I started really getting serious, and then after high school I really got super serious.
When you first started taking it seriously, who were you listening to?
Kanye, Jay Z, DMX had this realness to him. DMX and Eminem, for more of the dark stuff. When I make dark tracks, my influence comes from that. They were so honest in their music that emotionally you could feel it in the song. I listened to a lot of Cam, too. Cam is who I got my style from. Cam was the freshest rapper ever. I wanted to be fresh like Cam. I related more to Kanye. I had troubles in my life, like Eminem, how he talked about his mom and stuff like that, I kind of felt the same way. And I still listen to house to this day, my dad put me on a lot of house music. House is a huge influence.
Saint Millie will be performing at the Adderall release party Friday, May 6 along with DJ Brenmar and Sliink at the Double Door in Chicago.
David Drake is a writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.