Pride Profile: J. Santino
“So, imagine if Sam Smith and Beyonce had a baby and that baby was tutored by Naomi Campbell herself and strutted down a runway just to stop at the end and says ‘sis I am gay how you doin?'” says J. Santino in his best Wendy Williams voice.
Santino is a Detroit based pop/house artist with a hint of R&B. He released his debut EP, As We Go in 2019.
His music is very focused on dynamics. However, as Detroit based artist, Santino wants listeners to know that there are people from the city that make pop music and that it has so much music variety that doesn’t get shown.
“It is like the music you can play while driving on a road trip or at two in the morning on the freeway,” he explains. “If you still don’t understand, then let me ask you this – you know the feeling when you order a 10 piece wing and get 11 pieces? Yeah, that’s me.
“The inspiration behind As We Go was to just make a solid project that takes you on a journey,” he says. “I wanted you to be able to listen to it from start to finish. I also wanted to make music that I liked to hear. I wanted to be able to stand out but still be myself, ya know?”
“I identify as male and use He/Him pronouns or like Rupaul said ‘You can call me he. You can call me she. You can call me Regis & Cathy Lee! It don’t matter just as long as you call me!'” he says.
Santino says that his identity is all throughout his music.
“You are getting the unapologetic me,” he says. “While I always prefer to not use pronouns in my music because I want whoever listening to connect with it themselves and make their own story. The situations that made the music possible were only able to happen because I was blessed with the identity that I have. So I figure why portray something I am not you’re just gonna figure me out anyway?”
Santino emphasizes that his identity is everything to him.
“To me, it is more than just being LGBTQ, or just Black – it is all of those things together that make me unique,” he says. “If I were to take any of those things out of my life, my life experiences would be different.”
“I am proud of who I am,” he says. “While it was no easy road to get to where I am now, I figure why change it? Cause if you see me you will know I’m Black immediately, if I hang around long enough you’ll figure I am gay anyhow. If Cardi B can be rich and ratchet, I can be myself and successful too haha!”
Santino says writing music helps him have a better understanding of who he is as a person.
“By putting every situation (whether it be love, pain, happiness) on paper it allows me to sometimes think through every situation like ‘what went wrong here?’ or sometimes just process (as we all sometimes forget to do that),” he says.
Santino shares that there are two tracks on As We Go that resonate with him more deeply than the others.
“‘At the time that I wrote [‘Slipping Away,’] it was the most vulnerable I have ever been on a song,” he says. “When I go back to listen to it always takes me back to the place that inspired the song.”
Santino notes that “Forever” is an absolute jam.
“That song is about my dreams of success for my career and my love for the ballroom community as well as house music,” he explains. “[It] was the first song of mine that I heard on the radio. That song has allowed me to do things I never thought I would be able to do – I am forever grateful for it.”
When it comes to influences, Santino says that he is inspired Karen Clark Sheard of the “Legendary Clark Sisters”, Whitney Houston, Rupaul, Luther Vandross, Sam Smith and Crystal Waters. However, he is most inspired by Mariah Carey.
“She knows how to write a hit and her arrangements are super detailed,” he says. “If you listen to her whole discography you will see what I mean (here’s a tip – start with Vision of Love.)”
Santino says that working with Carey would be a dream collaboration.
“She can do no wrong in my book and she has been supporting the LGBTQ+ community since the 90s,” he explains. “She is the textbook standard on career longevity. What artist do you know that still has a relevant hit, 30 years in the game, and is still releasing music hitting number one? I would just love to work with her!”
In addition, Santino shares that he is inspired by fellow LGBTQ+ artist Jharid.
“[Jharid] is a vocal beast man, he always gives the best advice and watching him perform is like watching Beyonce during Coachella,” he says. “I seen him at Pride last year right before I performed and it was hella inspiring. I was like how does he do all of this without getting tired?”
Despite COVID-19 forcing Santino to cancel a variety of festival performances this year – he will be performing at Ypsi and Motor City Pride digitally. He has new music in the works and encourages fans to follow him on social platforms at @officialjsantino for updates.
You can stream As We Go on Spotify.