You might know Brooklyn rapper and singer SAINt JHN from his full-throated appearance alongside Blue Ivy Carter (and, oh yeah, her mother) on "Brown Skin Girl" from this year's The Lion King: The Gift movie companion album. But a few months later, he was the one offering a music legend a spot on a song. It's the reason he named his second collection of music Ghetto Lenny's Love Songs: He counts Lenny Kravitz as a massive inspiration.
That's what makes "Borders," the duo's silken R&B team-up, so momentous. It finds Ghetto Lenny trading croons with his idol, culminating in a volcanic guitar solo from the elder Lenny. The pair shot its accompanying steamy, black-and-white, extremely striking video in Paris, the same city where they met and laid down the music. But SAINt JHN joked that his contributions to the clip were mostly appearance-based. "I was just a mannequin," told Adut Akech Bior for MTV News. "They just used me for my abs."
In an age of multi-part blockbuster visuals hyped and coordinated and filmed on as grand a scale as that of motion pictures, "Borders" is intimate and lean, allowing its two leads to take center stage when the frame isn't occupied by gorgeously lit bodies. The whole enterprise feels like a tête-à-tête between you and whatever snug scene lies on the other side of director Mathieu Cesar's lens. SAINt JHN praised the "raw" intentionality of Cesar's vision.
"I like when there's no excuse for when something's beautiful or when it's not beautiful and it's flawed," he said. "There's nothing else in the picture and you have to be really focused on whatever that's in front of you. It was a lot of that. You could see it — it's me and Lenny. If it ain't sexy, I don't know what it is."
SAINt JHN said he didn't grow up around other artists, so he had to figure out his own creativity by himself. But working with an inspiration like Lenny — "the only black guy in music being sexy and being aggressive all at the same time," he said — helped him see other methods of working. The real Lenny taught him that "it's cool to have be specific and have an eye and attention for detail."
That kind of specificity runs through Ghetto Lenny's Love Songs, whether self-taught or not, as the sonic emotionality bounds from the booming trap beats of the Meek Mill collaboration "Anything Can Happen" and "Who Do You Blame" to the tender A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie team-up "Monica Lewinsky" and, of course, the pin-drop quiet intimacy of "Borders."
One aspect Kravitz was specific as hell about is that wispy guitar solo at the end of the song — especially the way it plays out in the video, with Kravitz wailing through his trademark Flying V as SAINt JHN pantomimes on air guitar. There's a viral tweet making the rounds now that posits the 55-year-old musician's fame in 2019 is mostly sustained by memes, and that now, more people know about that scarf than, say, "Are You Gonna Go My Way." What's cool about "Borders" is that it's a proper reminder of Kravitz's immense ability, right as he uses it to highlight the likewise lustrous talents of a descendant like SAINt JHN.
"Imagine your hero taps you on the shoulder and passes you the baton to keep running," SAINt JHN said. "That's what it felt like." Watch that dynamic on full display in the evocative "Borders" video above.