Photography by George Annan (@koolaidgeorge)
“Especially in this time where we communicate so much through images, storytelling gets lost... It’s not an image. You gotta look deeper to see what’s really going on."- Saint Lyor
When asked to select his favorite track from his debut album, IF MY SINS CAN TALK, Brockton rapper Saint Lyor responded with no hesitation: “THIS IS NOT AN IMAGE” is the song he holds closest to his heart. These five little words, in fact, manage to make a multitude of meanings.
For the 21 year-old rapper, this phrase has evolved to serve as a personal mantra of sorts. “Especially in this time where we communicate so much through images,” he elaborates, “storytelling gets lost.” As a society, we’ve grown accustomed to absorbing people, narratives, and even art through mere snapshots. But Saint Lyor lives in pursuit of something much richer: “It’s not an image. You gotta look deeper to see what’s really going on.”
This mantra not only guides the way he traverses his everyday life, but also informs his creative process as a rapper. Saint Lyor finds a distinctive tenacity on “BIG FACTS” that he carries all the way through to “SINNERMAN (Outro).” At certain points, his exuberance lends itself to a sort of tempered silliness—long story short, Saint Lyor is as just as fun as he is intense. But, as always, there’s more operating beneath the surface; it’s not just about the energy. “It’s kinda like sprinkling secrets of truth within the project,” he hints, “if you really pay attention.”
As an outsider looking in, these words, ”THIS IS NOT AN IMAGE,” resonate profoundly with Saint Lyor’s remarkable authenticity as an artist. He’s firmly grounded in his community, he’s deeply passionate about his craft, he trusts steadfastly in his own intuition, and he knows exactly what his goals are as both an individual artist and a member of a larger collective. He’s not after superficial, sometimes unreliable, signifiers of success in the music industry—he’s after ownership.
If we turn to Saint Lyor’s hometown of Brockton, MA, located about half an hour south of Boston, we find once again that things aren’t always as they seem. With a population that stands a few thousand shy of 100k, this not-quite-mid-sized city could be thoughtlessly overlooked by an uninformed eye. But, as Saint Lyor urges, “Don’t take things at face value.”
Over the past few years, several young hip hop artists started cropping up in Brockton: “we had a little scene brewing,” he explains. What began as genuine friendships—following each others’ music, watching each other perform, and even putting on shows together—seamlessly solidified to become Van Buren Records, a Brockton-based collective of independent Black creators. In an industry that capitalizes particularly off of the work of Black artists while denying them ownership, Van Buren Records is determined to do things their own way: “I think as a group we really emphasize longevity… We want to be in control of our music” Now, this “little scene” is garnering national attention.
For Saint Lyor, this well deserved recognition first materialized with the release of “GOSSIP,” the single accompanied by a video that preceded IF MY SINS CAN TALK. Much of the video is set at Brockton High School, his alma mater—a way of paying homage to the place where it all began. While running, dancing, and even swinging alongside longtime friends and collaborators, he raps over playful piano loop. Saint Lyor is animated, spontaneous, and full of life. His flow, just like his movement, is bursting with energy.
As the “GOSSIP” video gained traction on YouTube, he saw an opportunity. He took what he had and ran with it, carrying this same exhilarating momentum all the way through the rest of the album. Working almost exclusively with a friend, Boston based producer GIB DJ, Saint Lyor recorded IF MY SINS COULD TALK in the brief span of just two months. Their chemistry is undeniable: in describing the process of the album coming together, he explains, “It was just like—click.”
Just like everything else, the album art fell seamlessly into place. The cover photo, shot by another longtime friend George Annan (@koolaidgeorge), is blurry and dynamic. When Saint Lyor saw the photo, he knew: “I felt like it spoke to the energy of the project, ‘cause my voice is really high pitched, it’s all over the place, I’m saying all this crazy shit. I feel like it articulated what my cadence was doing.”
Through and through, every element of this project is true to who he is; IF MY SINS COULD TALK thus becomes the perfect introduction: This is Saint Lyor, and this is how he does things.