Twenty-twenty will forever go down in history as the year the world cracked. From a raging health pandemic that shows no signs of slowing down to the social-justice uprisings that took place across the world, it’s a turn of a decade R&B savant Sainvil hadn’t anticipated. With a serious case of cabin fever under quarantine lockdown in Los Angeles and inundated by a flood of devastating news updates, he began fleshing out his second project of the year: a seven-track EP he fittingly titled 2020 Was Hijacked.
With each song, the Little Haiti native captures the complexities of living in an existential whirlwind. But the ability to articulate those fears in his music didn’t begin with an unprecedented 2020. He unknowingly laid that groundwork on an EP he dropped in February, a foreshadow named In Bad Shape.
“I feel like In Bad Shape was my best rendition of someone trying to hold it together,” Sainvil explains. “In my life, I’ve had to step up and be in a situation very reluctantly, and that weighs on your mental. When you have to lead a situation, there’s people who are behind you, and oftentimes they can’t see me cry.”
On In Bad Shape‘s opening track, “Shoulders,” the 28-year-old vocalist cracks from the pressure of bearing it all. Shrouded in hypnotic trap elements, Sainvil delivers a mixture of raw vocals and fervent lyricism to express his boiling point. The entirety of that project bridges pop synths, syrupy trap beats, and R&B to undergird his impassioned notes.
“Pride is poison, and I feel like we need to make it cool to take an L,” he admits. “With men in general, we’re too prideful to take an L and pride will stop us from sharing and getting breakthrough. We never want to look weak, but that’s really what’s going to help us grow. Honestly, that’s how I write. I write in a way that’s real.”
Born to Haitian immigrant parents, he grew up influenced by a variety of genres and artists like The-Dream, Michael Jackson, Nelly, and Jay-Z. He began recording himself singing into a boom box at age nine and eventually combined the genres he grew up listening to into his experimental production formula. Currently, he’s the only R&B standout among a catalog of rappers — including Florida natives Smokepurpp and Rod Wave — on Alamo Records. With the backing of a label and budding notoriety, it seemed 2020 would be the year he blissfully ascended until a personal and public reckoning had him reexamining his motives.
Sainvil arrived at 2020 Was Hijacked with the same vulnerability from In Bad Shape, but this time he applies that lens to pressing topics like systemic racism and police brutality. In the lead single, “Boxed In,” featuring Boogie, he conveys the mental claustrophobia and trauma of witnessing innocent black people unjustly killed by the police.
“Recording in quarantine taught me how to hone even more on the topic because most of my favorite rappers had a message, but my peers gravitated toward trap because the way they presented the message wasn’t entertaining, so we had to make sure we delivered it in a way that wasn’t corny,” he says.
He infuses the rest of the project with that introspective theme, challenging the expectations of masculinity and examining his relationship to women on songs like “HBK,” featuring Melii, an atmospheric track that leaks the internal quandary of an insecure lover.
“I’ve seen a lot of songs in the past where it’s an R&B girl with a rap guy like a Ja-Rule and Ashanti, but we did that in reverse,” Sainvil explains. “It was dope to have a very confident girl on there and a dude showing he’s been burned.”
Instead of shaming a promiscuous woman, he draws a comparison between both of them on “Same Same” and dedicates a sensuous track to pleasuring a woman via oral sex on “Sweet.” Raised by a single mother, Sainvil’s conduit to emotional maturity has often been the women in his life, a prevalent theme in his music.
“My mom was all I knew. She was like my pops high key,” he reveals. “From watching women and my mom, I feel like they have a superpower because they can see the black, the white, and the gray, and that’s what allows women to be better connected emotionally.”
Sainvil journeys from hopelessness to self-doubt to ultimately overcome those feelings on “Bounce Back,” a resilient anthem that provides a more hopeful framework for the future in juxtaposition to “Boxed In.” In the visuals, Sainvil harkens back to the trap he’s caught in on “Boxed In,” but with the help of a younger character, he frees himself from that bondage and positions himself for a triumphant future.
“It’s about paving it forward and the future looking brighter,” he explains. “We are going to bounce back, and I just wanted it to feel and look strong. I wanted that message to be straightforward.”
Keep Miami New Times Free… Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who’ve won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism’s existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our “I Support” membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.