Saint Ripley & PHNX.WAV: Healing Through Creation
Written by Vocalo Radio on October 22, 2021
Saint Ripley and PHNX.WAV are making their mark on the Chicago hip-hop scene.
Chicago-based artists Saint Ripley and PHNX.WAV combine their creative forces to create a rhythmic and light sound while discussing serious issues through their lyrics. With immense strength in their collaboration and driven by a need to create, both artists use music and other mediums to overcome their obstacles.
We caught up with Saint Ripley and PHNX.WAV after their Sept. 22 single “Get It Right” was featured on Vocalo’s In Rotation playlist for October 2021. They discussed their music videos, favorite mediums, solo releases and more.
Content warning: Mention of suicide.
How did you two meet? How did this collaboration come to fruition?
PHNX.WAV: We met through a mutual friend. I hit up Ripley for a part in one of his videos, but we decided to do a different video together. We started writing a song during Ripley’s video shoot, which is now one of our songs for our upcoming project that we’ve been performing.
Saint Ripley: To add a little more color to that, I was casting for “Reruns” and posted [about the role]. And then Phoenix hit me up, but it was a little too late. We had found somebody else. I was like, “I’ll let you know next time around.”
PW: And you did!
SR: Yeah, so Phoenix ended up co-starring in “On God / On Me” and we hit it off.
We saw the two of you performed at Cole’s Bar about a month ago. How was that experience? What was going through your mind as you performed?
PW: It went really well. We drew in more people than we expected. There were a bunch of people that didn’t know who we were, didn’t know that we were playing, and then they ended up coming in and really enjoying the show.
SR: Yeah, it was a great opportunity to make new fans, see some old ones, too. Cole’s is right in my backyard, and Cole and I been trying to make it happen since before the pandemic, so it just felt like the right move for my first headliner. I had a couple moments of thinking, “This is kind of unreal. I’m headlining a show!” But like any show, it’s exciting, so you just put on your best performance and get to work. We’re hoping to do another one with them very soon.
Can you share with us some things you learned from one another while working together on “Get It Right”?
PW: For the video, I learned that staying on top of planning and taking things a step at a time is very crucial; handling things all at once can be stressful. Ripley and I were skimming through some beats I had made and this one stuck out, so [when we wrote the song] we started vibing out to it and playing with some catchy melodies, that’s usually how our process goes. So keeping it simple and having fun with the music is the best route. I also learned that balancing collaborative energy is important, too. We both did a lot of different things, balancing what we can do and understanding our roles is important because we’re both very savvy in a lot of different areas. So when we use that to our advantage along with communication, it’s more conducive for the creative process, and I appreciated the process all the more. It definitely taught me patience, too.
SR: [Laughs] It taught me patience as well. There are times where shit gets difficult, but you work through it. Everything came out exactly as it should and in the direction I knew it was going to head anyway.
Tell us more about the “Get it Right” music video. Is there a deeper reason the two of you end up underwater? Saint Ripley in the bathtub, and PHNX.WAV in the lake?
SR: We talked about this when we were pitching an idea of, like, someone’s going to “get it right.” [Phoenix’s] character has got to “get it right,” you know, get their head right. And in coming up with ideas we thought, “Okay, well, hiring an actor for a therapist would be too much money.” And, “A church just wouldn’t fit the vibes.” Neither one of us are big on organized religion.
PW: I wanted the healing aspect to be more holistic. Water is a very powerful element, medicine and spirit, being submerged in it resembles purification. But also, Ripley’s mom had said something that shifted my perspective and I appreciated the interpretation. She basically said that it appeared we were taking the “easy way out.” You know what I mean?
SR: Committing suicide.
PW: Yeah. Suicide. I’m trying to be very sensitive about that because it’s something that, personally, I’ve struggled with …
SR: Me too.
PW: … which is why I was like, “Wow, I really appreciate this interpretation.” Because, in journeys of recovery, there’s the healing aspect where we work on “getting it right” and the aspect where we succumb to feelings of hopelessness. I feel like that shows we have a choice. There’s different paths you can go down, but we ultimately have the power to go either way. We were trying to do something more dreamy and cerebral. My character was dealing with these vices and then had to take time to reflect and meditate. The water symbolism is open for interpretation but it was mainly symbolic of cleansing, purification and rebirth, it also is visually appealing. I think that was a good way for us to both kind of cap off our scenes.
SR: I think it’s also worthy of note that this is all relative to the “On God / On Me” video, and in that story, we focused on my character’s downfall. And this is supposed to be kind of like a prequel to that, I guess. Our thinking was like that [Phoenix’s] character “got it right” in this video. And then somewhere down the line, my character kind of falls to shreds, gets addicted to drugs and then [Phoenix’s character] leaves them.
PW: I thought it could be a prequel or a sequel. They could go either way. That’s the cool thing about it. It’s like one can affect the other. But the videos do go together. They’re like sisters.
SR: They’re sister videos. Shoutout to Phil at Motion66 for making these visions come to life.
Saint Ripley, aside from expressing yourself through music, you also have an eye for photography and film. Can you tell us more about this? Which hobby came first?
SR: I’ve always had a love for music, but making music the way I do now didn’t come until I was in my twenties. I played some instruments in my teens but with photography, I got involved in high school. Me and my homie Nick were looking for a way to skip class. So we were like, “let’s do vocational school” — and the school was happy to get rid of me, I’m sure. So they took us out junior and senior year every day for, like, four hours of the school day. They ship you off at, like, 9:45 in the morning and you don’t get back till 1 or 2 [p.m.]. And that was the day. Get off the school bus and run off and smoke weed or cigarettes whatever you had to do before you go to your last two classes. But when we were there, it was a lot of, like, darkroom and Photoshop, too.
PHNX.WAV, do you have any hobbies or mediums besides music you feel you can express yourself through?
PW: I consider myself a multidimensional creative. Music is one of my main mediums, but I love just working with my hands. Working with your hands releases endorphins. I also dabble in visual art like collage work resin art, pottery and graphic design. I just like to make things! I come from a very creative household on both sides of my family, so I feel super grateful and blessed for that. Sometimes these creative facets pour into each other. I want to create something where I can showcase all of that as a whole new medium. We are born to create, so we should be able to express that without shame or fear. I’m better known as a musician, but I identify as a creative being in my entirety. I do a lot of healing work, and sometimes that manifests itself as activism or social justice as well. I do everything I put my mind and heart to creatively. Sharing my voice, amplifying others and expressing my love for my communities and the land through art is something I love to do. Also, using my creative energy to heal myself and give others an opportunity to heal in any way that I can is really important.
Saint Ripley, can you tell us a little bit about the title of your most recent album, GOD COMPLEX? What inspired this album?
SR: [Laughs] Phoenix knows the backstory on this. So there’s two reasons why I named it GOD COMPLEX. For the sake of the people in my life, I’ll keep it brief. The first reason is that I had a group of people very close to me accusing me of having a “Messiah complex,” amongst other things. And I really took it seriously. I really believed them — I even sought therapy. But I also knew that maybe there was not as much truth to [their criticisms] as they were all trying to convey, and their realities could have been distorted because of the “state of mind” they were in when they came to these conclusions about me and my character.
I’d also come off the heels of writing a bunch of already self-reflective songs. “On God / On Me” was already written at this point, and it was about my healing and my accountability for my problems and the things that I’ve done. Not that I murdered anybody or anything like that, but like, I’ve been through a lot. I went through some hard years, but I allowed myself to heal. So, at the same time that I’ve finally let go of all these bad parts of my life and gone through all this healing, I got people coming into my life telling me I have a God complex even though I’ve already done all this shadow work. Part of me can’t help but say, “Are you serious?” So I named the album God Complex partially as a nod to the people in my life who were gaslighting me, but also as a way to show that we can become our own “gods,” which is the whole point of the album. We can all manifest something right.
PW: We do have that. All of us. You’re right. Our own God inside of us, which can translate as our higher self.
SR: Yeah. “We can manifest our higher selves” is probably a good way to put it, if we’re going to use that verbiage. Yeah, and that’s what the album was about. Like, the whole song “On God / On Me.” It’s like it’s “on God, on me” — same person. So if we want to be our higher self we have to be able and willing to look at and fight our reflections. And that’s where that title came from.
If neither of you were making music, what would you be doing right now?
PW: Music is so intrinsic to my spirit, I wouldn’t be alive without making it. Like, if I weren’t making music, I’d be trying to find other ways to heal through creation. I would probably invest a lot of my energy in those creative endeavors I mentioned earlier. I’d feel a little bit lost without music though. Not that I don’t have faith in myself that I would be okay, but music has just been such a huge part of my life it would be difficult to not make it.
SR: For me, I think probably acting. I’m already doing the music and the film stuff. Photo and video. Sidebar — if you need a music video, hit your boy up. But yeah, acting I think for me. I’d have to be expressing myself creatively. I was working a nine to five, which was literally making me suicidal. Part of that was because I was dragging my soul through the mud, having to do things that were, in Buddhism, what we would refer to as not aligned with “right livelihood.”
PHNX.WAV, we heard and loved your single “BEBÉ BLEU.” Can you tell us more about the process you went through while producing the single, using limited resources?
PW: Well, I was sitting on this song for a long time. This was before I had professional equipment to make music, and I didn’t have money to buy plug-ins and programs and I didn’t have my laptop yet. I received an artist grant and got all these cool things that made my life easier in making music. But basically, I made “BEBÉ BLEU” on my phone. I made the song on my phone, vocals and everything. I like to make my beat and let the spirit of music take over and freestyle my lyrics and then just develop it more from there.
I feel like writing lyrics and then saving them and then having a beat later is just not the process that works for me, sometimes it does. But I kind of think of it as one whole process because the energy of the song is very much alive sonically, so lyrically, I want the energy to match it. And so anytime that I make music, it always ends up being like that. I had everything at my fingertips, I just made it on my phone with iMaschine. I know y’all heard of Steve Lacey doing that with Garageband and iRig. Same thing with me, I’ve been doing that for the longest. I’m really happy that there are other artists out there that are humble about their journey. It was a humbling experience for me. Look, I don’t have the “best things” right now to make music, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it and making some good ass music. So I kept doing me, and it sounds raw, it doesn’t really matter what you got, just make it work, let your spirit shine and it’ll sound great.
SR: You were sitting on that and we were all telling you, “That’s a hit.” We all knew, and it was just a matter of, like, actually doing and dropping it. We really didn’t have to do much when we mastered it. I think we just made sure it wasn’t clipping, EQ’d it and adjusted the arrangement a bit.
PW: Yeah. And then also just wanted to make sure everything was seamless because [we didn’t have the stems] and you can’t see if one thing is clipping or this needs something specific. So I figured after I released the song, I’m going to have different versions. So even though the song is good by itself, it’s not going to stop me from making different versions. I want to do a full band version EP of all my songs, because a lot of it, I wrote on guitar.
Who do each of you most look up to and why?
SR: Facts. No mentors, none of that shit.
PW: Deadass, though.
SR: We’re figuring out as we go. Honestly, I spent a lot of years wanting somebody to help me guide me through it. And now I’m just like, “No, I’m good. I’m good.”
PW: We all have and know our own paths better than anyone else, because we lived it. So I’m just appreciative of the one that I went down, my struggles included. It’s taught me how to be a better version of myself and how to cope and manage my life. We’re all inspired by outside sources in different ways, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like the one person that I truly do look up to the most is my higher self.
SR: [snaps] Tell ‘em! Tell ‘em!
PW: I know little me would look up to grown me. It’s not easy — the shit that I went through, at all — but I’m still here. And that’s what makes me feel good about being an artist, that I’m still here. I didn’t let my trials and tribulations destroy me. I’m still trying my best and I know I could be a lot better, but I’m always growing. I feel like everyone influences me in a lot of positive ways, even if they’re throwing some wacky ass energy at me. I’m like, “okay, bring it on, it’s just pushing me and challenging me to do better for myself.” That’s it. I would say that’s who I look up to the most.
SR: Higher self. Facts. I’m just gonna echo that. My higher self. Not that I don’t appreciate other musicians or anything like that. It’s just that I learned in the years I’ve been doing this that once you start looking behind the curtain, those people aren’t who they say they are.
Saint Ripley, who are your top three favorite rappers?
SR: I mean, I listen to all sorts of different music, but if I had to pick rappers, my mind automatically goes to like, either Kendrick or Pac, obviously. And then I think my other favorite is Slug from Atmosphere. I just turned Phoenix on the Slug the other day. His storytelling is just wild. So if I had to pick three, 2Pac, Slug, Kendrick, those are three. I know, inevitably [be laying] in bed tonight and be like, “Damn it! I could have said blah, blah, blah.”
PW: Damn, 2Pac.
SR: I love Pac … My buddy Nick turned me on to hip-hop by showing me 2Pac and Atmosphere. As a matter of fact, it was “Picture Me Rollin’” and “Guns & Cigarettes.” Those two songs really kind of just illuminated me, like, “Hey, you can use your voice in this way.” I was trying to be in a punk band and no one wanted to be in my band, but hip-hop gave me a voice. So it was a good feeling.
PW: Yeah, hip-hop is all about giving that voice to people.
“I’ll just sit here and admire the dedication and work of others, while I put the love and energy into me. I love myself and respect myself, I know who I am and I have love for everyone around me.”– PHNX.WAV
If you could each choose any one artist to perform with, who would it be and why?
PW: Erykah Badu. Ummm… The Internet and… oh wait, any one artist!
SR: I think Badu is a fine answer, and that’s what you started with.
PW: Yeah, her performance go crazy. Like I had seen her [at] Pitchfork [Music Festival]. My guy! She got the fits on deck. She got everything! She got the energy! She be drinking her tea! I be like, “Hey sis, [clink], tea, yes!” Like, such great energy. One of the people who inspired me to make music and stuff like that so … That would be great. I would love that!
SR: I think for me, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails.
PW: Oh, facts?
SR: I think that’d be crazy. That or KMFDM, which is another band I really like. Nine Inch Nails or KMFDM. I think those would be the greatest because I think those two groups, those guys that lead those groups have their brains together enough, whereas there are some, like, punk bands. And I’m just not convinced that those bands have their lives together enough to like me, want to be on stage with them. [Laughs]
PW: I wish we had a top 20! I wish I had a top 20. I’m kidding. Seriously, I want to perform Nai Palm [of] Hiatus Kaiyote, because first of all, that’s homegirl! We like each other, like, virtually. I feel like that could happen.
SR: Speaking it into existence. Halsey did that record with Trent and Atticus [Ross], and they were saying in the interview they did for it that this does happen. Like, [Halsey] was nobody. And now she’s on a couch with Trent Reznor. You know, existence, too. You’ll get Badu and Nai Palm. I’ll get Trent Reznor and Sascha. It’ll happen. It’s going to happen.
PW: Nai Palm is just such a, like … she’s helped me do a lot of shit. I know her energy, and I feel like it would be such a glorious show. I don’t know Badu personally, so it’s like, a little harder to gauge, like what that would be like, even though I know it’d definitely be raw, but I feel like the interaction with Nai Palm would be so pure and beautiful and real and she’s a strong warrior for Indigenous sovereignty and all that, so I’m really fucking with her. So I would probably want to do a show with her first.
What have you been working on lately, anything listeners should know about? Either together or individually!
PW: As I forementioned, I’ve been working on a little album … I guess it would be an EP, because it’s not a whole lot of songs. It’s going to feature some live instrumentation and composition along with some of my production. I only have a single out, and I definitely want to keep releasing and keep making stuff. I’m also working on my brand right now. I had a little online store, but I’m kind of working on rebranding. But basically it’s going to be like a streetwear apothecary-slash-botanica.
SR: I’m working on an album. I’ve always got singles in the works, too. I’m working on one with my buddy Saint Icky. Shoutout Mr. Ickabod Crizzane and the Face Value Podcast. We’re working on a song together, and I got a couple of other songs with some folks in the works. And I’ve also some other solo singles. But the album is very political in nature. Phoenix has heard some of it. As a matter of fact, they’re even on one or maybe even two of the songs if we end up doing “Renegade,” but yeah, it’s almost all written.
PW: They don’t know nothing ‘bout that “Renegade,” man!
SR: That song goes crazy. Phoenix produced it, and I wrote the lyrics. It’s sick. But yeah, the album’s gonna be 12 to 16 songs, and I’ve been taking my time and doing my homework on it. It’s got some of this stuff that was supposed to be on Thoughts & Prayers 2 that was pulled and eventually repurposed off of GOD COMPLEX, and it’s gonna be on a newly-titled album I have yet to announce the title of, but that’s that! So early 2022 for that, hopefully we’ll start seeing some songs on the way.
PW: And now together!
SR: We’re working on a project together. Can we say that officially on the record?
PW: Yes! We’re almost done. We’re just trying to polish everything, so that’ll be revealed very soon.
SR: Yeah, I’m hoping to get it out by the end of the year. We just got to get in the studio.
PW: If y’all have ever come to our shows or even seen the live streams, we often do a song called “Third Eye” and that’ll be on the project.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free, confidential support. Their phone number is 1-800-273-8255.
Stream “Get It Right” on Spotify, Apple Music or Youtube Music and follow Saint Ripley and PHNX.WAV on Instagram.
Interview edited for length and clarity by Milo Keranen & Morgan Ciocca.
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