An interview with Saint Mercator

A warning: This interview contains multiple references to suicide attempts.

The Mercator projection.

Gerardus Mercator’s 1569 map projection makes Greenland and Antarctica appear colossal compared to land closer to the equator. This is because it represents lines of constant, true direction, making it incredibly useful for navigation. Because the space between lines of latitude decreases as you move towards the poles, distortion in his projection occurs at its edges. Its purpose isn’t to preserve geographical truth, it’s to get sailors where they need to go. 

Over 400 years later, rapper/singer Saint Mercator is guiding his audience through the noise. Like his namesake’s map, his music is raw and imperfect in service of a deeper mission. He aims to give listeners direction—bring them closer to God. 

Even in his viral smash “Da Biggest Bird,” the one Uzi and Steve Lacy and your younger sibling co-signed, the gospel flows through Mercator as he interpolates Jace’s “Catch You.” Whether he’s praising the Lord or defending the Andean condor, his raw, flamboyant vocals angle towards the heavens over glossy pluggnb. It’s like if you invited Autumn and Goyxrd to choir practice. Technically speaking, he’s not a great singer, but it’s more about the unbelievable passion in his voice than whether he’s hitting the notes.

Although “Biggest Bird” was the impetus for this piece, I grew more interested in the 23-year-old’s relationship to faith as I dug into his catalog of over 600 songs. As far as I can tell, he’s one of the only artists in the SoundCloud underground who embraces being a “Christian Rapper” and makes this much music about God. And I’m no gospel music critic, but once the jokey novelty wears off, there’s a real endearing streak to his music that sometimes makes his worship really compelling

He is also a true outsider. Born in Murfreesboro, TN, but now based in Denver, Mercator has no explicit connections to a scene. He proudly cites David Archuleta, Drake, The Weeknd, Nelly Furtado and Chris Brown (“even though it’s fuck Chris Brown”) as influences.

When I called him a couple months ago, I had just gotten back from India and he had just broken a bottle of wine by trying to open it with a screwdriver. We then had a long conversation about faith, integrity and making something you believe in. But before that, we talked about his number one passion besides God, birds and music: prehistoric animals. 

Art by Tyler Farmer.

This interview has been adapted for length and clarity.

Mano Sundaresan: How’s it going?

Saint Mercator: Going swellington. Just trying to figure out what to eat.

What’s a day in the life? I’m curious.

A day in my life? I usually just stay at my house. Just wake up, order some food, eat, go record music, scroll on the internet, try to make money and stuff from feats and opens and reposts. I’ll write sometimes. I’m working on a story right now actually called Warpath. Do you know what Smilodon is?

No. 

Okay, so Smilodon populator, more famously known as the saber-toothed tiger (even though it wasn’t related to the tiger at all, because tigers are members of the Panthera genus, and Smilodon was a Machairodont, so they were very distantly related—we’re talking about a divergence of I think 20 million years?)…

Basically, my story is about these different tribes of Smilodon. The main character’s name is Sombras, and his fur is black. He’s always been an outcast, because if you’re a predatory animal that lives on a grassland and you’re all black, you’re gonna be spotted very easily. So he got kicked out by his dad once he got old enough to take care of himself. But God came to him and told him that he had to fight for him, so he has to go back to his homeland. But his love interest has been missing him, and she’s an outcast as well, because her father was a rogue male and wasn’t the leader of the tribe. She’s sitting there missing him, he’s missing her, they haven’t seen each other in like two years.

I guess the best way to describe [my story] would be “Lion King, but in the Ice Age.”

Smilodon populator.

That’s what I was thinking, actually.

Yeah. This is Part One. I’m gonna make a North American version soon. It takes place like 754,000 years ago.

I’m very excited to read that. How do you know so much about all this? 

I’ve always wanted to be a paleontologist since I was like four. Ever since I can remember, bro, I’ve been studying prehistoric life forms. When I’m not recording, I’m on YouTube watching videos from Henry the PaleoGuy, E.D.G.E., Raptor Chatter. Or I’m reading scientific papers just studying up. You know how there are car guys? I’m like a car guy, but with prehistoric animals. [They] just do something for me. Like, did you know there was a giant prehistoric armadillo that was a carnivore called Macroeuphractus?

Macroeuphractus.

Crazy.

I put it into music. My song “kongonaphon,” I was like, “Mr. Saint, what you got going on? You want to talk about God. We tryna get it jumpin’ like Kongonaphon.” Kongonaphon was a Lagerpetid, and Lagerpetids are basically relatives of dinosaurs and pterosaurs. And they were pretty small with long legs, so people think that they jumped. 

Kongonaphon.

What do you think of the comments that you’re trolling?

Nothing is a troll, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t put this much time into a troll. That’d be like telling a girl you love her and marrying her, but you’re like, “Nah, I really don’t love her,” Why the hell did you marry her? 

I just like addin’ in bars about what I know. I don’t know shit about being a fucking drug dealer. I don’t know about killing opps and shit like that. What I know is prehistoric animals and God. 

What was the moment that you turned to God?

I’d say the first one was September 2021. I took acid, and I was removed from my body basically, and I was in this grand space. There was nothing around me but stars. And I looked, and it was a wall, it was at least 150 meters tall, and it was every color—colors I couldn’t even explain to you, colors I’ve never seen. Ultraviolet lights. And a great voice emitted from the colors, it was like, “You’ve asked where I am. Here I am.” And I asked him, “Are you God?” The voice was like, “Yes, I am.” And I was just like, “Alright, then prove it.” And from the wall, my father walked down. We had a conversation. My father has been dead for like six years. And that was that. I was just like, OK…cool…alright…so God is real. [laughs] 

Pretty good evidence, I get it. [laughs]

Then in April of 2022—I have this condition called pericarditis. Basically, the sac around my heart gets inflamed. It’s a lot better now, but at the time it was really inflamed. I would have panic attacks and stop breathing. I would wake up gasping for air, and I had to go to the hospital cuz like, bro, I almost died. I was really close, my oxygen level was down 80%. I just prayed to God, and He pulled me through. And so I was like…God is real, God is real.

But it was before that too. In November of 2021, I tried to kill myself. The day before my birthday, I tried to kill myself. Basically, I walked into the road during traffic because I had had some shit go on. I was broke as hell, I was depressed as fuck every day. And I was just like, “Man, fuck, I’m tired of everything, I don’t give a fuck anymore.”

I walked into the road, and then the car stopped. And the guy was like, “Get the fuck out of the road, man! What the fuck are you doing dude? I’m trying to drive bro, why are you trying to kill yourself?”

And I snapped out of it. I was like, “Hold on. Why am I trying to kill myself right now?” And I knew that even though that guy talked to me like I was a piece of shit, God sent him like, “Hey, I’m not done with you yet! What are you trying to do? I’m not done with you.” 

That’s really when I started tapping into music seriously. I was like, “Well fuck it.” This is all I got now. Then in April, I had two songs blow up. I had “THE MALL” blow up and I had “SHE SAID” blow up. 

[“STILL FXCK KAN”] had started going crazy first because they had put that shit on TikTok, and then I realized I need to tap into TikTok. So I started really getting on that shit, and that’s really where I started building my initial fan base. Shoutout to everybody that’s been following me since those days, y’all some real ones.

Yeah it really seems like people have been rocking with you for a minute now. How long were you on SoundCloud?

I posted my first song in 2016.

And back then, what were you trying to do with it?

Back then I was really a Lil Tracy / X clone. Cuz I was like 16. I was just trying to figure myself out. I didn’t find out about pluggnb until 2020 during the pandemic. My boy UpTempo Beats, shoutout Uptempo Beats, found out about him. I found out about my boy ET, shoutout ET, Ethan you already know what’s up. I found all these different pluggnb producers, and I was like, “Bro what is pluggnb, who even raps on this shit?”

It’s not rap, it’s like singing!

These beats are hard, but who uses these? And they were saying Autumn and Summrs and I was like, “Who the fuck are these people?” So I started looking them up and I was like, they aight, they aight, shit cool or whatever. I actually spoke to Summrs in 2020 in the DMs, that shit was funny.

I heard that he doesn’t fuck with the song or something?

Summrs sang the song on his fucking story and all that. And I had reached out to him for a remix. He said no, because anybody that knows him will say he has an ego. And I made a troll caption basically saying, “Summrs, quit trying to steal the title, I’m really the biggest bird.” He was like, “I’m not trying to mess up the remix.” I was just like, “Dude, I’m not even asking this because I’m a fan of you, because I’m not.” I’m not a Summrs fan. I was never a Slayworld Soldier like that, that’s fucking weird dickriding ass shit. 

How did “Biggest Bird” come together?

I was at my friend Brandon’s house, shoutout my boy Brandon. I was just chilling. It was Thanksgiving Day, the 25th, or the day after Thanksgiving, some shit like that. And I was listening to a beat [ezzie] had made. And I tried to make something on it, didn’t work, tried to make something else on it, didn’t work, cuz I was trying too hard. 

And I was just like, What can I say? And then I remembered I was walking around with my friends for months, singing “Catch You” by Jace. But I was only singing one part. There’s one part on the song where he’s like [sings in high pitch] “I’m the biggest bird, I’m the biggest bird.” 

And then I was listening to the beat and I was like, bro, I just got to try something different. I heard the intro to the beat. I was just like [sings] “Don’t know what you heard, don’t know what you heard.” All that shit was one take. I record everything in one take.

What’s the most random fan encounter you’ve had so far?

I was at Cherry Creek Mall and a group of eight year olds were like, “Are you the biggest bird?” And I was like, “Yeah!” And they were like, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh!” And one of them got their mom, and they’re like, “Mom, it’s the biggest bird!” [laughs] And these teenagers wanted to take pictures with me, and I was just like, bro, this is weird.

I put in my two weeks at my job, and they let me go early, because a bunch of my fans had come in and they were wanting to take TikToks with me and shit like that. [My employers] were like, “That’s disruptive to the business.” 

I feel like for the pluggnb scene, your vocals are so unique compared to how Summrs and all them do it. The way they do it, it’s really clean. It’s very smooth. Your vocals are much more raw.

I mean, yeah, that’s pretty much how I be. I don’t really mix my shit or nothing like that.

Did that come from certain limitations initially?

I mean, it ain’t no limitation now, but when I first started doing that type of shit, I really could only use Bandlab and my headphones. I didn’t really have anything else at the time. I’ve been to studios and stuff like that, but like, besides my boy J Dog, nobody really gets my vocals right. Everybody wants to add all this autotune on my shit and all that. I don’t like the way autotune makes my voice sound, because my voice naturally reverberates a lot already. I’m not trying to sound like I’m Moby or some shit. I’m trying to sound like how I sound in my head. 

How do you sound in your head?

I can’t even explain it bro, it’s more so just something I hear. I’m a simple guy when it comes to music. When I record, I add a de-esser on there, I add modulation on there, and then I add noise limiter. I just like being me, and it’s been working for me so far. Man, I be screaming this shit sometimes. I be having so much emotion behind my words, so much power behind them, that it’s like..man, this is what I do.

Did you ever sing in church?

Not really. I mean, I went to church and I would listen. I grew up listening to so many different singers. My parents would have me listening to Bobby Womack and New Edition, Minnie Riperton, people like that, because my parents were old heads.

Y’all grew up in Tennessee?

Yeah I grew up in Murfreesboro, TN. Shoutout Murfreesboro. Shoutout the 615 real quick. I keep saying “shoutout” like I’m in fucking 2004 or some shit. [laughs]

How do you feel about that Trippie Redd song [“BIGGEST BIRD,” featuring Summrs] on his album?

I feel like he’s lame as shit for that. I feel like he’s lame and he’s fallen off, and he’s doing anything for the clout now. It really hurt because I literally used to wait till 12 for every album and everything, and he didn’t shout me out, he didn’t really show me any love. Uzi did, but Trippie Redd didn’t. And I’m just like, damn, Trippie. That’s kind of fucked. You didn’t even DM me or anything. 

I’ve gotten so much hate for “Biggest Bird.” People asking me if I’m even a serious artist, people calling my song a meme song. People promoting the song but posting a picture of Summrs instead of posting me or @-ing me or anything. But yeah, he gets to get all this love for jackin’ my fucking title. I felt like how X felt when Drake did the KMT thing. 

Do you feel like a bit of an outcast?

All the time. I appreciate the people who do mess with me, though. I’ve had so many people be like, “Man, I’m glad there’s gospel artists I can listen to. I’m glad there’s somebody that talks about God.” There’s a lot of people that are hungry for that, but they still want to listen to stuff that’s hard. They’re like, “I don’t have to sit there and listen to Yeat. I can listen to you.”

There are a lot of rappers who mention God in songs throughout the history of the genre. But so few of them actively claim their music to be Christian rap or gospel rap. And the ones who do…most of them are really wack to me.

No cap. They be corny bro!

So why did you decide to sort of brand yourself as that? Why did you decide to dive headfirst into that space?

Because that’s really what God wanted me to do. I had to sit down and be like, man, God gave me this talent, so why am I using it to talk about things that are not of God, you know? Once I started going to church more, I really started developing my relationship, and I’m still developing my relationship with Him every single day.

What’s your favorite part of church?

My favorite part of the church is just when the pastor preaches. It’s always something that relates to my life. This past Sunday, they were talking about being a missionary and everything. And I’m like, “Well, I’m kind of a missionary in a way.” 

I’ve had people sit there and tell me, like…bro…I’m trying not to cry. Cuz I was feeling down when I was on Live earlier. And they were like, “Man, if you don’t quit trippin! You actin’ like people don’t care about your music, bro. I was about to commit suicide when I was listening to your tracks, man. And that stopped me from doing it.” And I was just like…dang. Hold on, hold on…what? I stopped you from doing what, fam? 

I have a song called “neverdididie” where I was talking about my own attempt and everything. That sort of stuff…I’m like, “Man…I know, this is what God intended for me.”  I wasn’t really having any motion until I started talking about God. I know God was like, “Finally! He’s doing what I want him to do. Finally! I’ve been waiting. I’ve been waiting to bless him!”

And it’s just so beautiful, bro, the way that I’m able to be used as a conduit and God’s energy just flows through and it affects so many people’s lives in such a beautiful way, I love that. That’s what keeps me going even when I don’t feel like making music no more, when I get mocked, when I get laughed at. I’m just like, Man, I’m doing this for God. I’m not doing this for no people. I’m not doing this for money. I’m doing this for God. I’m trying to keep him first before everything else now. The moment I don’t is when things will fall apart. 

That’s beautiful.

A lot of people don’t understand that because all they want is money and clout. Once you have money and clout, it doesn’t matter anymore. You gotta have something deeper in your soul or you’ll just fall apart.

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