There were many things before there was Santigold. First came a girl with a music degree and an internship at Ruffhouse Records. Then, an A&R job and a punk band called Stiffed followed. There was a gig writing songs for Philly rocker Res and an unfortunate legal dustup with an actual, real life man named Santo Gold. There was a hurried name change.
It took a long time for to become Santigold. Sometimes, the wait is worth it.
White’s influences extend far beyond her hometown of Philadelphia. She creates richly textured songs from threads of EDM, dub step, dancehall, afrobeat and punk all while finding a steady through line of pop palatability. She has a discography that is left of center enough to make it interesting while still pop and mainstream enough to sing along with and dance to.
White’s work is infused with a thoughtful curation and eccentricity. This thoughtfulness is manifested in her tight creative vision. In a 2012 NY Times interview, she talked about her involvement with most aspects of album production from costuming to artwork. For Master of My Make-Believe she even commissioned the artist Kehinde Wiley for a portrait to be featured in her album artwork. White’s exacting and comprehensive creative vision may account for the fact that she has only produced three studio albums over her 10-year career as Santigold.
Recorded in only two weeks White took a more spontaneous approach with her new mixtape, I Don’t Want: the Goldfire Sessions. About the same length as her formal albums the mixtape is composed of dancehall and reggae mixes planting a foot more firmly in genre, sampled in productions over the years. The mixtape moves like a DJ’s set—endings engineered to blend one song seamlessly into another. Yet, in this seamlessness, White loses some of the variety and breadth of genres that made her earlier albums such an adventure to listen to.
Not only have White’s musical stylings changed on this project, but so have the subjects she broaches with her lyrics. On her early records she dabbles occasionally with more politically conscious songs like “The Keepers” (Master of My Make-Believe) and “Outside the War” (99 Cents). On The Goldfire Sessions she has excavated deeper themes of political rage and resistance that more explicitly articulate her politics.
On “Coo Coo,” White skewers street harassment, while, perhaps ironically, the thick pulsing beats make it danceable. “I don’t hear you / Holler with your heart, babe, holler with your heart,” she sings ignoring the catcalls and asking the boys to turn towards something more meaningful and more silent.
However most of White’s songs remain danceable tunes not musical manifestos. In search of a fun dancehall album, more comprehensive than the reggae of Rihanna’s Work and more genuine than anything Drake could put out? You came to the right place.
Miranda Jetter writes about all manner of noise in Washington, D.C. You can find her at @Mirandajetter on Twitter doing the Time Warp again.