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An in-depth look at established artist careers that relate to social, political, and/or spiritual issues.
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21: Santigold

Photo By Atlantic

“You Don’t Know Me, I’m An Introvert An Excavator…”

A metaphor for the covert forces shaping and moving the market - the invisible hand - represents what is unseen at a glance. As a result of this, the output of creativity, freedom, and/or self-interest of intends to shift matters towards the best interests of the community. With a focus on popular music - the most prevalent of markets - Santigold has made a greater contribution to the cause, utilizing bygone influences from the 70s and 80s to create a sound that only a select few are able to produce. From New Wave to Punk, older, established melodies have aided her in delivering numerous, quirky hits for herself and various artists through her voice and pen game.

Born Santi White on September 25th 1976, Santigold was unconventional from her very earliest years. The daughter of a political advisor and a psychiatrist, she would start out as the lead of a Philadelphia-based punk rock band “Stiffed”. As musicians, they incorporated elements of the New Wave and No Wave movements into their work. Besides Santi on vocals, the group consisted of guitarist Matt Schleck, bassist Chris Shar and drummer Chuck Treece. The band's stripped-down rhythm and eerie vocals prompted Ryko and Girlie Action to approach Stiffed with hopes of distribution and representation in the underground rock scenes of the eastern metropolitan area. Among their clients were the White Stripes and Ryan Adams. Santogold became White's stage name after joining the band.

With her mezzo-soprano vocal range and uncanny charisma, labels worldwide didn’t hesitate to scout for her signature as a solo act. From these offers, she decided to accept the contract from London-based independent label “Lizard King Records”, run at the time by both Martin Heath and Dominic Hardisty. It didn’t take long for her first release to grace the webspace’s. “L.E.S Artistes” received high esteem on the internet music forums, predating the boom of social media. The original social music website, Myspace, gathered a lot of traffic for Santi and the focus would be enhanced once her debut full length project landed the year after.

Cover Art for Santigolds "Santogold"

The sharp backing vocals and odd melodies of Santogold give everything a cohesive feel. She achieved a strong sense of nostalgia for the synth pop era throughout her album, grabbing the #6 spot on Rolling Stones Albums of the Year for 2008.

The title lyric originates from, arguably, the best track on the album “L.E.S Artistes”. A track of reality meeting prophecy. While this song is about compromise, like the other great tracks on Santogold, it illustrated just why she was so popular and in demand in parallel to the likes of Lily Allen at the time. Recognized through the #2 spot on Singles of the Year on the same publication, she had cemented herself as the future of popular music. Opening for Coldplay and performing with Bjork, the applause wasn’t over yet. Nominations were coming in thick and fast. A breakthrough victory via the NME Awards meant she had officially arrived. Embarking on her own headline tour from September till October 2008, the stage was set to fully establish herself. It didn’t go as planned. Reviews for the “Goldrush Tour” were unfavorable at best, with the Boston Globe stating:

“Santogold is built for theaters or even arena’s...”

Other publications agreed with this sentiment, citing that Santogold’s lack of live instrumentation proved ineffective.

“She won’t be opening for the likes of Coldplay again…”

The first leg was completed in Australia at the start of 2009 and stumbling blocks were gradually becoming more apparent. Her first tour wasn’t received well and now her very stage name had to be relinquished due to a potential lawsuit from director Santo Victor Rigatuso, who had produced the 1985 film Santo Golds Blood Circus”.

The 1985 independent American science fiction-horror film "Blood Circus"

A metaphorical metamorphosis, with her potential waning, she would be born again as “Santigold”. She would follow this up with The British Phonographic Industry showing their appreciation with a nomination in Best International Female Solo Artist. At this point, she had built a cult of personality with her fans. Support from her listeners was ever apparent, proven during the second leg tour show at Lollapalooza.

“A headliner-sized audience for an afternoon concert…”

It was in 2011 that she returned with the first track from the new album, having promised a new album in the near future in Chicago. The album itself, titled “Master Of My Make-Believe” was an attempt by Santi to convey the ideal of creating one’s own reality. Mainly produced in Jamaica, it featured frequent collaborators including Diplo, John Hill, and Karen O. The release was received very well, with critics claiming that the signature sound had finally been mastered, which was apropos. A perfect storm.

Cover Art for Santigold's "Master Of My Make Believe"

“Santigold’s trademark irreverence and penchant  for high-energy anthems delivers her sophomore effort from the potential of miscellany…”

The third single graced the soundtrack for the revered HBO series “Girls”. A comedy about Hannah Horvath, an aspiring author, receives a financial shock when her parents decide to stop supporting her. A typical modern day telling of the day-to-day struggle of the artistic.

Santigold loves her hiatuses, always in the studio producing new music in her signature sound and concepts. She will take her time to make sure the release is at its peak consistently, and the next venture would be no different. In February of 2016, “99¢” was dropped. She commented:

“We have no illusion that we don’t give in this world where everything is packaged…lives, personas, everything, is deliberate and mediated…everything…”

Can’t Get Enough Of Myself”, the first single, was given an interactive music video as a representation of the constant self-absorption of the new social media age, viewers were invited to insert themselves into an interactive music video. The entire concept of the album was a dark take on the modern world that was rapidly becoming more digital and therefore more narcissistic.

Cover Art for Santigold "99¢"

“So, I’m a product…Also, everything is undervalued, so I thought 99 cents was a good price for me and my life and all my hard work…”

Her view of herself here is not surprising. No matter how hard you grind, there is no guarantee of success. No matter how much you help others, they owe you nothing in this game.

Another hiatus? Yes. This time she would commemorate the ten years since her innovative, genre-defying first full-length album, with the 10 Years Golder Tour in 2019.

Last year, her fourth album had been completed and released on CD and picture disc vinyl. “Spirituals,” upon its release, capture the hearts and minds of critics and fans alike, averaging an 8/10 on Metacritic. The long stay away had done her good, allowing her to find that pioneering presence that had brought her to the dance in the first place.

Cover Art for Santigold's "Spirituals"

Her solo career has positioned her as a sort of griot, witness to racial and socioeconomic injustices. It wasn't long before she was dismissed by the industry as the frontwoman of the punk-rock band Stiffed: "Black, female, punk artists could never happen." People saw a confrontational punk persona channeling her frustrations in interviews. Whether it's the insidious nature of the music industry on her breakthrough album Santogold, or consumerism on her third album 99¢, her lyrics speak truth to power and archive corruption. In "Ain't Ready" and the Afro-Caribbean-influenced "No Paradise", Santigold the freedom fighter takes center stage. She drew inspiration from artists like Fela Kuti, Burning Spear, Nina Simone, and Marvin Gaye as a child. Both adversaries and comrades are warned in the siren-like introduction. Overall, a culmination of the journey she has been on with the plethora of talent she has worked with over the years.

The silent hand that has helped shape the popular music industry. Unorthodox. It has blended genres to her own liking and has aided others in finding theirs. A major influence, albeit understated, on the entire industry. Having been bestowed with high praise from the likes of Beyonce, who announced Santigold as one of the most important female voices and one of the 29 legendary black women in music ever, her conscious elements in her music based on the reality of things, from transfer of human beings into commodities, to the effect of social media and genuine artistry, has been vocal to say the least. A true leader and figurehead in the new wave of female empowerment. Santigold is one of the unsung heroes that may never get the recognition she deserves, but those in the know will have a place in their hearts for the golden girl.

Written by: @Arriv3r

Edited by: @Whosaria