In 2008, just before Myspace was eclipsed by Facebook as our social media overlord, the web platform was the place to discover new music. It was a genre-defying, online world without boundaries — and there was Santigold.
With the release of her debut LP “Santogold,” Santi White — who cut her teeth fronting no-frills punk outfit Stiffed in the early aughts, captured a different mood during what was considered the tail end of the “bloghouse” era. She delivered a sonic buffet of hip-hop, industrial punk and new wave, afrobeat and dancehall, using it as a vehicle for delivering positive affirmations of self and unwavering creative ambition. White’s music pushed the boundaries of pop and expectations of what black artists should sound like, dress like or be interested in.
Rolling Stone went as far to say that Santigold “ultimately sounds like her own damn movement.”
Eleven years later, she’s balancing new and old — about to embark on an anniversary tour celebrating a decade since her lauded debut, “10 Years Golder Tour,” while managing a home move, three kids and time for self-care. A lot has changed, but for White, the past hasn’t lost any relevance.
“I’m kind of in shock it’s been 10 years already. I can’t believe how fast time is going, it’s kind of crazy,” she laughs on a phone call from Los Angeles, where she’s still dealing with the aftermath of a house fire at her former home in March and vocal preparation ahead of hitting the road. “I think it’s important to create a sense of community globally, you know what I mean?”
“That’s what my music is focused on,” she continues. “Not even consciously — I just create; that’s what music is for. I feel proud of that record. When I listen to it, it’s a testament to the kind of music we were making at the time. So many of my fans tell me how these songs helped them through or how important it was to them as young people shaping their identity. It makes me proud that people connected to this record and I’m excited to go back and bring the memories. It’s relevant today, for women, for anybody, to be reminded of their own power and their ability to create change and their role in (the global community.)”
White’s observations and experiences — hand-in-hand with much more global sensibilities — are key to understanding the nuances of her music, and she’s noticed a few things regarding her place in pop music’s canon in the years post-“Santogold.”
First, her releases have almost always aligned with some sort of political or cultural unrest. It’s not intentional, she insists, but ultimately provides a deeper need for her messages of love and empowerment; societal critiques that are sharp, but far from isolating.
After the commercial rush, White took her time, not releasing her sophomore effort “Master of My Make-Believe” until 2012, during which she remembers watching coverage of the Arab Spring that began spreading across the Middle East in 2010. 2016’s “99¢” found itself rolled into the debate over social media’s influence and the presidential election that same year, and on 2018’s “I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions” — which she wrapped up in nearly two weeks just before giving birth to twins — it was hard to ignore lyrical parallels to movements such as #MeToo and the left’s Resistance against the Trump administration’s policies.
“I try to write music that inspires people, that makes people really want to take an honest look at themselves and, you know, figure out what their purpose is,” she explains. “I feel like it was a really special moment (in 2008). The moment – everything just opened up. So much optimism, we had the election that year when Obama won. The optimism was reflected in the music of the era and the fashion was phenomenal.
“It was a moment for the mold to be broken,” White says. “… it went sideways after that.”
Second, that “broken mold” as it pertains to artists, aided by a shift to the internet as a primary source for discovering new music, she argues. It helped to reshape the industry; forging a path for the emerging Soundcloud and YouTube acts today — especially those who “collage” their sound, as she describes her own process.
“It let people know ‘You can do whatever you want and go direct to the artist.’ You don’t have to buy in to have a shot,” she says. “The blossoming social media, like Myspace, it gave an opportunity for music that didn’t fit in boxes to be heard and connect with an audience. It was genreless music that in an era when genres were so important for the press and radio to define where music belonged — mine didn’t fit anywhere. Normally that keeps you out of the picture, but all of a sudden, you had access to the world and people found out how it worked.”
Often recognized as one of the voices at the front of that shift, White continues to relish her role as a rulebreaker. She still claims the space she carved out for “the other” and sees her influence in the next generation of musicians, especially Black women, refusing to be defined by preconceived ideals.
“There weren’t many instances of a Black woman who wasn’t R&B or dressed in a sexy little outfit,” she says.
“It was an alternative portrayal, a different type of woman, a different type of black woman making a different type of music. It was ‘other!’” she emphasizes. “Across categories, we checked the ‘other’ box. I think I was a role model to a lot of kids who felt they didn’t fit in the box of ‘This is what a Black woman does,’ ‘This is what girls do.’ I guess I still am.”
While this current outing celebrates the past, Santigold is maintaining a clear and steady path forward. It’s one inspired by the respect she has for her fans and anchored by trust in her vision … and years of practicing Qigong and meditation.
“I am particularly lucky to have fully gotten to know myself. I know it’s an always-evolving process, but I was really grounded before I came out as ‘Santigold,’” White says. “Luckily, I didn’t have to figure myself out in front of everybody at a really young age. I think that groundedness carries into my music; I do know myself and I know what’s important, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with it just like everybody does. It’s not like it doesn’t evolve as far as you asking yourself who you are, what you want and where you want to go all the time. I ask myself those questions in the music.
“But as a mother, self-care is challenging for me. Time for self-care is challenging,” she continues.
“You should see me right now!” White laughs. “I mean it’s a really crazy thing. I had three (expletive) kids in four years! I’m trying to get my voice ready for tour and come up with creative visuals and costumes, and it’s just so much! I’ve got hairy legs and broken nails and like crazy hair, but I just know through all of it the most important thing is stuff like Qigong or yoga — that’s how I connect myself. That has all the good messages and knows all the good stuff, even when everything in my life gets really crazy. You don’t even get the ideas without that stuff.”
(Article written by Jessi Roti)