Soaked in Gold, Santigold
You know you’re a sensation when you can pick up the phone to call Alexander Wang and ask him to design a special look for your upcoming album cover—at the last minute. The vibe you’re going for, you tell him, is Bond Girl. You want to look tough but sexy. Before you know it there’s a custom made gold Alexander Wang bathing suit with your name on it.
When you’re the indie/new wave/otherwise unclassifiable artist Santi White, a.k.a. Santigold, that’s how you roll.
This May, Santigold dropped Master of My Make-Believe, out on Downtown/Atlantic Records, her first record since 2008 and the follow-up to her self-titled debut, Santigold. Even though Miss Gold is backed by Jay-Z and Roc Nation, don’t you worry about her indie street cred. MMMB features collaborations with the A List of the indie circuit: Karen O., Greg Kurstin, Switch, Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. A campy, lo-fi, animated music video for “Big Mouth” was directed by Cody Critcheloe of SSION.
Since 2008, Santigold has released a mixtape, toured with Bjork, played concerts with Coldplay, Jay-Z and Kanye, changed her stage name from Santogold to Santigold, wrote for Christina Aguilera, opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. These are all fantastic feats, to be sure, but what makes Santigold stand out is that she is perpetually, significantly, unclassifiable. This is the same artist who, in 2008, was compared to Kelly Rowland, M.I.A., soul singers, and rap, and put all those genre classifications on blast as racist.
Santigold, who majored in Music and African American Studies at Wesleyan, is known as much for her special brand of hybrid, unclassifiable, art-rock that borrows from dub, dancehall, electronic and punk as she is for her fantastically collage-like, low-fi sense of style. Master of My Make-Believe is not a repeat of her galvanizing debut, but stays within the soundscape by using a range of infectious dance beats, many of them Afro-Caribbean. “GO!” featuring Karen O. is an upbeat track whose bass beat pushes and pulls back and forth, and makes me think of punk kids banging their heads in garages all over Jamaica, where the record was partially recorded. It’s easy for a song with a title like “Fame” to feel like “sonic glitter,” with keyboards, violins, and a whole lot of schmaltz. But Santigold’s “Fame” doesn’t sound like what you think it does. As she sings, “hustle make you high high/hustle make you low,” a hard, Jamaican dub beat brackets the song before the chorus is subdivided by heavy, chopping slams.
Typically, as albums go, the last few songs are the slowest, but Santigold saved two stand out tracks for last. With the ultra energetic “Big Mouth,” which borrows significantly from Buraka Som Sistema’s “(We Stay) Up All Night” who also produced the track, Santigold is at her most enthusiastic. It’s also the track where she comes for Lady Gaga and other mainstream artists: “Ga ga ga all slightly off/not me I’ll take the loss.” And on the Diplo produced “Look At These Hoes,” where Santi raps about being soaked in gold, she has a little fun with hip-hop.
But probably the best moment of the album is “Disparate Youth,” a classic “chill wave” Santigold record that doesn’t sound like any other song on the album, yet reminds us she knows how to produce the sound that made her famous. “Disparate Youth” is relatively slow, but it’s the kind of chill song that wraps around you entirely.
Santigold is the primary—if only—solo black indie artist in the spotlight today. In 2009, Jay-Z said, “What the indie rock movement is doing right now is very inspiring. It felt like us in the beginning.” Since then, Solange Knowles did a cover of The Dirty Projectors and Beyoncé poached a Diplo/Major Lazer beat for “Run the world (Girls).” No surprise, then, that Jay swooped in to capitalize on Santigold’s popularity. The paradox, of course, is that her whole production is about street cred, strangeness, and the low-fi even as she is backed by the biggest players in the music industry. Well, whatever works!