Who ever thought this was going to happen? When The Artist Formerly Known As Santogold dropped her debut ‘Santogold’ back in 2008, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one thinking that Santi White was riffing on M.I.A’s ‘Arular’ and ‘Kala’ successes of a few years earlier, bringing a bit of South-East Asian spice to the scene with razor sharp aesthetics to match. Terribly narrow in my understanding of the ebbs and flows of music at that time, I considered Santogold as an impostor, a pretender to the throne which had been quite rightly claimed by M.I.A. and her Tamil-tinged take on the reggae/dancehall beats that Diplo and Switch were heavily influencing (before the former began writing for Beyonce and the two decided they no longer needed muses and formed the indomitable Major Lazer). Touring with Maya didn’t help this impression and hearing the tribalistic ‘Creator‘ confirmed that Santogold was certainly biting M.I.A. style. Besides, she was vomiting gold sparkles all over her debut album art.
And yet, as much as she appeared superficially to be very much aligned with M.I.A.’s vibe – and their career path’s inexplicably intertwined to some degree – Santigold (rebranded after a naming dispute) demonstrated a different depth to that M.I.A. channeled on her first couple of albums and, thankfully, didn’t take the crazy detour off the straight and narrow that T.I., Kanye, Jay-Z and Wayne’s favourite swaggerer did with her poorly received ‘Maya’ (2010). Instead, Santi, a former A&R at Epic Records and a writer for GZA and Christina Aguilera among others, took her time crafting ‘Master of My Make-Believe’, the follow up to her debut dropping last month, almost four years since her debut. What is obvious on this sophomore effort (and was evidenced on her debut, too, if you, unlike me, could see past M.I.A. allusions) is that Santigold is no one trick pony. Instead, she gallops confidently across familiar terrain like new wave and reggae fusion and takes on stranger sounds too in hints of dub and punk.
‘Disparate Youth’, released as the second single from the album, was fantastic value when I copped it a couple of months back and continues to enthrall chiefly thanks to Santigold’s nonchalant approach to being such a goddamn sonic chameleon. Through plucky strings, shredding guitars, reverberating keys and restless drums, Santigold remains enviably calm, reciting a pseudo-pep talk for the young’ins of today with such composure that you’d think she sung over such genre-obliterating beats everyday. Truth is, she probably does. In the realm of art-reggae-rock-punk-hip-hop-pop-electro, Santigold is queen. No longer stand-in for M.I.A., she hardly deserves to be described within the false dichotomy. Santigold is a force to be reckoned with because rather than merely relying on stellar production to win her praise, she’s honed her vocal technique and lyricism to match the output of producers including Diplo, Switch, Q-Tip and TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek. ‘Disparate Youth’ is profound, compulsive, confounding evidence proving a personal hypothesis incorrect. Don’t go wrong with Santigold.
Santigold – Disparate Youth