Santigold (Santi White) clearly is never in any rush to push out her albums. With pop artists sometimes releasing an album a year, Santigold takes her time. After her explosive debut, Santogold, in 2008 (inevitably receiving unwarranted comparisons to another genre-bending female artist M.I.A.), it took fours years for her follow-up, Master of My Make-Believe. Up until that time, Santi White (along with M.I.A.) had changed the musical landscape. So much so that Beyonce and Rihanna had begun to cop their style, their musical proclivities, and even their producers. If Santogold was Santigold’s announcement of her multi-dimensional, distinct sound (a collage of ska, reggae, dub, new wave, hip hop, and electro) then Master of My Make-Believe sharpened that sound into near perfection while continuing to deliver subtle yet confident lyrics that ranged from political to personal.
Nearly almost four years since MMMB, we welcome Santigold’s newest offering, 99 Cents. The new album, she’s declared in interviews, is about fun, even as she examines how we create and brand ourselves, our authenticity, our commodification, and so forth. The image of the album cover (seen above) implants these themes immediately: the hodgepodge of knick-knacks vacuum-sealed along with Santi White herself. It’s also symbolic of the artist’s musical mélange.
If that’s not telling enough, the opening track is aptly dubbed, “Can’t Get Enough of Myself." Tropical, breezy, it’s easy to imagine Santigold on a toy beach, plastic palms swaying above her while she sips a Pina Colada (and just offshore Katy Perry struggles to swim). It’s a whimsical doppelganger to Nicki Minaj’s “Feelin’ Myself," Santi’s lyrics satirizing our Insta-lives and click-habits.
On track two, “Big Boss Big Time Business,” we follow Santi as she struts from the beach into lush tropical forest, exclaiming her power as a female and as an artist. Its syncopated sound recalls “Disparate Youth,” but this time it’s less concerned and more joyful.
On her next track “Banshee” we emerge from the brush to find Santigold at Rio Carnival. While Santigold’s tunes could have always veered into aggressive party tracks on her first two albums, she usually steered clear of that, sticking to mid-tempo arrangements that allowed for more intimate listening experiences. But on “Banshee," she loads a carnival float with a barrage of sound, climbs aboard, douses them with kerosene and sets it ablaze.
Morning after the parade, we wake up at dawn to Santigold singing another highlight, “Chasing Shadows." Poignant, reflective lyrics about ballooning ambition are matched with Santigold’s high-pitched shrieks and a happy, seemingly Annie-esque piano (“Hard-Knock Life” comes to mind). From here she swerves into “Rendezvous Girl,” a buoyant homage to '80s synth-pop. What comes after are a trifecta of near-ballads including a touching “Run the Races." But ending on a new wave banger, Santigold shoots for the exosphere with “Who I Thought You Were,” and harnesses prime Cyndi Lauper energy.
If there’s any weight to the criticisms lobbed on Santigold over the course of her career, it could have to do with her choices that have limited her crossover into the mainstream. Zig-zagging from genre to genre in nearly every song (with different producers providing a unique stamp), it’s no wonder really. Ultimately Santi and her music is branded, packaged, and sold off to the masses. She makes no apologies about the content of her work, believing in exactly the kind of product she creates – even if it curbs her appeal.
As she cries out on “Banshee," “I’m having a good time!” Thank God, because we are too.
Standout Tracks: “I Can’t Get Enough of Myself”, “Big Boss Big Time Business”, “Banshee”, “Chasing Shadows”, “Rendezvous Girl.”
Written by Alexander Rose (@omgalex), Critical asshole living in Los Angeles