Santigold"s self-titled debut combines "look what I have the right to do" attitude with a galvanizing magic. photograph Illustration through Renee Klahr/; Getty Images; Courtesy the Downtown records hide caption

Santigold"s self-titled debut combine "look what I have the right to do" mindset with a galvanizing magic.

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photo Illustration by Renee Klahr/; Getty Images; Courtesy the Downtown records Music"s transforming the Tables is a task envisioned to an obstacle sexist and also exclusionary conversations around musical greatness. Up until now we have focused on overturning conventional, patriarchal best-of lists and histories of popular music. However this time, it"s personal. For 2021, we"re digging right into our own relationships to the documents we love, asking: just how do we understand as listeners when a piece of music is important to us? how do us break cost-free of institutional pressures on ours taste if still taking the class of history into account? What does it mean to make a truly personal canon? The essays in this series will dig deep into our distinctive relationships through the albums we love, native unimpeachable standards by significant stars to subcultural gamechangers and personal revelations. Since the method that specific music concerns hold a main place in our lives isn"t simply a enjoy of just how we develop our taste, but how we concerned our view on the world.

It"s been twenty years since I very first heard a track from the mind of Santi White, yet at the moment I dropped in love v it i didn"t know I had actually her to thank. Ago then White lived no in the spotlight yet mostly in liner notes and also underground scenes, a black woman grinding, prefer so many prior to her, to do a name for herself in the music industry. She final form — Santigold, the genre-defying heroine who"d later burn shining in my consciousness — was not yet a glimmer.

In those beforehand days the 2001, who I did know was her philly friend Res (a singer whose debut album, the so happens, White mostly wrote and also produced). I"d controlled to gain my hands on How i Do months prior to it to be officially the end — one perk of date the man for who I"d recently moved to brand-new York City. He to be a music journalist v bylines in glossies choose Vibe and also Spin, a Queens-born hip-hop head. In ~ the plenty of shows we experienced Res open up for Talib Kweli or Mos Def end the year — me tagging follow me as mine man"s plus-one, since my unglamorous gig slapping HTML around website copy might never get us on any type of guest perform — i watched the nod hard to the bass-heavy tracks, and like a great girlfriend, i nodded yes too.

But my favourite — that track I dropped for fast — to be How i Do"s opener, "Golden Boys." i loved the sound — Res" voice alternately sneering and soaring over music that, foreshadowing Santigold"s very own mashed-up aesthetic, couldn"t it is in pinned as alt- or neo- or everything prefix you tried to provide it. And also then there to be the lyrics, composed by White — a rebuke of deceptive images and also false idols. "Why room you selling dreams of who you wish you could be?" she scolds in the very very first line, putting on blast a nameless "prince in all of the magazines." The coldest review comes in ~ the chorus, though, courtesy of a sisterhood side-eyeing this prince indigenous the corners:

I mental hearing this lines the first time, the synths ede in the background, the beat picking up. Those "girls like me," that all-knowing "we": they begged me to sing along, so ns did. Was ns cool sufficient to hang the end on this scene, though, savvy sufficient to float cost-free of its traps? ask me today, with the benefit of hindsight, and I will assure you that ago then, i was far from qualified. On some level, you might even accuse me that poseur tendencies too. Trailing behind a man, ~ all, wasn"t specifically the feminist move.

But if you"d asked me earlier then? as soon as I was 24 year old and also high top top the bravado that also a nascent version of Santigold can stir in me? Well. For the runtime that 4 minutes and also 38 seconds, you couldn"t call me jack.


The specific details the my an initial dalliance v Santigold elude me — probably because when it arrived, in 2008, it soon felt ubiquitous. (Technically, earlier then, the album was referred to as Santogold, together was the artist – yet both have been well-known as Santigold adhering to a name adjust in 2009.) i heard "Creator" playing in the bars that my man and also I frequented top top the Lower east Side; i glimpsed her surname in bold when flipping through the Fader or scrolling top top Pitchfork, any variety of those buzzy outlets obsessed through the brand-new and the next; that knows, ns probably even posted movie critic Leah Greenblatt"s capsule review of the album top top (where I functioned at the time). As soon as I nabbed my very own copy I obtained a great look at its cover, connecting the sounds and also the name I well-known with the picture of the artist behind them. Imprinting, almost. And also sis glared ago at me, 100 percent grit — the only glam thing about her the yellow glitter spewing out of she mouth. Whoa, ns remember thinking, what"s the story here?

I discovered, to mine delight, that Santi White and I had actually a lot in common. Both of united state Black women, that course, and also both 32 that year — the dorn age, race and gender to just be make a name, specifically as creatives in youth-obsessed brand-new York City. Favor me, I"d learn from the file I"d dig into as companion pieces to my constant listening, she had paid dues behind the scenes prior to trying out for the showier functions (though her days in A&R and also fronting a punk band dubbed Stiffed to be obviously an ext exciting than mine toggling in between media jobs). Likewise like me, she was musically ravenous. Her skinfolk had actually steeped her in a love the traditionally Black forms — jazz and also soul, then Afrobeat, dub — yet she was interested also in various other genres lovely by the weird white kids she"d befriended in school (among favorites she"s cited: Devo, Siouxsie and also the Banshees, the Pixies, David Byrne). In ~ some suggest she"d mustered the gall to mix it all up, and in her stew of an album I well-known a freedom, a flouting: the heart of Black people banging alongside punks, popular music idols, knob-twiddlers, new wavers. Ns thought around the lengthy stretch that time between her start in the business and also this motivating moment, and sensed that arts this accomplished, this sure, couldn"t have come on any kind of other wavelength or timeline. Considering our similarities, I held her success very close to my heart.

Amid every the incredible music coming the end of new York in the aughts, she style and perspective spoke the loudest come me. Lyrically, lot of Santigold carried the swagger the the hip-hop i loved (from "Creator": "Tell me no, ns say yes, ns was favored / and I will provide the explosion"), yet minus the misogyny that regularly stopped me cold ~ above the dance floor. And also though the era"s resurgent rock & rollers like the Strokes and the yeah Yeah Yeahs sparked electric, channeling the city"s jittery energy, for me Santigold"s debut to be funnier, sharper. She had actually a typical eye-roll, scheduled for the city"s suckas and the indignities of competing versus them ("L.E.S. Artistes," "Shove It," "Starstruck"). But a wink was there too, in her story of overcoming doubt ("My Superman"), cops and robbers ("Unstoppable"), even power outages ("Lights Out").

The album has big "look what I have the right to do" attitude, and also in that method it speak to the brand-new York dream the looming exceptional — one singular emotion — above the masses. And also yet what is this city without its people, there is no the relations you make on your way to the top? To that point, some of Santigold"s songs have actually a galvanizing magic too. There"s the "us" in fight on "You"ll uncover a Way" ("Can"t pull united state under/ You far better watch out, operation for cover"), however the many famous instance opens "Shove It": 7 years after ~ the Res song that invite me to it is in cooler and also smarter than I in reality was, Santi White dropped an additional meaningful "we"— Brooklyn, us go hard — and also the expression was for this reason rousing, such a rallying cry, the Kanye West constructed a entirety banger approximately it because that Jay-Z.

By the year that Santigold the man and I repped the borough of Brooklyn too, capping a years-long Goldilocks hop approximately the city (our brand-new garden apartment in ft Greene to be heaven, complying with stints life in cab-sparse Queens and stodgy Midtown Manhattan). I should say that follow me the way we"d bound the knot, in a DIY wedding-slash-cocktail party that, thanks to a reporter friend, made half a page of the Daily News. Finally resolved among so countless striving, thriving Black folks — this was, the course, simply at the tipping allude of gentrification — it finally felt prefer our "we" was expanding. The highways exploded with pleasure on election Night, impromptu run parties right external our home windows to celebrate the brand-new President who looked favor us, and also I had never felt together a strong connection to my embraced home.

At work I got promoted a few times by editing and enhancing other people"s stories, however still i dreamed of composing my own — a novel one day, if I could figure out exactly how to hone my hustle. In the meantime, i took a couple of workshops in the West village on Saturdays, commerce amateur quick fiction with various other aspiring artists, and also on occasional Sundays i joined a group of girlfriends for book club. Every one of them to be girls prefer me, transplants come the city through blooming careers and ambition to spare. We review E.L. Doctorow and Ntozake Shange, and also argued about them over brunch. Us lovingly referred to as ourselves the "Army of negative B******," and hyped each other up because that the Mondays ahead.


In 2012, Santigold to reduce a brand-new album, Master of my Make-Believe, however at the time I was too busy to gain into it. I had actually just started a new role together an executive, management editor at a media brand — still not functioning on a novel or even short stories anymore, though ns tried to justification proximity to writing as near enough. I didn"t have actually room in my brain for lot of anything rather (except TV, my sedative at the finish of the day). The only new music i heard remained in the background of prestige tv series or auto commercials. The dreamer within me, dying.

on the surface, my life gleamed. Down South, my household was for this reason proud of mine climb the my mother framed and mounted on a wall surface of her residence the masthead the a magazine where my name sat two lines away from the top. And in Brooklyn, the husband and also I purchase a new-construction condo under the street in Bed-Stuy, the under payment and later the mortgage drawn from my salary (since he"d battered his own day task to create movies ~ above spec). The push was unreal, yet wasn"t ns up because that it? Wasn"t leveling up the entire point? i imagine if I had actually listened come Santigold then, she effect might have been different. What i needed, what i wanted, an ext than a jolt of confidence to thrive into the mrs I wanted to be, to be confirmation I"d conquered new York.

But by summer 2013, what I"d assumed to be gold turn a sickening green. At work, budgets shrank also tighter, and also I resented wielding the hatchet come layoff time, resented my days diminished to number I could never do work. Meanwhile, at home, the husband expressed, in assorted hurtful ways, the this entirety marriage thing simply wasn"t his jam. In the end I maintained the condo, and the significantly agonizing project that paid for it. I still had my military of poor B****** and also they rallied about me whenever castle could, yet many of them had children now and/or their very own stressful careers. So ns spent lot of my time turn off alone, wandering aimlessly, bitterly down Bedford Avenue.

Eventually top top those walks, ns did hear to music again — my old favorites, Santigold among them. The confidence i remembered to be still intact, however now, in songs prefer "L.E.S. Artistes," my heart perked up in ~ the earnestness, the desire glinting through disillusion:

I deserve to say ns hope it will be precious what I provide upIf I could stand up average for the things that ns believeChange, change, ch-change, changeI desire to get up the end of mine skin

"I"d had actually this psychic reading," Santi White would later tell note Ronson in a 2021 interview, recalling the time before her breakthrough. "And she"s like, "Well, you"re going to acquire where you desire to gain to, but it"s walking to take longer due to the fact that you just acquired to let go of wanting to obtain to a particular place and also just make music because that the services of making music.""

At my own crossroads, I had no together visions right into my future. No clue yet the I could succeed on different terms, in much more satisfying ways, or that it would certainly take leaving new York because that a if to acquire there. I would certainly tap mine savings and also every oz of courage to quit that large job, immersing myself in writing till it came to be not a dream however my purpose, my mission; until I had a totality novel centering a black woman absent idol the Santi White could have admired the same method I"d constantly admired her. I would not recognize that this publication would tempt an agent, or offer to a publisher, or that anyone would certainly even treatment to review the passion task of a 45-year-old woman. I, choose Santigold, would find out to make art for the sake of art, and I would never feel much more free.

But that wandering summer, i was afraid. The just thing i knew, by instinct, was to hear to the arsenal the what i still had: a voice, a heart and also just sufficient faith.

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So I put one foot in former of the other. Ran back the track, started over again.

Dawnie Walton is author of the 2021 novel The final Revival of Opal & Nev, longlisted for the Brooklyn Library literary Prize and praised by the New York Times as "a packed time capsule that doubles as a pole of dynamite."