Some artists choose to tour a particular milestone of career success in their discography. Others tour longtime fan favorites in hopes of creating a new experience in the narrower focus. But this month, as Santi White, better known as Santigold, embarks on the 10 Years Gold Tour, she’s celebrating much more than success or fandom alone. She’s celebrating a indie rock movement that started with her debut LP, Santogold, and hasn’t let up since.
“There was really no musical place for it,” White says in conversation with Phoenix New Times. “It was not an era of genreless music at the time.”
Santigold made her solo debut to the world with “Creator,” a ferocious dance track that sounds infinitely more at home in the present day than it did in early 2008. Here, White threw hip-hop, dub, electronica, and indie pop into a blender and made a track that would inspire years of head-scratching emulation. While her peers leaned comfortably into ’80s dance influences, here was an artist going beyond the trend and into entirely new territory.
“This came out and it didn’t really fit into any premade marketing boxes,” White says. “It happened to coincide with the internet — the Myspace time. All of a sudden, you could go straight to an audience — you didn’t need those marketing boxes. So genres kind of fell to the sidelines. So I think it was a pioneering album for that style.”
Surprisingly, “Creator” didn’t come to be until the second half of the process for Santogold. White had been working with former Stiffed bandmate John Hill on the more rock-oriented material on the record like “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Lights Out” when an opportunity to expand the LP’s sonic landscape presented itself in the form of up-and-coming dance producers Diplo and Switch.
“I was just blown away by what Switch was doing,” White says. “I went into the studio with him and Freak Nasty — they had come to town to try to find the next Baltimore-based female rapper. They played me this track ‘Creator’ and wanted me to go right into the booth to record it. I was so shy and I asked if I could take it home with me, never planning on going back. But they kept calling me, and I came back with this idea that I was super u-sure about. And I remember they were looking at me through the glass and were so excited because it sounded like nothing else.”
Beginning to end, Santogold is a stylistic tour de force that somehow feels continuous despite White and her team throwing so much into the pot. There are Pixies and Blondie moments alongside futuristic dance music that felt entirely new, independent of any nod or tribute.
“I’ve been lucky all through my entire career to find these people to work with who are just as ... able to walk from Siouxsie to Bone Thugs, any style of music we can jump around to” White says, “comfortable to just play off this wide array of sounds so fluidly.”
Despite making dozens of year-end best album lists, critical discussion of White as an artist was markedly shortsighted in 2008. Publications were quick to bring up White’s work in A&R and songwriting for larger artists, and even quicker to draw dismissive comparison to M.I.A, with whom White toured the year prior.
Only five years later, those same blogs would celebrate artists like Caroline Polachek (of Chairlift) and Grimes for writing music for the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna. In the genre-stratified era in which White debuted, there wasn’t a space to be the creator she was destined to be.
“Totally different landscape now,” White says. “Not only for all artists or women artists or black artists — there are so many people always trying to put you in a box because of who you are. That’s partially reflective of where we are in this country, but also partially just where we are as individuals. But I think we have progressed a lot since then.
"Partially because of the internet, people were just able to find music without knowing what genre they were looking for.," she continues. "But also I think for black artists, since then, it’s more accepted for black people to be something other than what people were trying to pin us as. To be African-American doesn’t mean one thing — one kind of music or music or dress. You can be anything.”
Regardless of the critical nitpicking, Santogold blew doors wide open for White. Artists from across the spectrum reached out to her in droves. Drake and Jay-Z both sampled Santogold tracks for respective 2009 singles. U.K. dance gods Basement Jaxx featured White on Scars highlight “Saga.”
She also showed up on the N.E.R.D. ska track “Soldier” and Beastie Boys’ “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win.” White went on an arena tour with Coldplay, produced for Devo, and helped Diplo and Switch kick off Major Lazer with “Hold The Line.” The Santogold LP proved White was as unstoppable as her song claimed.
“I don’t know what I was giving to people,” White says. “Honestly, I had no expectation at all. I thought it was just for fun honestly because it just sounded so different. I was surprised that people were able to connect with it.”
Santigold: Ten Years Gold. With Amanda Blank. 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, at The Van Buren, 401 West Van Buren Street; thevanburenphx.com. Tickets are $36 to $40 via Ticketweb.