Born in Philadelphia, White grew up listening to reggae, jazz, Fela Kuti and Nigerian music, soul legends like James Brown and Aretha Franklin, and punk and new wave acts such as Devo and Siouxsie and the Banshees. With a double major in music and African-American studies at Wesleyan University, she began her musical career in the '90s, working as an Epic Records A&R representative and collaborating on the title track of GZA's 1999 album Beneath the Surface. The song also featured R&B singer Res, whose 2001 album How I Do White co-wrote and produced. The following year, another collaboration with GZA, "Stay in Line," was featured on 2002's Legend of the Liquid Sword.
As the singer of the ska-punk band Stiffed, White's vocals commanded attention -- so much so that Martin Heath of Lizard King Records offered her a solo contract after seeing them in concert. After releasing two albums, 2003's Sex Sells and 2005's Burned Again (both of which were produced by Bad Brains' Darryl Jennifer), Stiffed disbanded, and White and her former bandmate John Hill began work on her solo debut. Meanwhile, the cover of the Jam's "Pretty Green" that appeared on Mark Ronson's 2007 album Version marked White's first credited appearance as Santogold.
White and Hill's blend of island rhythms, punk energy, and bright synths led to collaborations with Freq Nasty, Disco D, Switch, Spank Rock's Naeem, XXXChange, Steel Pulse guitarist Clifford Moonie Pusey, and M.I.A. The singles "Creator" and "L.E.S. Artistes" arrived in 2007, while the full-length Santogold was released in April 2008. Recorded in eight weeks, the album featured contributions by Diplo, Switch, and Chuck Treece and earned widespread acclaim for its boundaryless creativity. Along with reaching number 74 on Billboard's 200 Albums chart (and number two on the Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart) in the U.S., Santogold peaked at 26 on the U.K. Albums Chart and was certified gold in Europe in 2010.
That July, she issued the mixtape Top Ranking: A Diplo Dub, which featured previously unreleased songs, a cover of the Clash's "The Guns of Brixton," and the M.I.A. collaboration "Get It Up" in its blend of punk, new wave, reggae, hip-hop, and dance tracks. After spending the rest of the year touring with Björk, M.I.A., Coldplay, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and the Beastie Boys, in 2009 White changed her performing name to Santigold for reasons related to a possible lawsuit from wrestler/director Santo Gold (aka Santo Victor Rigatuso).
While working on material for her next album, she appeared on tracks by N.A.S.A. (The Spirit of Apollo), Beastie Boys (Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2), and the Lonely Island (Turtleneck Chain). During this time, she also worked with Devo, producing tracks on their 2010 album Something for Everybody and co-writing songs for Christina Aguilera's Bionic with Switch and the Bravery's Sam Endicott. She resurfaced with new music of her own in 2011 with "Go," a collaboration with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O that featured production work by Switch and Q-Tip as well as White. The single served as a taste of Santigold's second album, 2012's Master of My Make-Believe, which White co-produced with TV on the Radio's David Sitek. Also featuring contributions from Hill, Diplo, Nick Zinner, and Greg Kurstin, the album polished her sound and built on Santogold's success, hitting 21 on the Billboard 200 and increasing her popularity in the U.K. and Europe. That year, she also appeared on Amadou Mariam's album Folila.
Santigold spent the next couple of years contributing tracks to the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack, the soundtrack to the HBO series Girls, and the World Cup-themed collection Pepsi Beats of the Beautiful Game. She also appeared on A$AP Rocky's 2013 debut album Long.Live. In 2015, her song "Radio" appeared in the soundtrack to the film Paper Towns; late that year, she released "Can't Get Enough of Myself," the lead single from her third album, 99¢. Inspired by the rampant commodification of 21st century life, the album featured collaborations with B.C. and I Love Makonnen as well as production assists by Sitek, Patrik Berger, and Rostam Batmanglij and performances from Cathy Dennis, Charli XCX, and Zinner, and arrived in February 2016. Her poppiest work to date, the album peaked at 55 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart.
Two years later, Santigold returned with I Don't Want: The Gold Fire Sessions, mixtape drawing from dancehall, reggae, and African pop both traditional and contemporary. Featuring productions by Dre Skull as well as previously recorded tracks with Diplo and Ricky Blaze, I Don't Want earned strong reviews and topped the U.S. Reggae Albums chart. She also collaborated with Tyler the Creator on his 2018 EP Music Inspired by Illumination Dr. Seuss' The Grinch. In 2020, Santigold contributed music to Omega Mart, a supermarket-like interactive art installation by the design collective Meow Wolf that also featured works by Brian Eno and Beach House, and appeared on U-Roy's posthumous album Solid Gold U-Roy with a version of "Man Next Door." May 2022 saw the release of the single "High Priestess," a punky call to arms recorded with Ray Brady, Psymun, and Ryan Olson. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi
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