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,” 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 2008, earning widespread acclaim. 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). 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. 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 and the World Cup-themed collection Pepsi Beats of the Beautiful Game, and 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 and arrived in Februrary 2016. ~ Heather Phares