Mainstream music is littered with your Katy Perrys, Nicki Minaj‘s and Ariana Grandes — but then there’s Santigold.
With her fiery, independent spirit intact, the 39-year-old Philly native has bucked convention since stepping on the scene with 2008’s Santogold. Coupled with her punk rock ethos, the mother of three stands out among the sea of homogenized sounds that ripple throughout the industry.
Now, Santi is back with her latest album, I Don’t Like: The Gold Fire Sessions, which she finished when she was nine-months pregnant with twins. After relocating to Los Angeles from her longtime home of New York City, Santi finally felt rejuvenated and got a much-needed break from the insane pace of the Big Apple.
“I perfectly love New York, and I feel that New York is such a huge part of who I am and what my music is about and everything,” she says. “I love the intensity. I love that there’s constantly inspiration. I love that. But, it’s also a grind and it also wears on you.
“I’ve been there almost 20 years and I’ve had to step away from New York before. I stepped away from New York for four years in 2001 to 2005.”
During that time, Santi headed back to her Philly roots, where she was in her first punk band Stiffed. Despite her cross-country move, she admits she’s partial to New Yorkers.
“I kind of needed to step away to have the space to create without the pressure,” she explains. “Then, I came back to New York because that’s where people could actually understand what I was doing. That’s the thing about New York. There’s nowhere like it. The people are not the same anywhere and I’ll tell you, in L.A., people are nothing like New Yorkers and I like New Yorkers best.
“But I wanted to spread out and try some other stuff. I don’t wanna keep doing the same thing over and over.”
I Don’t Want, Santi’s fourth official studio album, perfectly exemplifies that philosophy. Produced by Brooklyn-based beatsmith Dre Skull, the 10-track project pulls from Afro-Caribbean sounds, reggae, dancehall, pop, and even trap beats to create her most sonically ambitious project to date. Simply put, Santi knows what she wants and what she doesn’t — hence the title of her album.
“I think that that type of individual assessment and checking in with yourself and keeping yourself in line with who you wanna be and what you wanna be doing is what we all need to be doing for the world,” she says. “I think we’re always looking for somebody else to fix things, but nobody else can fix you. We have to fix ourselves. And we have to fix things. At the end of the day, you gotta change and we have to take on the responsibility for what happens to us.”
Fortunately for Santi, some incredible things have happened to her over the last 10 years. From collaborations with Pharrell Williams and The Strokes to her current tour with Lauryn Hill as part of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary Tour, Santi is doing things for all the right reasons. In fact, fame is one of those things she doesn’t really want.
“It’s not for me,” she says. “That’s one of the things that I like. I like making music and I like making art. And honestly, it’s so challenging now because it has moved so far, even from when I first made my record 10 years ago. It’s so much less about the art and more about social media. That’s kinda like what rubbed me the wrong way and I don’t want that. It’s exhausting and it also takes away from making good art and the art is suffering. It’s heartbreaking.
“So, I talk myself out of suffering. I’m always trying to say, ‘What are you here for? What makes you happy?’ You have to follow that and that’s what independence is to me.”