On the album cover for Santigold’s long-awaited return, Master of My Make-Believe, the artist acts as many things. A Mafia boss, a 18th century officer and a bludgeon-wielding bodyguard — artist Santi White is truly the maker, master and creator of her own reality. Santigold’s rise has not resulted in inauthenticity. She’s still a perfectionist, preferring genre-blending ear-pleasers over generic top radio hits.
Master of My Make-Believe begins with the vibrant and upbeat “Go!” It’s not a surprise that Santigold has been opening most of her 2012 shows with “Go!” It’s her comeback anthem — ”All the way to Paris/Run my reputation,” sings Santigold in her half-sung, half-chant vocal delivery. Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O makes a guest appearance, the musical tag team creating their own thrones of bad girl swagger in Paris.
A trademark of Santigold’s music is her voice and how it often acts as another instrument to the backing music. Like TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, Santigold’s voice fluctuates between unsung commands and melodic hooks. Sometimes she’ll swarm you with fist-pumping “Hey’s (“Go!”), and others, she’ll just gently croon.
For example, in “God From The Machine” Santigold’s voice ascends when necessary, but remains calm throughout, the lyrics reminding listeners that success is often a lonely, but rewarding journey.
If “God From The Machine” is the journey, “Fame” and “Look at These Hoes” are the aftermath. “We don’t want no fame,” shouts Santigold. Her ambivalence isn’t contrived; her fame has yet to take control of Santigold’s creative fervor, giving listeners a pure and untainted Santi White. In re-establishing herself as one of music’s most refreshing artists, Santigold proves that she has the talent to differentiate herself from her pop radio counterparts. But the artist does not stray too far away from her roots, which is why the songs work.
Standby collaborators Diplo and Switch have been working with Santigold since her inception, and therefore can create something that is still Santigold while simultaneously pushing her to keep up. And she does just that; her trademark delivery is as exhilarating as it was four years ago, packed with undeniable vigor.
Take “Look at These Hoes” for example. It’s easy to call the song the hipster equivalent to Nicki Minaj’s “Stupid Hoe,” but it’s so much more than that. First off, lyrics dripping with braggadocio simply sound better when Diplo is behind them. Ringing cash registers, booty-bouncing bass and body-slicing laser synths — Diplo is fully prepared. And nothing emphasizes Santigold’s disinterest in her contemporaries like the voice-distorted “I’m so damn cold” towards the end of the song, a freezing slap to the face of Santigold knockoffs and wannabes.
Master of My Make-Believe is an impressive sophomore release that shows Santigold balancing her roots with experimentation. With longtime partners Diplo and Switch, Santigold confidently shines over new sounds and arrangements, faithful that the boys will take care of her as she takes her next step to music acclaim.
Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as: Fame hasn't hindered Santigold's genius, album shows off trademark talent, roots