Before Santi White was Santigold, she was already a savvy music business veteran.
The Mount Airy native — who headlines the Fillmore on Sunday on her “10 Years Golder” tour, celebrating (a year late) her 2008 self-titled debut — held a position in the early ’00s as an A&R woman at Epic Records.
There, the Wesleyan University alum and daughter of late Philadelphia political operative Ron White wrote for Ashlee Simpson and penned the bulk of the 2001 album How I Do by Philly rock-soul singer Res.
Later, White fronted her own superb Philly ska-punk-reggae band, Stiffed, which released a 2003 EP called Sex Sells and a 2005 album, Burned Again, that are ripe for rediscovery.
Those projects never found the wide audiences they deserved in part because in both cases, a clueless music business didn’t know what to do with a black woman who played rock music.
But by the late ’00s, White and the industry had adjusted. With the advent of file sharing via Napster in 1999 and the iPod in 2001, a generation of listeners less hung up on genre had grown accustomed to rock and hip-hop and reggae and electronic music shuffling in their earbuds.
The music on Santogold — as White’s debut was initially called before she was sued by a Baltimore jeweler and filmmaker — was in step with those changes.
The album is a no-filler collection that established White as an avatar of cool, a synthesist who moved from dub to pop to New Wave, expert at blending a variety of styles into insinuating tracks like “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Creator.” The latter exults in knocking down nonsensical barriers: “Me I’m a creator, thrill is to make it up / The rules I break got me a place up on the radar.”
Along with Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A., White was a future music maven and fashion trendsetter, an artist whose existence demonstrated the silliness of arbitrary musical categorization. (White’s Fillmore show will be a reunion of sorts, sans M.I.A. White’s openers are motormouth Philly rappers Amanda Blank and Spank Rock — who now goes by his real first name, Naeem. Both were on the White/M.I.A. bill.)
Pointing ahead to a genreless future, Santigold was also emblematic as a commercial entity. And by that, I mean its music was heard in a lot of commercials. “Shove It,” which featured Spank Rock in its original version, was sampled on Jay-Z’s song “Brooklyn Go Hard." “Creator” showed up on Grey’s Anatomy, and the deliciously light and airy “Lights Out,” was used to make cheap beer seem palatable in Bud Light Lime ads.
Santigold, which White will perform in its entirety on Sunday, made its impact after the collapse of the old industry model, in which people actually bought music, and the rise of the new dominant streaming one, so there weren’t obvious metrics to quantify its popularity. Put it this way: Santigold was a record you didn’t have to actually play to become intimately familiar with. Coffee shops, clothing stores, TV shows: You heard it everywhere.
Since then, Santigold has been not-so-prolific. She’s raising a family with her snowboarder/musician husband Trevor Andrew, and she lost commercial momentum by taking time between the more polished, less thrilling Master of Make Believe in 2012 and 99¢ in 2016. The latter was a smart, poppy inquiry into the value of art in the digital age, but it failed to gain traction.
She’s still making vital music: In 2018, the songwriter, who lives part-time in Jamaica, quietly released I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions, a joyful dance-hall-inspired mixtape/album with a creative spark that shines bright. But Sunday’s Fillmore show will be about recapturing a Philly music moment from a decade ago. White’s old pals Spank and Blank will be in on the fun, and just about every song will sound familiar, even if you haven’t heard them in years.