Santogold To Critics: Please Listen To My Album Before You Try To Label It
Santi “Santogold” White is ruffling a few feathers by saying that people tagging her music as hip-hop and/or R & B are engaging in racist behavior, i.e. placing a genre on her music without really listening to it. Dropping the “r” word is always going to cause people to take up arms, and indeed, there are some fans of hip-hop who see this quote as Santogold turning her back on the genre. But is she dissing hip-hop and R & B, or is she fed up with lazy music categorizers who feel compelled to put every piece of music they hear into an iTunes-approved genre, and who sometimes rely on superficial characteristics like, say, the color of an artist’s skin in order to get to that end?
The quote in question, via The Lipster:
“It’s racist (laughs). It’s totally racist. Everyone is just so shocked that I don’t like R&B. Why does R&B keep coming into my interviews? It’s pissing me off. I didn’t grow up as a big fan of R&B and, like, what is the big shocker? It’s stupid. In the beginning I thought that was funny. I’m an ‘MC’, I’m a ‘soul singer’, I’m a ‘dance hybrid artist’. And some guy said I looked like Kelly Rowland!”
What’s funny is that I’ve had a similar groan-and-eyeroll reaction to people who draw direct comparisons between Santogold’s sound and that of M.I.A.; sure, the two use a lot of the same producers and have similar visual aesthetics, but single listens to both Kala and Santogold starkly reveal that the two artists are coming from really different places. (I think I’ve said this before, but the first time I heard “L.E.S. Artistes” I thought I was listening to a Tegan & Sara dance remix, and their sound is pretty far from anything M.I.A.’s ever done during her solo career.) In this highly categorical pop-music world–and given that Santogold’s on a major label, which is definitely still operating in old-guard mode as far as playing to radio formats, etc., goes–more often than not, the genre that an artist is slotted into is based on factors that go way beyond the music. Given that she has a fairly intimate knowledge of the inner workings of majors, and that she’s probably been watching her fine album get pitched to outlets that it’s utterly wrong for, I suspect that the old practice of slotting music into boxes is what Santogold is decrying (seriously, how on earth does she look like Kelly Rowland!?), and not hip-hop as an entity.