Ask a rap fan who GoldLink is and you’ll be likely to get a couple of answers: The DMV’s hip hop hero. He of the silky-smooth flow. Formerly anonymous purveyor of future bounce. Grammy-nominated SoundCloud graduate.
GoldLink is all of these things and more. Before he grew into these titles, he was just a hustling artist uploading songs on Bandcamp as Gold Link James, eschewing trap production to freestyle over twitchy sounds by Ta-Ku, Sango and Lapalux. And before that, he was simply D’Anthony Carlos, a kid with a fraught relationship with his parents who would rather rap than go to college.
GoldLink has recently hit another milestone: the release of his debut studio album, Diaspora. To mark the occasion, we rounded up five must-hear cuts from his catalog. Check them out here.
If you look hard enough online, brushing past dead links and broken videos, you can find dusty loosies GoldLink released before ever putting out a mixtape. One of those is “Electronic Relaxation.” The song was produced by Ta-Ku, whom GoldLink has named in interviews as one beatmaker whose sound he was drawn to early in his career.
“I never crossed over like, ‘Trap is cool, I’m going to do this’… I heard [a] Ta-Ku beat two years ago and I thought it was cooler than all the bullshit that was hot,” he told the FADER in 2014. “I wrote to those beats to challenge myself, not knowing that this is the route I was going to take. I was like, ‘Man, this is weird. I know someone wouldn’t rap over this so I’m going to challenge myself.’”
“Electronic Relaxation” gives a taste of the kind of sounds that would’ve lit a fire under GoldLink. Ta-ku’s production on this track moves at a head-spinning, drum ’n’ bass-worthy pace. Over this frenetic beat, the rapper serves up brash braggadocio (not all of which holds up, years after the fact) about his days on the street, the music industry, his sexual appeal and more. Two bold ’90s hip hop samples anchor this track: A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation” and Freak Nasty’s verse from “2 Live Party” by 2 Live Crew.
“When I Die”
On The God Complex, his breakthrough 2014 mixtape, GoldLink made the case for “future bounce”—a heady, high-BPM take on funk and hip hop, cooked up in the club and served to the partying masses. Most of The God Complex operates on this jittery, ecstatic plane. One notable exception is “When I Die,” one of the most popular songs on the mixtape (as evidenced from the 1.13 million plays it’s racked up on SoundCloud so far).
“When I Die,” like its subject, is to the point. Over McCallaman’s wobbling production, which moves as slow as molasses, the rapper drops bleak, bracing bars about his inevitable demise, until the sound of a crashing car brings the track to an abrupt end. “When I Die” proves that GoldLink’s music isn’t about partying with no care for death—but about partying in the face of it.
Women are often on GoldLink’s mind. That preoccupation is nowhere more obvious than on And After That, We Didn’t Talk, a break-up album that exorcises old romantic demons. The 2015 release (which was executive produced by Rick Rubin) is centered on a relationship GoldLink was in when he was 16. But as he told Saint Heron in a brief interview, the album features songs written about specific women from various times in his life.
Take “Spectrum,” which memorably samples a snippet of dialogue from a Filipino ex of GoldLink’s, who speaks in her native language, Tagalog. On the track, the rapper acknowledges his checkered romantic history and his complicated, sometimes hurtful dynamic with women. “Nineteen, I got a newer meaning / Rocked monk beads, God chains, searchin’ for a deeper meaning / Still burnin’ women, what a deadly contradiction,” he spits. “I could’ve loved this bitch and lost myself so I can please the bitch / And never please a bitch is what I learned and then I went away from everything.”
And it’s not for nothing that “Spectrum” also features a sample of Missy Elliott’s “She’s a Bitch,” a song written from a woman’s perspective that addresses both derogatory and empowering uses of the word ‘bitch.’ By looping in Missy’s words, GoldLink seems to be saying that even if he tells his side of the story, it’s by no means the only narrative.
“Crew” featuring Brent Faiyaz, Shy Glizzy
Where would a GoldLink list be without “Crew”? This track is a shoo-in for any roundup of the rapper’s best work, though it’s but one of the many gems on his 2017 commercial mixtape, At What Cost. The project is steeped in the infectious rhythms of the DMV, from the go-go bombast of “Hands on Your Knees” to the nod to iconic freestyler Thomas “Kokamoe” Goode to the appearances by musicians from the area such as Wale (“Summatime”) and Mya (“Roll Call”).
Of all the songs on At What Cost, though, it was “Crew” that took off. This collab with Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy was a runaway success, and the song for which the rapper received a Grammy nomination last year. Faiyaz and GoldLink glide with grace over Teddy Walton’s slow-stepping beat, while Glizzy injects his own chaotic energy into the proceedings. The song soars with their easy camaraderie, and though none of them use the actual word in their verses, the title “Crew” could not be more fitting.
“Zulu Screams” featuring Maleek Berry, Bibi Bourelly
While GoldLink was concerned with repping the DMV in all its glory on At What Cost, on his newest album, Diaspora, his gaze turns to a different facet of his identity: blackness. The album hopscotches between myriad strains of black music, from Afrobeat to reggae to dancehall and more. As with At What Cost, he relies on collaborators to help flesh out this expansive sound, looping in Khalid, Pusha T, Tyler, the Creator and others.
Two of those creative partners, Nigerian artist Maleek Berry and American songwriter Bibi Bourelly, helped the rapper come up with “Zulu Screams.” No one doubts GoldLink’s ability to craft a dancefloor burner, but the song’s more notable as a demonstration of the rapper skilfully marshalling collaborators towards his own vision. It’s also a good illustration of how Diaspora effectively embraces the approach “less is more,” even on the more upbeat tracks such as “Zulu Screams.” A busy beat and luminous highlife guitar carry the buoyant track, and though GoldLink flexes his rapid-fire flow, he only ever seems to go at his own pace—one that fans are happy to follow more than ever.
Listen to Diaspora here.