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From the Versus issue: Goldlink

Fusing two worlds

Words by Acclaim

Acclaim Issue 36

Goldlink doesn’t make music for you; he makes it for himself. And while many artists would never admit that crafting a song is often a self-serving act, 23-year-old D’Anthony Carlos is refreshingly honest. He’s relaying a story to me on the phone about a friend from high school he hadn’t spoken to in years—they caught up just last week. “She was like, ‘Yo, your last album, you’ll never know what that meant for me at the time, where I was going through.’ I know this person. She knew me before I was even making music,” he marvels.

That last album is And After That, We Didn’t Talk, released in 2015. It pairs some surprisingly buoyant production with a narrative that retraces the peaks and valleys of a relationship the rapper had at age 16. And while he’s firm on the fact he never makes an overt effort to touch people’s lives with his music, he appreciates that the outlet he’s using to express his own feelings is working for others. “I definitely think the beauty of art is that it’s something that you can make without any outside influence at all if you want. But so many people can listen to or consume it, and they can take something from it,” he says. “That’s kind of what this shit is all about.”

Goldlink is a Washington D.C. native, but he’s lived between the U.S. capital and close-by Maryland and Virginia at various stages in his life. If there’s anyone that can lay claim to being able to represent the whole DMV area, it’s him. Musically, he says he’s indebted to D.C.’s flagship genre go-go, but in terms of attitude, he’s embodied the punk philosophy of local American hardcore acts like Bad Brains. Unhappy with the current state of rap? Fuck it, just make your own genre instead.

If you’ve read anything about Goldlink, you’ve likely seen the term ‘future bounce’ used to classify his sonic output over the past two years. The rapper says that to him, it’s an easily danceable, forward thinking and progressive subgenre of rap. “It’s kind of hard to put together, but when you hear it you know,” he explains. While his experimentation with the sound began on his 2014 mixtape The God Complex, his second project refined the formula even further. At this point, it’s polished enough to attract mimicry—in fact, Goldlink thinks a lot of other artists have started dabbling in it too.

It’s a sound that draws on the future funk that’s flourished in the hands of producers like Kaytranada, who Goldlink collaborated with on the single ‘Fall In Love’. While the production might entice listeners to the dance floor, it holds them in place with rap narratives that clearly still hit home—it’s an invitation to step away your sorrow. “I just kind of had an idea to fuse these two worlds together into a new genre of music that I felt would be cool to me, that I could hear at parties, or in the whip, and still rap some real shit over it too,” Goldlink says.

Informed by the unique syncopation and percussion of his hometown’s go-go movement, the charismatic rapper has an inimitable sense of rhythm in both his flow and his smoothly crooned vocals. “D.C. as a city—and a culture—always had that bounce to it, and to be honest, when I make music, that’s what I want to bring to my shit,” he says. And while he doesn’t have a direct connection to New Orleans, the home of the original bounce music, a youth spent listening to the Hot Boys and No Limit records with his brothers and cousins certainly fed into his affinity for danceable patterns. “Sonically, I think that the scenes in D.C. and New Orleans are contemporaries,” he says. “New Orleans always had that bounce, but D.C. did too.”

With the bounce usually comes undeniable movement—and in 2016, we’re ready for a rapper with a unique sense of rhythm to make us want to hit the floor again. Goldlink has remarked in the past that once Fat Joe proclaimed that his “niggas don’t dance” on Terror Squad’s 2004 song ‘Lean Back’, not too many male rappers—or their fans— have been brave enough to bust a move since. “There was definitely a time period where people really got caught up in masculinity, ‘I got all the bitches, I got cars, I got money, and I don’t dance,’ And they was really on that shit,” he elaborates.

Street rap and the red-blooded bluster that came with it just didn’t move Goldlink—unless there was a fun sensibility to it. He points to an artist like Shawty Lo as an example of someone who got the mix exactly right. But for every outlier like the late Atlanta rapper, there are an exponential number of rappers who got it wrong. “There’s a lot of people who don’t really approach the art form in a way that is to be unique or original, or with any tact or nuance to it,” he says. “If you’ve been around for a minute I can understand, but when I see new people coming out and making bullshit-ass music, it’s kind of annoying.”

When counter-culture forced gangsta rappers to lose their vice-like grip on the game in the mid 2000s, and artists were finally free of the pressures of macho posturing, they’d eventually invest their dormant energy into pouring out their emotions. With radio now flooded by the tears of solemn, sad-boy rappers, Goldlink’s upbeat, energetic anthems are in stark contrast to a mostly melancholy mainstream. In an era where Drake and Kanye West reign supreme, we might be too much in our feelings and too precious about our ego— rap really needs someone to remind them how to be fun again, and Goldlink might just be the remedy.

His impressive live shows make a case for themselves as the miracle dose we need, too. Many reviewers have commended Goldlink for his ability to deliver vocal performances comparable to his studio recordings, and to keep the energy impressively high. Intermittent dance- breaks accompanied by Justin Bieber’s best joints sit right alongside mosh sessions to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, appealing to millenials’ eclectic sensibilities and characteristically short attention spans.

These are just a few of the reasons Goldlink has the potential to be one of the most engaging live performers of the new era. “I want people to come to my show to come party. It might do that at the other rapper’s shows, but I want them to be like one of the best house parties you’ve ever been to,” he says. “Having that mutual energy and goal, when you listen to music—obviously, I come, I rap, I’mma fuckin’ give you a show, but I want y’all to give me a show too. Like we’re all having fun in this party together.” It’s a relationship that Goldlink has managed to forge with audiences around the world, despite having only just escaped his city’s walls for the first time less than three years ago.

“I’d never left D.C. before I made The God Complex, that shit took me out of here,” he says gratefully. “When I made [that album], I was angry, I was broke. I was doing a bunch of shit, involved in a lot of shit that I’m very glad to not be involved in anymore.” Goldlink still looks back on the project’s rawness fondly, and how well it worked in the time period. But he believes that all of the collective experiences and new perspectives he’s accumulated touring the world will be reflected in the tracks we hear from him next. What that will sound like, he’s tight-lipped on—it might be an artist cliché, but all he’s promised is a great body of music. He does offer slightly more insight into what that means than most will, however. “I think that this one’s going to be important to me,” he reflects. “For my city, for the people who understand where I come from, and what I want to express about who I am, my identity as an artist, and where I’m from in D.C.”

And After That, We Didn’t Talk bore renowned record producer Rick Rubin’s fingerprints, with the legendary figure acting as Goldlink’s mentor during the album’s creation. When pressed on whether we’ll see any of Rubin’s influence on the new project, he speculates he’ll be around either way. “Whether he’s super close to my productivity or a little distant or whatever, there’s always gonna be a relationship there,” he explains. “He’s someone I can call, I can email him a .zip file, email an mp3, and we’ll talk for hours about it.” Long-rumoured collaborator and newly found friend Craig David might make an appearance too. “He gets the music and gets where people in my demographic and my contemporaries are going. It’s really cool to have him understand and be a part of everything that’s going on,” he says.

Despite the fact the previous album saw Goldlink explore the political realm—namely on the conscious interlude ‘New Black’—he can’t be sure we’ll see more of that kind of content in his music; but it doesn’t mean he’s complacent about what’s happening in America. For someone who lives so close to all the action, it has to be asked: is he worried about who might be moving in down on Pennsylvania Ave? “Oh hell yeah,” he says emphatically. “I think we all are, but more important than that though, [Donald] Trump, he’s a figurehead; he’s the face of something that’s always been there.” Goldlink, of course, is referring to the racially problematic markers of Trump‘s presidential campaign: his references to Mexicans being “criminals” and “rapists”, his calls to stop Muslims from entering the country, and a storied track record of discrimination against African Americans.

“Trump just brought all these sentiments and these people to a head and gave them a poster child for it that they could all rally behind, and disguise themselves under the veil of conservative, or a new president—that shit’s all bullshit.” Goldlink is well aware of the fact that the fear of the “other” that Trump has been cultivating has been quietly bubbling under America’s surface for the past 10 years— and it’s forced his, and the black community’s hands. “We don’t really have any choice but to be activists. Whether that’s expressing it using your platform, or even going as far as making political statements in your music and shit like that, it’s something that you really can’t avoid anymore,” he observes.

Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky found himself on the back foot earlier this year, being called out for not being willing to talk about police violence in Ferguson, and eventually co-opting a ham-fisted “all lives matter” stance in defence. It might be for this reason that Goldlink doesn’t see it necessary that everyone actively participate in the push back. But for him personally, it’s something he has to do—as long as he has the platform, he’s here to remind everyone how things really are. “I’m a black man and I’m never gonna be anything different than that,” he muses. While he might say he’s in music for himself, all the good he’s doing tells us otherwise. Instead, he’s our unwitting anti-hero versus stagnation, the status quo, and the establishment. “I’m a nigga in D.C. That’s always how it’s been, and it’s gonna continue to be that,” he says. “As my platform grows, I’m definitely not going to stop expressing that truth.”

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