It’s hard to tell if GoldLink is playing with you. In an infamous YouTube video, the 23-year-old DMV rapper starts a passive aggressive fight with Hot 97 radio personality, Peter Rosenberg, over football jerseys. “You’re some clever mouth kids over here,” GoldLink smirks quietly. After igniting that fuse, GoldLink just sits back while Rosenberg and Ebro prattle on about teams, trading insults. The MC never offers more than a sly smile.
In real life, GoldLink is no different, happy to answer questions with a simple yes or no, unconcerned about impressing the company he’s in. Much of his early career was defined by his anonymity—the rapper wouldn’t even show his face on stage or in photos until last year. But when he does open up, a new vision of him emerges. You can tell there’s a lot more going on inside his head than he wants to let on. “I read slowly, I watch movies slowly, because I retain everything,” GoldLink says when we talk in a Manhattan apartment. “I just meditate on each page, that’s why it takes time, I don’t binge anything, because [then] you miss things.”
This interplay between humor and seriousness, fast and slow, plays out in GoldLink’s music. His beats, many of which are produced by EDM artists like Kaytranada, are buoyant and danceable, quite a few BPMs higher than most rappers dare to go in 2016. This sound was what he labeled “future bounce,” an invented genre he’s now keen to distance himself from. “I don’t really identify with [future bounce],” he admits. “It was something used at the time for people to understand [my music], because nobody seemed to figure it out for themselves… that you could just make anything you want.” Now, GoldLink feels the public has had enough time to catch up to his sound.
“It was something used at the time for people to understand [my music], because nobody seemed to figure it out for themselves… that you could just make anything you want.”
His beats still shine through in the rapper’s live performances, which have an almost rave-like energy. “His crowd work is closer to what I’ve seen with bounce music or footwork than a typical hip-hop performance,” says Kris Peterson, a DJ and former label manager of DFA. “It feels more inclusive and less contrived somehow—like it’s intended to entice you into losing yourself in the music rather than to simply show adoration to the performer.”
GoldLink’s main producer, Louie Lastic, thinks that this is evidence of electronic music’s influence on hip-hop. “A lot of the kids at those hip hop shows have also been to a rave or two and have seen firsthand how much fun it can be to let loose and act a damn fool, so they'll bring that energy to a rap show,” he says.
GoldLink first began attracting hype around 2014, when he released his mixtape The God Complex, a rapid-fire 26 minute experience that bounced between sounds like bachata and old school house. On top of these freewheeling beats GoldLink’s quick-witted rhymes focus on two subjects: sex and life in DC, where the rapper grew up and lives today. It’s easy to get distracted by the dirty talk (like on the deliciously obscene “Dance On Me”), but GoldLink’s discussion of the dark parts of his life and past is where his music finds its real heart—the stories he tells in his lyrics have a vibe closer to 90s gangsta rap than any newly invented genre. He’s told multiple interviewers that he doesn’t want to glamorize the life in the ghetto, just tell it like it was. “There are more negatives than positives [to that life], so if people stop lying in their rhymes, they would stop misleading a generation the wrong way,” he told Pitchfork in 2015.
GoldLink’s first album, And After That, We Didn't Talk, released in Oct. 2015 with L.A. label Soulection, was a concept record about a relationship he had as a 16-year-old. Though the story was six years old by then, GoldLink’s rapping and R&B vocals showed that the wound still stung. On “Zipporah,” he connects his heartbreak to the larger struggles of his youth: “Why we born to be poor?/Why our fathers be gone?/Why my father forsake us?/Why my momma so strong?” The album was produced alongside the legendary Rick Rubin, another accomplishment GoldLink shrugs off. “[Rick Rubin] just reassured me that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing,” he says. “It was just another energy to feed off of.”
If GoldLink is loyal to anything, it’s DC, the city he calls home. His dedication to his hometown and the DMV region is demonstrated from his music to his wardrobe. In his fashion, GoldLink has no reservations about repping his city. “[I care about fashion] entirely too much. It’s expression,” he says. “I just wear the uniform of the city I’m from. We have independent clothing brands that have been culturally relevant in the area for 20 years that you can only get there.” It’s a way of representing and supporting your hometown, he says, “that’s literally how people recognize each other.”
As far as the rap scene goes, he thinks DC still needs some time. “It’s on its way,” he says. “There are [friends of mine who are artists in DC], a lot of them are arrested right now. Or not here anymore. A lot has changed.”
Personal struggles aside, GoldLink says the post-election mood in D.C. has affected the scene. But he isn’t concerned about the future. Instead of raging about the results, he recommends empathizing with those who have different experiences from his own. “It’s just an interesting thing to consider,” he says. “We’re all people at the end of the day.” Like his city, GoldLink believes the best times are still ahead for him. He’s just getting started.