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Goldlink’s Growing Pains Birthed His Unexpectedly Intimate Debut

It’s Wednesday, seven o’clock in the evening to be exact, and while most of VIBE’s staff has long departed the seventh floor facilities, here I am, sitting in a cramped room nearly the size of a shoe box filled with archival glossies covered with the who’s who of rap and R&B dating back to ’93, half-empty bottles of brown liquor and a discreet Goldlink. Quite a few questions silently ruminate in my mind, as I debate on which approach I should take to start off the interview.

He makes himself comfortable and eases back in an orange chair. He’s surprisingly somber for an artist who has established a name for himself due to his charismatic nature portrayed on wax. Or it could be the fact he just flew cross country from sunny, paradise-esque Los Angeles to New York City, which is currently covered in an unwelcoming, overcast fog and the crowded streets are littered with the pitter-patter of raindrops. Nevertheless, his presence naturally echoes the allure of anonymity that has captured the attention of audiences for the past 24 months, leaving many within an earshot wanting to know more about the disguised individual churning out lush sounds. (Before this year, most photos available of him displayed him covering his face with his hand. He reverts to that same stance when the photographer captures a few photos.) Right now Goldlink is quiet, but soon the thoughts running through his mind will burst at the seams.

VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

“How’s life?” I ask. “It’s cool. I’m going through a lot,” he plainly says in his salient D.C. accent that commonly makes “Maryland” sound more like “Muriland,” and “very” like “vury,” while breaking his attention away from his phone and stuffing it into his jacket pocket. But before unloading his personal baggage onto the small, wooden table dividing us, we exchanged tongue-tied small talk before backtracking to his previous statement. When asked about touring the world for the past year with the likes of Mac Miller, SBTRKT, and Kaytranada he nonchalantly shrugs off the accomplishment, as if it was just another responsibility that comes with being an up-and-coming emcee. However, spend about 10 minutes with Goldlink and he reveals himself: comical, charming and conscious. (Later, he’d boldly interrupt our conversation to offer me a sincere compliment and brag about his dream cypher comprised of Shaq, Lady Rage, Allen Iverson and Lil Flip – “Game Over” is especially close to his heart.)

Goldlink sports a thin silver hoop on his left nostril, his eyes are a jaunty dark brown, and his beard is scruffier than the first time he showed himself to the mainstream world, posing on the upper, right hand corner of XXL’s 2015 Freshman cover – the lesser known, unassuming diamond in the rough of the bunch whose poetic freestyle and sing-song cypher delivery won many over. Searching his face for further particulars on his unadorned avowal, equating to a deeper meaning, I quickly detoured to another talking point as the room fell silent. “So, are you over that situation?” I asked of his newly released project whose title hints its tell-all temperament. “I’m over it,” he says without hesitation, showing no signs of even a hunch of empathy.

Last April, Goldlink gave the world his first musical release, The God Complex, a brawny 8-track mixtape, that spun its own tangled web of genre-bending accolades from those who clock Soundcloud playlists like a 9 to 5. In just 26 minutes, he proved that his distinct, DMV-bred sound could go pound for pound with the likes of newer rap and R&B acts feverishly popping up across the nation, offering an innovative reverb so unique that no one could label nor put a title on it. From that inaptness ushered “future bounce,” a description of his sound derived by close collaborator and producer Lakim. “It’s just taking the essence of what we fell in love with: ‘80s rap, ‘90s rap and making it our own,” Goldlink explains. “[Our generation] we got the TRL Top 10, we got BET 106 & Park, but we didn’t have to only listen to that. Downloading bootleg music was on fire, like Limewire and Napster. You know what I’m saying? We grew up so genre-less in a way. So for me, it was like how can I put together those things and all the things that I like?” And before he knew it, the elusive wave he was curating that fused everything from rap to electronic house grabbed the attention of more than just DMV locals. Los Angeles-based indie record label Soulection, known for housing various creative music makers worldwide, got wind and added him to their budding roster; Rick Rubin took him under his wing and named him his latest mentee; and so his rise to prominence began, but it hasn’t been without struggles, though.

While The God Complex put the then 21-year-old on the map, listeners still knew very little of the scrawny youngster, who was widely known for masking his identity. The project explored everything from rap stardom to thoughts of suicide to dabbling in street life to an absentee father to his softer, hopeless romantic side, but skated around the specifics. Ironically, where the enigmatic mixtape left off with a halting screech of a car crash on “When I Die,” leaving us wondering the backstory of this newcomer, And After That We Didn’t Talk resolves it. Beginning with the same car crash, this time around the smoke subsides and the account of D’Anthony Carlos is articulated: a Landover, MD juvenile who stumbled upon rap as an alternative to the street life ’cause wasn’t sh*t else to do but f**k chicks and drug deal, he recalls.

“The death of my homies, the pain of the breakup, losing people, getting in trouble…You know I rap about all of this but you probably won’t catch it because it’s so happy.”

I made a hundred thousand dollars this year, yeah, that still don’t mean sh*t,” he opens the album on an unexpectedly vulnerable note (See: “After You Left“). In that very moment, the image he carefully built his buzz off of comes crashing down as he details the pressures of fame and how they collide with his prior lifestyle and those close to him – “My old b***h lost a baby too/Ain’t know what the f**k to do, right before the first tape/Almost killed a n***a for some Foams/And quit this rapping just to buy her sh*t/Y’all n***as don’t know this sh*t.” There’s still braggadocios cunnilingus banter (See: “Spectrum“), lively futuristic beats that are sure to evoke juking and foot-working (See: “Dance On Me“) backed by a sense of self confidence that he naturally exudes, but this time around Goldlink’s showing his self to the world for better or for worse. “Now, I kind of understand me as a person, as a man. I understand what I’m doing, what I’m going to say, everything just falls into place,” he says. “It’s easier now.”

But while things seem to stitch themselves perfectly in his debut that’s less kitschy, more cognizant, one can’t help but notice while most would be consumed with the future, Goldlink is preoccupied with the past and reflecting on how it’s resulted in the now.”[The album] is based off of a relationship that I was in when I was younger that didn’t go so well. It’s soul searching and me trying to find out what went wrong, why we’re going back and forth, why we were in that situation for so long, which stems from other problems and ultimately led to other problems. It’s like you center yourself and look back at the root of the problem and when you understand it you can move forward.”

More interesting, though, is the fact that listeners can get caught up in his expedited rhyme delivery and lax cadence that softly glide in and out of consciousness into smooth crooning, forgetting that he’s chronicling his growing pains as a crafty coping mechanism. “People are dancing to my pain, and they don’t even know it,” the rapper told WAMU 88.5, D.C.’s leading public radio station, last April. When asked again about such a notion, Goldlink agrees. “The death of my homies, the pain of the breakup, losing people, getting in trouble…You know I rap about all of this but you probably won’t catch it because it’s so happy.” That same painful bliss he emits is rooted in his main musical influence of D.C.’s own go-go music. “I look at go-go as music we fought to. I don’t know; it’s just territorial music. We would meet at one spot and it would just become violent. In a weird way it brought everyone together [for the music aspect], which is the cool part, but everyone has different intentions.”

VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

There’s an even more compelling side of Goldlink who lets his socially-adept demeanor shine on the LP, shedding light on being a young black man in America and the inevitable adversity that comes with the color of his skin. On “Dark Skin Women,” a funky ode to chocolate complected sistas, he tells a bouncy tale of his love and appreciation for the black woman. When I ask him why it’s important to have a song as such in 2015, he replies, “Dark skin women are so beautiful and I feel like people forget. Real talk. There’s one thing, I never read what anyone says about me, ever. I don’t care. But I was watching the “Sober Thoughts” video one day, and I peeped a comment that was like, ‘Goldlink must hate black women.’ I’m like first of all, I don’t shoot these f***ing videos, I don’t cast them either, and my mom is black. Then on top of that, I also read a statistic that hurt me. It said something to the affect of black women are the least approached or some sh*t like that. It’s little sh*t like that that gets me hot. Growing up watching Belly, I thought Keisha was bad as f**k and the main chick Pharrell had in a lot of his videos was bad, too. Black women, dark skin women are the original beautiful people to me.”

When it comes to love interests, the women in Goldlink’s love-stoned life: past, present, and future never really blossom and re-image outside of his lyrics. Except for rising Colombian chanteuse Kali Uchis. If you Google search their names, you’ll find two things: their honeyed collabo track “Divine” and a few short passages regarding their short-lived love. “Do I know any of these love interests?” I ask as if unaware. “Um, I don’t know. Do you?” he nervously laughs. “Naw, you don’t,” he says, answering his own question with a smirk. “Wait…” When I utter Kali’s name he’s relaxes and nods his head yes. It’s unsure if their relationship is the one he speaks of the album being entirely based off of, but on his own accord, he openly divulges the album’s last track, “See I Miss” is about her: “Girl, you shine bright and when I look up in the sky I see your face light, yeah. And every time I hear ya’ songs, I take flight. And everything I ever said I will not take it back. But we were perfect, you so worth, man lets make it last. You shouldn’t take me back. But we gon’ be together. No matter who you wit’ cause he ain’t gon’ be here forever.”

It’s rounding forty-five minutes after seven, and we wrap up our conversation by summing what’s next on the pipeline for him: more music videos featuring dark skin women and an 18-date U.S. tour. While the photographer snaps photos of him, he doesn’t at all seem as recluse as the public would have figured. He smiles and asks if his nonchalant stance reads well behind the lens. He is also the guy who bears the heavy heart of a nearly grown ass man going through a quarter-life crisis, but I have to remind myself that Goldlink just so happened to only have started drinking legally 18 months ago.

Before going our separate ways, I ask again, “Did you ever actually recover?” just for assurance for his sake. “It was something I felt like I had to say. I wouldn’t have said those things out loud before. It shows that I’ve grown,” he says as if And After That We Didnt Talk is a distant, faded memory of what was, not the debut most artists wait their entire lives for.