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Monday, February 29, 2016

D.M.V. Rapper GoldLink Speaks the Truth

Posted By on Mon, Feb 29, 2016 at 10:14 AM

click to enlarge goldlink-jabari-jacobs.jpg

It’s easy to miss lyrics in a GoldLink song, given the 22-year-old’s quick vocal pace. Listen closely though, and you’ll catch something.

Hate my uncle on my mama side, we started beefin' / Kicked me out house, yeah I was homeless, wasn't eatin', he raps on the opener to his 2015 debut, And After That, We Didn’t Talk.

Artists have been assuming hard-luck personas for the benefit of songs since the beginning of music. In this case, Goldlink — performing at Social Hall on Tuesday, March 1 — isn’t spitting fabrications; he’s just recounting his past.

“When I was in senior year of high school, my mom lost her job, we lost our house, and we had to move in with my uncle and my aunt,” says GoldLink, who split his time growing up in the D.M.V. When the living situation with his aunt and uncle became unstable, GoldLink got booted out into the streets for a while.

It’s that combination of confessional realism, along with a unique delivery style and liberal approach to beat selection that has made the rapper an emerging star in hip-hop. “Coming from homelessness, coming from the police outside your house, my mom struggling, certain things like that, it wasn’t that long ago,” he says. “It’s just amazing.”

GoldLink has described his sound as “future bounce,” and it deviates from a lot of the trap hits blaring from car speakers in the past couple years. It starts with his versatile voice, which can bend from straight-talk to frenetic fire-breather to soulful croons. His unpredictable beats — ranging from minimalist hip-hop (“After You Left”) to house music (“Spectrum) — are mostly chosen by instinct.

“I just see potential in things that aren’t there,” he says, “and how it’s going to make you feel. Like, if it makes me feel a certain way, I try and create the vibe of how that felt to me. And try and create it for someone else.”

That GoldLink has developed such a raw, unique style is also impressive because he never grew up dreaming about becoming a rapper. After high school, he assessed his career options, and even briefly considered becoming a lawyer. That idea got deferred thanks to two of the biggest obstacles facing anyone when contemplating their future: time and money.
Feeling stuck, he decided to try rapping, if for no other reason than a lack of options. He began posting tracks to SoundCloud — including one where he’s ripping through the production of TLC’s “Creep.” Those tracks gained traction around 2013 and helped build momentum. By the time GoldLink released his excellent 2014 mixtape, The God Complex, buzz was high, and he had everyone from André 3000 catching his shows to legendary producer and Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin reaching out. In Rubin, GoldLink has found something of a mentor, advising him on everything from the inner workings of the music industry to the sound of his excellent debut.

Having just dropped And After That, We Didn’t Talk in November, GoldLink now has a full year of touring and promotion ahead. He also now has a house, a girlfriend, and a puppy, which is a complete reversal from the way he was living just a half-decade ago. “Mentally, I’m in a calmer place,” he says.

There’s a common question for many musicians who write autobiographical-inspired songs: how to adjust lyrical content once their lives are no longer fueled by chaos? GoldLink isn’t worried. “I’m kind of taking on the role of speaking on things that are still happening in the community or things that I see around me, as opposed to things that are actually happening to me,” he says. “Because my life now isn’t that intriguing.”

On that end, there’s a lot of inspiration to be found, and GoldLink doesn’t even necessarily have to look beyond his own region. He supports Black Lives Matters activist DeRay Mckesson’s recent run to be the mayor of Baltimore, for instance. “All my friends in Baltimore that I was close to are dead. And they were all black,” he says. “So for somebody who’s representing a Black Lives Matter movement becoming the mayor of city that’s predominantly black, I would hope some change would happen.”

He also sees a lot of areas within hip-hop that could be improved, including the focus on celebrity and image (“meme-rap” as he calls it). Rapping ability and lyrics should be more the focus, he thinks. He points to Kendrick Lamar as one example of an artist who is rapping to win the hearts of the community. If that’s the direction GoldLink wants to go, given the state of the nation, we’ll take as many of those types of voices as we can get. 

GoldLink plays at 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 1, at Social Hall. 
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Kevin W. Smith

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