*Photo credit: British GQ
GoldLink, the slick rapper-producer from the DMV, hasn’t been getting the credit he deserves. The smooth operator that brought you Crew flies under the radar for an artist with such a consistently good and accessible discography. Surprisingly, he receives minimal attention on the endless feeds of hip hop IG, blog sites, forums, and playlists. At first it seemed odd that an artist of his caliber remains so criminally underrated—but a deeper analysis of his music’s DNA revealed a pretty clear explanation.
In order to explain our theory on why GoldLink’s underrated, we first need to take a tour of his last three albums, discuss the evolution of his sound, and provide the appropriate context.
Crew was GoldLink’s breakout song from late 2016, and it’s still by far the biggest song of his career. (Measured by Spotify streams, it has over 3X the plays as his next biggest song). Crew was the lead single off his debut album At What Cost, and features Brent Faiyaz, Shy Glizzy, and Zacari. Everything on the song clicks, especially the hook, which is irresistible without being formulaic. If it weren’t for the success of Crew, GoldLink might never have gotten the opportunity to level up and work with the likes of Khalid, Tyler, the Creator, and Pusha T on his follow up album Diaspora.
On Diaspora, released in 2019, GoldLink brought in more elements of Caribbean and African music, with a heavy emphasis on dancehall rhythms. No album of his to date is as global as Diaspora, as the title might suggest, where he collaborated with a long list of international artists, many of whom are based in London and of African descent; other guests hail from Germany and Hong Kong. The melting pot of influences defines the album’s eclectic sound, which jumps from dancehall to reggae to hip hop to afrobeats and back to dancehall. But it all flows together naturally, as GoldLink’s vision respects how these styles of music from around the world relate to and have influenced each other.
Rapping has always been the cornerstone of his music, but the lyrics were never the main attraction (and Diaspora further confirmed this). GoldLink uses his deep voice to deliver a speedy Irish-buttery flow that melts into the nooks and crannies of any beat. By design, there’s a monotony to his rapping, and an ability to subtly hover right on top of the drums so the vocals and music are always in sync. On Diaspora, his rapping fades further into the background, giving way to the underlying music.
It’s not surprising the reserved talent wants to rap less and instead express himself more in other ways. It’s easy to dilute a creative vision by using too many words; the most eloquent can often say more by saying less. And maybe that’s why GoldLink is so underrated. He’s not a larger-than-life persona, he doesn’t livestream his life on social media, and he doesn’t make himself the dominant centerpiece of a lot of his music. It’s partly that he’s a cool laid back dude, but it’s also the fact that he’s simply not an artist making calculated moves to go viral. He’s just a smooth operator making really good and enjoyable music. In that case, it doesn’t matter that he’s criminally underrated. He’s probably okay with that. And his fans probably are too.
So, it’s funny how his first single after Diaspora is called Best Rapper In The World. It’s ironic since Diaspora could hardly even be classified as a rap album. The song’s title is a reminder that he does still rap, even if the songs he’s rapping on aren’t even rap songs. Next he released Dunya, crossing borders again (literally and figuratively), enlisting UK grime artist LukeyWorld for the hook. The track’s DNA is 100% grime, but GoldLink doesn’t hesitate as he settles into the trapscape. He also makes sure to remind us that he’s bigger than rap, with lines like: “I’m too big for the rap game really,” and “rap game easy, still no challenge.”
Dunya didn’t make the final tracklist for his new album HARAM!, released June 28th of this year, but it’s a good sample of what you can expect to hear on the new album. HARAM! is borderline hardcore hip hop; it’s full of vices, remorseless, and lacks mercy. It’s a swift change in direction from Diaspora, as GoldLink moves into Grime and Trap territory, with lyrics about breaking his own rules and not giving a fuck about it. He also changed his vocals on the album; he’s rapping in a higher pitch and applying heavy distortion effects. But he does still have the same cool, calm, and collected delivery he’s always had, which contrasts the lyrics and beats and creates an interesting grit and tension throughout the album. It’s not until the penultimate track Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk that GoldLink takes a break from the Grime attitude and superficial lyrics to provide some autobiographical insight: “The truth is the music business fucked up since “Crew”, I went from not having it all to having it all in a day, Then I got everything then my soul started fading away.” Put in this context, the turn to the darkside on HARAM! makes more sense.
With the heavily distorted and almost muffled vocals on HARAM!, GoldLink’s raps don’t dominate the album’s sound like rappers’ raps usually do. Like on his previous albums, Diaspora in particular, GoldLink doesn’t feel the need to make it all about him. He wants to be a part of the music, he doesn’t want to be the music. That’s probably why he’s so underrated. If he doesn’t even want to hog the attention on his own albums, of course he doesn’t have desires to eat up the spotlight elsewhere. Media today rewards the creators, personalities, influencers, and artists with the biggest egos. That makes it especially refreshing when an artist like GoldLink doesn’t try to be bigger than the music. 🍑