Life’s tough at 23 years old, man.
Relationships are fickle. Focus is crucial. Career paths are blurred. Stability is wobbly. Success seems far-fetched. Finances are tricky and friends are even trickier. But after gliding through the 14 tracks of Goldlink’s debut studio album, At What Cost, D.C.’s vibe-versed rapsmith has made every burdensome nuance of young adulthood in an underestimated city all worth it. As Goldlink turns his home turf to hip-hop’s attention, penning catchy hooks and delivering rapid tempos, the 23-year-old’s industry introduction album is a coming-of-age story at its finest and, more importantly, its waviest.
Obscure, abstract titles make the first impression of the album seem captivatingly complex. Even as familiar names are spotted along the tracklist, like Goldlink’s D.C. local running mates Wale and Shy Glizzy as well as R&B-soul’s vocal keepsakes Jazmine Sullivan and Mya, the curiosity is stimulating. It allowed the “Opening Credit” prelude track, a shamble of dystopian noise and static, to do exactly what it was intended to, though: magnetize.
Goldlink makes excellent use of stirring, impending production as a gateway drug into each track’s grandiose sound. Sequencing through a chattering string of twists, drums, drips and cymbals, he doesn’t shy away from transcending genres nor balancing traditional beats with his tempered rap momentum. Electro-funk and R&B disco shake hands on “Have You Seen That Girl?” right before a burst of an old school house jam, suitably-titled “Hands On Your Knees,” powers the album’s early tracks. How he then proceeds to flawlessly tuck slang words of his modern D.C. native tongue, like “Kill, Moe,” into such classic sound is beyond all of us. But weaving a combustion of classic subgenres into the ears of a bass-happy hip-hop is no easy feat in 2017, and Goldlink accepts the challenge anyway.
For an artist so era-driven, it makes even more sense that he’d snatch up Jazmine Sullivan to vocalize the speedy, neo-soul track “Meditation” with his frequent production confidante and deviceful soundmaster himself, KAYTRANADA.
Eventually, Goldlink gently transitions into stricter hip-hop territory as the tracklist descends, still incorporating soulful choruses, but firing lengthier, loaded lyricism. Such is the case for the Wale-featuring “Summatime,” a jiving standout that’s easily comparable to the feel-good of his 2016 single “Fall in Love.”
What’s most refreshing about the entire project is the RCA Records signee’s ability to remain consistent in his transition from SoundCloud to studio. Avoiding any watering-down of the demeanor of his flow, rhythm and sound that embodied his ear-turning The God Complex project, Goldlink maintains a satisfying middle ground between classic and modern-day music beneath the agility of his rap pace. If his preference for low-key obscurity gives us anything like the block party he threw for the entire DMV on “Roll Call” with R&B’s soft-toned songstress Mya, there’s all the more reason to encourage his era fixation. Even the intense robotism of “The Parable of the Rich Man,” his awareness of the vices of fame through the words of an agitated lover, is a facet of music’s olden days meshed with 21st century realism.
“Crew,” where Shy Glizzy squads up for a verse, is further telling of his youthful slant amid a conscious perception of the world around him. Baltimore-based crooner Brent Faiyaz, sharing the hometown vibe from a different neck of DMV’s woods, soulfully soothes the track before Glizzy loads up quickfire bars. It’s a daring contrast between graceful vocals and gritty rap, and once again, Goldlink executes perfectly in his favor.
As a freestyle-laden single and album epilogue settle the album’s last listen, Goldlink gives ode to faith and substantiation. At some point in every rap artist’s career, the tried and true test of freestyling approaches. Goldlink gets it out of the way early in his career over the infectious, pulsating beat of “Kokamoe.” But in his final word of the project, “Pray Everyday (Survivor’s Guilt)," he spits generational guidance on a simple, yet mind-permeating hook: “Pray everyday, say your grace, n***a / Keep the haters, keep the demons 'way, fam.” Goldlink doesn’t let any conversation off of the hook for his first studio entry into hip-hop’s fading boundary lines. As one of the most skilled apprentices for genre-fusing, rhythm-balancing and rap savvy, he’s turned profit into purpose in only 14 tracks.
At What Cost does not push the envelope — it tears it open for all of hip-hop, the DMV and the heart for pure, good rap s**t with vintage flavor to thrive.
What price tag do you put on that?
(Photo: RCA Records, Sony Music Entertainment)