GoldLink’s style grows predictable on latest album


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GoldLink has run into a creative hurdle. Since his debut mixtape of 2014, the rapper from Washington, D.C., has ridden a sudden wave of critical attention for his dazzling fusion of hip-hop and electronica, which he calls “future bounce.”

With the recent drop of his first full-length album, And After That, We Didn’t Talk, the rapper continues to set himself ahead of the curve with the very novelty of his sound. His fans are more than excited to dance to another infectious GoldLink project, but critics are growing concerned that he is, first and foremost, a stubborn stylist who doesn’t have much to say.

His insistence on the label “future bounce” indicates his interest in future beats: an umbrella term for a recent wave of electronic producers — Giraffage, Snakehips and Kygo, to name a few — who eschew the aggressive drops of big-stadium EDM for more lush, nuanced grooves. Indeed, Louie Lastic, the primary producer on GoldLink’s album, emulates this festival-ready, summertime sound: intricate layers of warm-toned synths with dozens of sparkling, little flourishes.

Hit singles such as “Spectrum” and “Dance on Me” demonstrate GoldLink’s dancefloor appeal. The latter begins with a slow buildup and what sounds like the delicate sweep of a chandelier. Then, the song bursts into a frenetic energy that combines those future beat trademarks with the infectious rhythms of Go-Go — a funk subgenre, based in D.C., which is also a heavy influence on GoldLink’s style.

GoldLink’s flow glides over Lastic’s glossy confections with remarkable ease. On “Dark Skinned Women,” GoldLink crams an overwhelming number of syllables into each fourth note. You’d expect this verbal sprint to unravel into a frantic chaos, but the result is somehow smooth and hypnotically steady, as if he had the cool precision of a surgeon. His raps gleam like polished silverware, and this quality rightfully complements his glossy sound.

Yet, GoldLink’s steadiness begets predictability, which is rarely a coveted artistic quality. He lacks those jolts, knots and rhythmic swerves of more interesting rappers such as Young Thug and Kendrick Lamar, who are much better at roping their audiences into one hell of a rollercoaster ride.

GoldLink’s raps not only lack versatility, but they also lack personality. He has neither Young Thug’s exhilarating humor nor Kendrick’s poetic deep-thinking — even though he fits so many words into each second, he never manages to say much. On “New Black,” GoldLink sings, “bippity bop bop / new black, the scat.” For the most part, GoldLink does write nonsense filler that resembles scat improvisation. But it’s hard to tell whether he is self-aware or unintentionally ironic.

To be fair, GoldLink attempts to craft an emotional narrative. After all, the album title And After That, We Didn’t Talk intimates that this is a breakup album. The song “See I Miss” reveals a promising sign of vulnerability: “Who knew, yeah / That I would even miss that bitch.”

But this borderline-sexist heartbreak is already the familiar territory of Drake and other hip-hop sad boys. In fact, “After You Left” has the same voyeuristic phone recording that you’ve heard on “Marvins Room.”

In the same vein, the rest of GoldLink’s persona echoes the work of more established rappers but lacks their conviction. On the track “Zipporah,” he skirts over urgent questions of racial identity — “what’s a nigga in America?” Every other rapper has contributed a thoughtful answer to this discourse — except for GoldLink.

GoldLink’s work problematically emphasizes style over substance. His music conveys a gleeful attitude, but after he has repeated the same template — the same flow, the same glossy sounds — the bubbles of his champagne begin to fall flat. Without emotional dimension, the tropical vibe of songs such as “Palm Trees” sounds like filler music you’d hear at Zara — or maybe a Payless from the future.

Listening to this album is akin to following GoldLink through a house of mirrors. It’s quite the spectacle. It definitely offers enough novelty and charm for you to feel satisfied with the price of admission. Yet, after a while, you grow weary as you see countless copies of the same person. At the very end, you’re not even sure if you ever saw the real GoldLink.

Jason Chen is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @1DirectChen.