I saw a tweet a week or so ago that claimed D.C. native GoldLink has the hottest single out right now. That’s a huge statement given the competition, but GoldLink offers a solid argument with “Crew,” off his new album, At What Cost — an impressive feat for a rapper who isn’t offering the kind of flash that seems so necessary to make it big today. His voice isn’t enigmatic, his hooks aren’t always to die for. Though GoldLink succeeds on this single, and often on this album, in holding solid ground, as well as bringing the eye of the rap world north of Atlanta.
GoldLink isn’t moving that eye alone, certainly. An important feature of that single “Crew,” if not the most important, is fellow D.C. breed Shy Glizzy. He owns melody far better than GoldLink can manage, and much of the maddening intoxication can be owed to his higher pitched spit, which lays perfectly on top of the production. It’s a sing-along rap in the best way, timeless, reminiscent of how Lloyd Banks could masterfully handle a beat while still maintaining a monotone, though he sounds much closer to Rich Homie Quan or Lil Uzi Vert. Still, GoldLink maintains his own on the track, and some of his strongest rapping on the album can be found here.
Since his underground debut The God Complex, Link has been curating a specific style, occasionally termed “future bounce,” and for good reason. His beats clap and shuffle, almost like funk rap revival, while he lays out solid bar after bar. He’s best when he delivers his bars quickly and pointedly, on top of production that warps and warbles. The best example is the short concluding track on his debut, “When I Die,” which swells to allow GoldLink’s words full potency. He ponders the circumstances of his death, and it’s an emotional moment of reflection for the artist and the listener, as they reach the close of that tape together.
Link is less potent, though, when he falls into redundancy, and he does this most often when discussing his various girlfriends or ones-who-got-away. Where that mixtape struck a fine balance, not bloating too much on the subject, And After That, We Didn’t Talk reached near Drake levels of sometimes grating nostalgia and indulgence. It produced his hit single “Late Night,” but not enough else to keep that project upright.
On his newest, At What Cost, Link seems to look for a balance, and sort of finds it. There are some strong moments here. Closer “Pray Everyday (Survivor’s Guilt),” like “When I Die,” is a clear-eyed review of his life, and though it’s a break from his usual beat pattern with the gospel, it still feels natural. “Same Clothes As Yesterday” is a classic GoldLink track, probably the one most reminiscent of his past work, and it works accordingly.
Other moments offer less. On “We Will Never Die,” Link attempts a trap hook, and reminds us why he’s not a trapper. On “Some Girl,” which enlists up-and-comer Steve Lacy of the The Internet, both of their talents feel unrealized, like there was some kind of compromise between the two in which they met at a middle neither really wanted to end at.
For the most part though, Link has a done a solid job here in moving back to his middle, back to that future bouncer that put sparkles in the critical eye. He tries on a number of different hats, and while some don’t work, there are plenty which do.
He’s also successful in bringing together a powerful freshman class of features, many of whom are just now getting their deserved recognition: Lacy, Hare Squead, KAYTRANADA. So while At What Cost might be more an assertion of continued relevance than an explosive moment, for now that’s OK.