“I made a hundred thousand dollars this year, yeah, that still don’t mean shit.”
Those are the first lyrics that GoldLink raps on And After That, We Didn’t Talk, his proper debut and the follow-up to his 2014 breakthrough The God Complex. The line is both boastful and dismissive, and most likely true: in less than two years, the Virginia rapper has gone from anonymous SoundCloud uploader to XXL Freshman to Rick Rubin protege. But as he makes clear on And After That, his success hasn’t completely alleviated his problems, and in many cases, it’s made them worse.
“It’s so crazy to see it actually happen,” he says of his meteoric rise, “but it doesn’t surprise me.” Reflecting on the last year or so over lunch at a restaurant a block from his apartment, just outside of the Washington, DC beltway, GoldLink is measured in his assessments.
“The coolest part is seeing the dynamic of the area change off of someone who made it,” he says. “It’s exciting that we opened a door and people want to walk through it.” Still, the life of a rapper on the comeup isn’t all music video excess. “I hate traveling, being away from home… there’s not enough time in the day,” he explains. He notes that his responsibilities have increased, but the number of hours in the day hasn’t, and balancing the concerns of career, family and self feel like “35-year-old problems” to the 22-year-old.
“I never grew up with genres, I grew up with Limewire.” GoldLink
These “35-year-old problems” are detailed on And After That, We Didn’t Talk, an album heavy with beefs, boasts, disappointments and heartache — which isn’t to say that it’s a dour album. Like with The God Complex, And After That is made for dancing at the party, a throwback to an earlier era in tone but not necessarily style. It’s loaded with the type of soulful, club-ready music that GoldLink and his collaborators have called future bounce, and it draws from hip-hop, R&B, electronic dance music and beyond. “I never grew up with genres, I grew up with Limewire,” he explains of his genre-agnostic approach.
“After ‘Lean Back’, rappers stopped dancing.” he maintains. “That’s an element — of not even hip-hop, but music — that’s very essential. Especially in the times we’re living in now, people want to get away.” There is a thread of escapism on And After That, from just-dance numbers like ‘Dark Skin Women’ and ‘Dance On Me’ to electro-funk love letters like ‘Unique’ and ‘Palm Trees’. But as with God Complex, there is a subversive bent to the album as he delivers Real Talk underneath the Real Fun.
The album’s narrative is roughly about the one that got away, from memories of drawings made and flowers given to fantasies and promises for the future to moments of self-reflection (“Who knew, yeah / That I would even miss that bitch?”). But despite his claims to the contrary (“I don’t want to hear about politics,” he says), And After That is often political. On ‘Zipporah’, he poses rhetorical questions about being black in America (“What’s a n***a in America? Why the fuck is we here? Why you tell me go back where I’m from, when you dragged me here?”) and he’s even more explicit on ‘New Black’ (“Hip-hop will die, I promise that / If we keep talkin’ guns and gats in our raps”).
For GoldLink, these are not hypothetical concerns. “I was a product of my environment,” he says of his teenage indiscretions. “I was probably on a path [towards death or jail], statistically.” Thankfully, he was able to change his path, and he credits a particular freestyle battle between Loaded Lux and Calico with altering his perspective.
“I’m just trying to say something that’s gonna make sense five to ten years from now.”GoldLink
In a decisive verse during a 2012 battle, Lux tells Calico that “your pops wasn’t no gangster, he was just another lost nigga,” breaking down the gangster mystique with a few short lines (GoldLink would reference the verse in his XXL freestyle). “I realized my whole definition of a ‘real nigga’ had been skewed my entire life,” GoldLink explains. “That’s something that resonated with me for a while. It wasn’t like, ‘man, I’m a conscious nigga now’ — I’m the same nigga, I’m just trying to say something that’s gonna make sense five to ten years from now.”
For GoldLink, making timeless music means making something deeply personal. “I only make music that pertains to me, not anybody else,” he explains. “But for me to sell out [famed DC venue] 9:30 Club and have people sing ‘bounce that ass’ means that it resonates with other people.”
One of those people is Rick Rubin, who reached out to GoldLink earlier this year. While he describes Rubin as calm and centered, he knew there was more to the legendary producer. “I could tell he had done it all,” he says. “I could tell he wasn’t some sort of zen-ass nigga. I think he got there after a lot of wild ass nights.” Along with helping shape the young rapper’s sound on And After That, We Didn’t Talk, Rubin offered a simple piece of advice that has stayed with him: “If you make the best art you possibly can, everything else will fall into place.”