The DMV rapper confidently applies his pop-attuned sensibility and lightning flows to a variety of Black musical styles on his debut album
GoldLink broke into hip-hop with a clear eye to evolve the genre. He brought unexpected tempos, rhythms and flow patterns. Then he broke out two years later with the single Crew, a Grammy-nominated – and freestyled – ode to the collective effort often required to build a successful solo career.
That song was such a ubiquitous summer jam, it’s hard to believe Diaspora is technically his debut studio album. As the title suggests, the 14-track effort finds the DMV rapper (aka D’Anthony Carlos) branching out, applying his confident and lightning-quick flows to a variety of Black musical styles, including dancehall, Afrobeat, British R&B and bossa nova.
The album opens with a run of pop-attuned songs (Joke Ting, Maniac, Days Like This) that barely breach the three-minute mark. Mixing sleepy drums, solid hooks and guest singers, the songs rarely have time for more than one verse with GoldLink, who sets up a running – and familiar – theme with Joke Ting: he might’ve achieved success, but the economic strife and struggle he came up in still has a hold on his post-fame life.
He remains a confident and commanding rapper, full of agile double-time flows and verses that skip from biographical vignettes and life lessons to boasting. But, given he rarely has more than one verse per song, Diaspora gives us a fragmented window into his thoughts.
The production, as usual, is crisp and full of bright chords and touches that give bangers, like Afro-pop club jam Zulu Screams, a little extra bounce. Diaspora is dancey and accessible, but it also feels like an exploratory album, filtering GoldLink’s melodic sensibility through worldly sounds and showing us how his sharp-and-fast rhymes can connect with a variety of rhythms. The frustrating contrast at the heart of Diaspora is production that gives us a sense of his expanding taste but three-minute song formats, often packed with choruses and pre-choruses, sometimes make GoldLink feel like an ensemble player.
There are pockets in the album’s second half that go deeper in traditional and experimental ways. The back-to-basics hip-hop cut, Cokewhite/Moscow, a beat switch-up featuring Pusha T, speaks directly to Diaspora’s existential conflict while playful bossa nova-inspired U Say with Tyler, The Creator is typical of GoldLink’s aesthetic adventurousness. Rumble pairs K-pop rapper Jackson Wang and DMV MC Lil Nei on a grimy song that brings together global rap sounds without pandering.
Diaspora is a reminder that hip-hop is not just of-the-moment popular, but has been universal for a long time. And even as the context changes, some narratives remain the same.
Top track: Maniac
GoldLink opens for Tyler, The Creator at Scotiabank Arena on September 6. See listing.