Photo: Joyce Ng
GoldLink Talks Vision Behind 'Diaspora,' Tour With Tyler, The Creator, Musical Roots & More
GRAMMY-nominated rapper GoldLink, born D'Anthony Carlos in Washington D.C., is a force to be reckoned with. He released his first two mixtapes, God Complex and After That, We Didn't Talk, in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Both were critically acclaimed, and earned him a spot in XXL's 2015 Freshman Class, firmly cementing his steadily rising role in hip-hop. His strong sense of self and artistic vision shine through in his smooth flow and next-level lyricism.
In 2017 he released his first studio album, At What Cost. At the 60th GRAMMY Awards he earned his first nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance for "Crew," one of the big tracks from the album. At the 61st GRAMMY Awards earlier this year, he received his second nomination, in the same category, for his feature on Christina Aguilera's "Like I Do."
This year, on June 12, GoldLink followed up with the powerful Diaspora. The Recording Academy recently spoke with the rapper over the phone about the vision behind the new album, collaborating with Tyler, the Creator (who he's also touring with him soon, and will be joining his Camp Flog Gnaw fest), Khalid and others on it, quitting social media and more.
So you recently released Diaspora. How are you feeling about sharing that project so far? What are you most proud about with it?
It feels good. It feels great that it's finally out into the world. It's just been a crazy thing for me. It's been received really well from just what I've seen. I'm no longer on social media, I haven't been for almost a year or two. So I've met people, and they've just been telling how amazing it is. And the right people.
Was there a reason that you decided to go off social media and just talk to real people instead?
Yeah. I mean, why don't I just talk to real people? It's weird. It's actually weird. I think we've used it, we've abused it the wrong way at this point.
For the people that you have talked to about the project so far, were there any comments or any reactions that really stood out to you?
They've all been really great. They've all been standout. It's all been very amazing things. And close friends I would just sit and talk to about it, they could talk about it for hours, about what they think or how they feel about it and what they took from it, things like that. But yeah, everything is kind of crazy.
I'm sure there's been a lot of momentum, from being in the studio and finishing it and then waiting to share it with the world. Did it feel like a bit a relief once the album was out, or what was the moment like for you?
It was weird because I felt like I'd been just trying to fine-tune it and I lived with it for such a long time, that by the time it got out it just felt like a leap almost.
I would love to hear a bit more about the vision behind the project.
Well it's crazy, it started out as I wanted to just make a really great American rap album, because I feel that like is very scarce in the marketplace. Then I started having conversations with people and a friend of mine was explaining Afro-Nowisim. I started to travel a lot more and to adopt Afro-Nowisim, but I never forgot about the great American rap album. And as it started progressing into more of an international—well I always wanted to be an international thing—I never forgot about the first part of what I wanted to accomplish for myself. So, it started with a base and it kinda fine-tuned into something, more relatable, I guess.
There are a ton of great collabs on it, some DMV [Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia] rappers, and other artists from all over, pointing back to those two themes you mentioned. How did you chose who to work with and what was your favorite part about bringing all these different artists together?
I just chose based off of what I thought was best for the project at hand. I never really go for anything unless I believe that someone can bring a [fresh] element to a project. I always feel like the best movies never have an all-star cast of straight A-list people, those are the best movies. You know, it might have a Matthew McConaughey and a Timothée Chalamet who is 17 and make one of the best movies of all time. I think that's kind of how I choose. Also, I like bringing people out of their element and into my world to challenge them in a way I know they would succeed in, that is just not the typical route for them.
Your song "Days Like This" with Khalid stands out to me as a great example of this. He isn't the first person that I would expect on the album, but it feels so natural. Were there other songs that was a bit unexpected but it felt really natural when you got together?
Khalid is definitely the epitome of that example, I feel like Tyler [the Creator] as well. It seems obvious that Tyler would get on a bossa nova record but he's never done that ever in his career. So it's things like that where you are like, "oh wow, why?" And then you do it and it's so natural, no one even thought that's completely out of his realm [when they heard it]. It just keeps it interesting. I don't like songs that you can hear before you actually listen to it and be like, no.
Is that something that you try to do for yourself too? Were there different sounds that you tried for this album, like "I don't know if this will work but I want to try it"?
Yes. I definitely tried a few things that wouldn't be, a lot of things that I tried that were just off and never made it. But it was the things that expanded on the realm of what I was already doing [that worked]. I felt like this is natural next step, so it didn't feel too off.
Where did you start on these songs, with a sound, style or idea?
It almost built in sections. It started as one idea, that idea just turned into another idea and that built into the base of a [larger] idea. I almost had it done in my head with no music. And then it really started from an image that I saw and then I had one beat that I held onto for a long time. That's how it started. I never used the beat or the image. I just had those two in mind and tried to figure out, "How do I try to make these two things make sense?"
Are there any artists that you haven't worked with yet that you have your eye on?
Nah. Everything works out the way it's supposed to or [already] has.
Is your philosophy along the lines of not overthinking or over-planning things too much, to leave more room for the right thing, to come forward?
Yes, that's exactly what it is.
And then you're bringing Tyler on, I think, a bunch of your U.S. shows for the album?
He's actually bringing me.
What are you most looking forward to with the tour?
Getting in front of a completely new fan base is going to be really fun for me. I want to see how far this thing can stretch. I know the community of rap is a big one. I wanna see if I can keep grabbing. So I look at it as an experience and I am really appreciative.
That's awesome. And, speaking of shows, you're also doing a couple different festivals, including Meow Wolf's Taos Vortex and a couple of the Afropunks. What's your favorite part of performing at music festivals? Do you approach those shows differently?
Yeah I do, they are just different, a different thing. I'm always going in there fighting to win and I'm really going in there for everyone. And no one show is the same. So I always go into every show differently.
— AFROPUNK (@afropunk) August 25, 2019
Different in the sense of your mindset, sort of from your perspective or more so from who you are trying to reach in the audience?
Both. But really the audience thing because every day is really not the same. You know what I'm saying? You can have a crazy Wednesday crowd but a dead Saturday crowd. Because every place, every festival, every group of people is just different. You can't even go into things the same and do things the same because there's too many anomalies and x factors that exist. I can't go into a Tyler show like my [own] show. I can't go into Afropunk like I would go into a predominantly white festival in Berlin. It's just two different stratospheres. You gotta be conscious of that and switch things around and accommodate.
What about your musical influences? Who did you grow up listening to and who inspires you still in your music?
You know I always used to force this question early in my career, thinking that there was a correct answer for it. I would rattle off their names because I thought I was so cool. Honestly, I listen to so much stuff and the thing is I never cared about music like that. I wasn't that type of guy.
From the city I come from, music is prominent but not how you would think it is. What I mean by that, my mom would listen to gospel, that was her thing. My dad listened to jazz and soul and R&B, and my brother listened to predominantly rap music from the South. It was just eclectic and I listened to whatever was on TV. I didn't care, I didn't know.
So, I was influenced by so many things. And I things that I liked I couldn't tell you why, I just did. I don't think it played into the influence of how I decided to go about things. It wasn't like "Oh man, Stevie [Wonder] at my house was crazy," it was just regular. We listened to Go-go music [a sub-genre of funk with roots in D.C.] because that's what we listened to in D.C. predominantly at the time. It was everywhere, on the radio, in schools. So, that's just what we were doing and I was really just going with whatever we were doing. So I never really had that.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to rap and pursue making music?
I'm going to say, seriously, at 23. I was doing it at 20, but I didn't really seriously consider it as a thing until the stakes started to get a little higher. When that happened, I started going back to things I like but I can't put my finger on and realizing why I liked it. The musicality of these things. "Why does this work or why does this sound better than the other songs I used to like all the time that I don't like anymore?" That's when I started appreciating music on a different level. That's why I would say musical influences came a little later on.
I would be like wow, the way that Marvin Gaye, when he made "Got To Give It Up," to me is sick because the inclusivity of how it makes you feel. It makes you feel like you're at a party, no matter what you're doing. Those are the things I started to appreciate about music later in my career, like oh wow, there's a scientific, spiritual aspect, even like a strategic aspect to what this accomplished. It's so eclectic because I love that I can pick what I love about a few people and then completely create a new identity.