Album Review and Analysis
Goldlink |AT WHAT COST
Washington, D.C. native, D’Anthony Carlos, is best known as Goldlink, a talented rapper who gained popularity after releasing two critically acclaimed mixtapes, The God Complex and After That We Didn’t Talk in 2014 and 2015, respectively. His debut album At What Cost was arguably one of the most important pieces of music to be released in hip-hop this past year because of the fresh take it had on the genre. Along with the album’s references to the groovy funk of the 70s and the D.C.-bred go-go music of the 60s and 70s, there are incorporations of hip-hop, R&B, gospel, jazz, and electronic music. With the help of up and coming producers like Kaytranada, Louie Lastic, Teddy Walton, and many others, the best sounds of the aforementioned genres are seamlessly interwoven together. Without the music of the 70s, the sound of Goldlink’s music would have definitely taken a different turn. Let's get into it…
Although this album covers several themes and topics, there’s a clear concept of gains (or wins) and losses. In this case, Goldlink is the main character, and as our protagonist advances in his career, grows, experiences and learns, he “wins” and “loses” along the way. As he “wins” and “loses,” he struggles to maintain his core self while also navigating his survival in his hometown of D.C., depending on his faith to cope. This is demonstrated in the rather atypical prayer at the end of the song “Pray Everyday,” which acts as a open-ended resolution to the story told throughout the album:
Lord, I pray for wealth and power over all these motherfuckers. For the DMV to reign for many moons. Fuck these rappers. Fuck these labels. Fuck these bitches. Fuck these bitches, you hear me. They killed my nigga and I pray for revenge. Control me and use me the way you would allow me to. Amen.
The religious references are not minimal in this album, from the track “Same Clothes Everyday” to “Parable Of A Rich Man,” Goldlink highlights his faith in God and the role it plays in his loyalty to his family, friends, and himself. In fact, “Same Clothes” is stating that despite this foray into music, Goldlink is not abandoning who and what he knows or where he came from. In “Parable,” Goldlink tackles the inverse of devotion to God by exploring the adversary role in a person’s daily journey to fight addictions or destructive urges. During the song, he depicts a conversation with the devil.
Throughout the album, Goldlink highlights the hedonistic nature of his surroundings growing up, and without judgment or “preachiness.” He openly discusses his needs and desire for one of his vices (vagina, a.k.a. “pussy”) and the love and attention of a woman. In songs like, “Have You Seen That Girl?,” “Meditation" (featuring vocal bible Jazmine Sullivan), “Herside Story,” “Summatime” (featuring another D.C. native rapper, Wale) and “Some Girl” (featuring The Internet's Steve Lacy) Goldlink explores how he navigates relationships and the role women play in each new stage of his development and increase in success as an artist.
In fact, each song takes us through Goldlink’s evolving view of women as he has many options and “wins” and “loses” women for a variety of reasons along the way. From initial attraction, to lust, to deep intimate feelings of wanting to be someone’s “one and only” (“Meditation”) or desiring to build with a partner and start a family (“Some Girl”), he is going through a fairly commonplace change in perspective and value of relationships. He is also preoccupied with the authenticity and realness of love in lieu of his new found fame in “Crew” (featuring another D.C. native Brent Faiyaz).
Another strong theme is acknowledging one’s origins; their foundation and their roots. This consistently permeates the entire album, since most of the collaborations are with artists from the DMV area. Direct references to D.C. are also demonstrated most notably in the songs “Roll Call,” with D.C. native Mya, “Hands On Your Knees,” an ode to D.C.-bred go-go music, “Kokamoe Freestyle,” about a D.C. freestyling legend that often rapped on the Metrobus, and even “We Will Never Die,” an autobiographical take on Goldlink’s turbulent formative years in the national capital that made him and his contemporaries stronger. By pushing through the trauma, they’ve evolved into innovative creators of their generation.
What I liked. The song “Crew” was the break out single of Goldlink’s album, but it in no way overshadows the rest of his tracks. He genuinely expresses his raw feelings, thoughts, and experiences without it being disingenuous or exaggerated. The production was fresh, bouncy, and electric, juxtaposed with the explicit lyrical content and stories of pain, love, and loss. It worked well without coming off as forced. I also love the frequent collaboration with Kaytranada, and it’s because of the track,"Together" featuring Aluna Francis of AlunaGeorge on his 2016 debut, 99.9%, that I even learned about Goldlink. Every track belongs on this album, every track is placed to advance smoothly into the next track like a chapter in a book or scene in a movie. I don’t feel as though any song altered the vibe negatively and the album kept a consistent momentum. This album for Goldlink, is reminiscent of what Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City was to rapper extraordinaire Kendrick Lamar.
What I didn't like. Well, there wasn’t anything much I disliked. I would say that I do wish “Parable of A Rich Man” didn’t cut off so abruptly into the audio of a choir singing. There’s significance to that choice, but I just preferred to hear that song to the end and then have the choir be the outro or an interlude.
Highly Recommended. This album is a must listen. At What Cost is an autobiographical rendering of Goldlink’s determination to show that through his success, the innovation and creativity his city can produce, despite much of the pain that came with it. I am hoping that he goes on to create more cleverly written lyrics layered over dense, bass-heavy go-go, hip-hop, funk, and R&B infused beats. I can tell that he and other artists like Vince Staples and Isaiah Rashad can take hip-hop in a new and exciting direction. This album will remain a favorite of mine.
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