Goldlink: At What Cost

On the D.C. rapper's first studio album, Goldlink highlights his city but obscures his own perspective.


At What Cost

Label: RCA
US Release Date: 2017-03-24
UK Release Date: 2017-03-24

In an interview with the Fader just before the release of At What Cost, D.C. rapper Goldlink spoke of the album’s strong go-go funk influence, the way his words and the album’s structure and every other element is all about his city, and how the music of the album is the music of D.C. “It almost shapes us as a community and who we are. It’s like the music is the background for the entire city,” he said. And it is true that the production does invoke interesting go-go sounds, often weaving them in around straight-ahead hip-house beats, and Goldlink’s passion is more evident now than ever before. But the story of Goldlink’s city -- the ideas that make it truly unique -- don’t quite come across as fully as the artist intended.

The mood of At What Cost is fluid, starting with an ominous intro track but quickly lightening up with a trio of Kaytranada-produced tracks are more upbeat, especially “Hands on Your Knees", the most obviously go-go based track on the project and one that is completely devoid of Goldlink himself. It orbits around this kind of tone for about half the album with semi-smooth romantic jams and toe-tapping hip-house tracks but then quickly gets grittier and odd with “The Parable of the Rich Man” and “We Will Never Die". The second half is almost an entirely different narrative -- one that doesn’t necessarily seem to match Goldlink's theme.

But as a debut studio release, there is surprisingly little solo Goldlink on At What Cost. The artist himself doesn’t show up until more than two minutes in, after the intro and a full verse from Ciscero. In fact, around 10 of the 14 tracks contain prominent features. Many of them are from D.C. and the surrounding tri-state area, which bolsters the album’s city-pride mantra, but it leaves the listener feeling like it’s not really Goldlink's album. There isn’t enough of his voice to solidify that this is who he is. As a rapper who still isn’t very well known, it seems like he would want to highlight his persona. Instead, he hides for a good portion of the album.

When Goldlink does put himself forward, though, it often feels like he’s recycling well-worn material. “The Parable of the Rich Man", for example, is a track in which Goldlink has a conversation with a woman named Lucy, who represents a constant source of evil and negative influence masquerading as protection or self-preservation in the rapper’s psyche. It was a creative and interesting idea when Kendrick Lamar did it on 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but when Goldlink repeats it, it’s stale and feels insincere. And the drastic switch from light and fun tracks to more aggressive ones sometimes feels forced, or as if it’s overcorrecting.

The album does work well bringing in people from the D.C. area and incorporating the go-go funk sound in interesting ways, like on “Roll Call", where the standard go-go beat is sped up and buried creatively among more layered percussion. These upbeat tracks are where Goldlink really succeeds. His love for his city comes across on “Roll Call", and his creative flows shine on “Kokamoe Freestyle", and his pop sensibility comes through on “Crew” and “Have You Seen that Girl". When the album is fun, it’s really fun, but when he tries to invoke a darker side, it just sounds unconvincing -- and does a disservice to the light he wants to shine on his city.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.