GoldLink is a man of many moods. Instead of basing his artistry on a blueprint, the artist born D’Anthony Carlos consistently reinvents himself, finding a specific soundscape that represents each new offering.
And After That, We Didn’t Talk, the 2015 follow-up to his breakout mixtape, The God Complex, exists in a lush, sun-drenched world. GoldLink's most daring release to date, 2017’s At What Cost, contextualizes a coming-of-age story in the heat of a summer filled with love and death. Featuring the GRAMMY-nominated, 3x platinum single “Crew,” the concept album was the beginning of a commercial breakthrough for the enigmatic rapper.
Now, after two years of relative stillness, GoldLink returns with DIASPORA, his second full-length release under the RCA umbrella and his first body of work to hold the title of “debut album.”
How will GoldLink reinvent himself on DIASPORA? I’m excited to find out.
In usual 1-Listen album review fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
The sound of breathing. Heavy breathing. There’s soft music in the background. Lots of outdoor sounds. It’s anxiety-inducing. A heart is racing. This reminds me of an early JAY-Z intro but without the mafioso speech.
2. “Joke Ting” ft. Ari PenSmith
A hypnotic piano intro. These notes are building up to a climax. The drums have a nice swing. “Joke Ting” is melodic, soft, and infectious. It’s more tropical than I’ve grown to expect from GoldLink. Nice flow. How he raps with such careful clarity reminds me of Drake. All his verses are always concise and sleek. I’m being reminded GoldLink has an ear for creating a memorable atmosphere. This isn’t a powerhouse first record, but it’s a mood-setter.
A nice swirl of sounds. “About to make a million for all my children” is a mood. I like this tempo a lot. Link is in a nice pocket. He’s deeper than a kid asking his mom for McDonald’s money. He doesn’t sound affected by contemporary deliveries. He’s never used the Migos flow or sounded like an offspring of another. Okay, this is an early favorite. The second verse is wild. A Mac Miller reference. “Better watch your back I’m a maniac.” A woman’s voice. She came out of nowhere. A pleasant surprise.
4. “Days Like This” ft. Khalid
I’m not yet sure if there’s a storyline, but sonically, the music feels cinematic. Is that Khalid? It doesn’t sound like him at all. A little weird hearing him sound so... I’m not sure. So unlike himself. This is good, the melodic flow is potent. “Heard you copped the whip but can’t pay your rent.” I mean, if you’re homeless, it doesn’t hurt to be homeless in a foreign. Link’s flows are inventive. I love the tone of this verse. He has a voice that doesn’t sit on a beat; he levitates above it. Even though I can’t catch every bar, lyrically, this album sounds more introspective than previous material. I like where this is taking me.
5. “Zulu Screams” ft. Bibi Bourelly & Maleek Berry
GoldLink sequenced “Zulu Screams,” a previously released single, perfectly. The energy jumps! The bassline will possess your body. The transition to a dancehall-influenced hook is a sudden switch-up. Every moving part feels intentional; how his flow works with the production makes the song that much more infectious. One of the most vibrant, layered records yet. “Zulu Screams” comes to life and gives the project a recharged pulse. We’re on a nice roll.
“More” is an immediate change of pace. “Back home you know I’m Sean Comb with it.” Slow, but engrossing. I like how prominent his voice sounds. It’s becoming his strongest instrument. I’m not sure who this is on the hook, but vocally, it’s soft as a bed of clouds. Love the percussion. This is a blend of The God Complex meets After That, We Didn’t Talk. It’s slow, which is taking away the momentum following “Zulu Screams,” but the Afro-pop/dancehall-influence is shining through. I can’t get over how warm this hook is; it’s relaxing as sunbathing without the risk of sunburn.
7. “Coke White/Moscow” ft. Pusha-T
Oh yeah, rap fans are about to lose it. Pusha sounds like he’s in the studio with a million kilos of coke. You can smell the residue coming from the kitchen. I want Pusha-T to make drug dealing nursery rhymes. No Limit lyric. Who made this beat? Man, Link sent Push the perfect record. This is an incredible Pusha feature. I want HBO to let Pusha write a new season of The Wire. Ha, the GoldLink bar to close. These keys. The production is escalating. The drums just dropped and they’re swinging like “Knuck If U Buck” in a back alley. Link is dancing with the zeal and charisma of ‘98 Diddy. The flow is mean. “RCA made a monster.” This record did not disappoint. He tagged back in. “Money be the motive, money be my girlfriend.” New favorite. Sheesh.
8. “U Say” ft. Jay Prince & Tyler, The Creator
Link went from the trap house to the house party. “U Say” takes you into a party, dancing up against a woman. I love this beat. It’s so soothing. This Tyler verse is proof he could be a potent, commercial feature. I would love a J. Cole-esque feature run. I never imagined a Tyler and GoldLink song. Prior to IGOR, I heard no room for them to coexist. This is great, though. All the featured guests have added value to their records. Love the back-half breakdown. It’s still building and evolving. Again, the atmosphere helps to make these songs so engrossing.
9. “Yard” ft. WSTRN
This is interesting. The percussion is moving in such a unique pattern. The bassline came in so nice! Oh yeah, this reggae vibe is beautiful. “GoldLink is a black work of art.” From a house party to an international flight. WSTRN slides in with vibrant vocals. DIASPORA is such a diverse project; it’s like a playlist of black music from across the world. The bassline is electric. Another favorite.
10. “Spanish Song”
He’s still traveling across the map. It’s a skit. Oh yeah, these drums are it. Pure fun. Who is the male voice? He’s setting the tone. He sounds familiar, but I can’t place the vocal. This album is such a good time; summer has another one. “Liquor got me loose.” GoldLink mentioned the mother of his child, there’s definitely a layer of personal introspection to this music that’s unlike the lyrical language of At What Cost. This beat is constantly shifting. Great instrumentation, it’s so full.
11. “No Lie” ft. Wizkid
I don’t know what to expect next. Wizkid! This might be his first major rap feature since Wale’s “My Love” in 2017. He didn’t go down the Afropop route; this is a straightforward rap song. It’s a vibe, though. Wiz sounds excellent. His melodies and delivery are attention-grabbing. The beat is rocking! The way GoldLink’s voice is cutting through the chaos is compelling. He’s focused. “I always tell her I’m a hood nigga this famous shit is new to me.” I want Kendrick on the remix. “Kill a rapper for respect.” Crazy record. The back half is stronger than the front.
12. “Tiff Freestyle”
GoldLink did not come to play. These keys! I wonder if this is an off-the-top freestyle? Do rappers still do that? What kind of life was GoldLink living before rap? “I live a life like Michael and kept it purple like Prince” and he stuck the Vick line. A strong verse. I must revisit. My only gripe: it’s too light.
13. “Rumble” ft. Jackson Wang & Lil Nei
I like how short these songs are. Link doesn’t overstay his welcome. The production is banging harder than a landlord collecting past due rent. After being all around the world, GoldLink brought us back to the DMV with “Rumble.” “When I touch down, they’re celebrating.” Wooo! “I got blood on my sneakers from running the game for too long.” “Rumble” is a BANGER. “Only show off so they know I made it.” I’ll admit, I’m not sure if Jackson Wang or Lil Nei is rapping on the second verse. Not bad, but it wasn’t as striking as Link’s opening verse. I need another Goldlink verse, sheesh.
“Family music.” GoldLink is for the family. This is soulful and saucy.I love how he switched the delivery up so seamlessly. He’s able to make words shift gears with ease. Easy close, no grand explosions. This is riding off into the sunset because I’ve said all that needed to be said music. A woman’s voice. A nice breakdown. This is incredible. Is this SZA?!?
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on GoldLink's DIASPORA:
Where At What Cost focused solely on capturing the spirit of D.C., on DIASPORA, GoldLink leaves the comforts of home to decorate the entire universe in black music. By stretching his sound across the globe, as the title foreshadows, the 26-year-old discovered a sonic palette that showcases cultural diversity and creative vision. DIASPORA is lush, made-for-summer music. It is black, and it is proud.
GoldLink might be newly adjusting to rap stardom but on DIASPORA, he becomes a one-man Afropunk lineup, molding and morphing a potpourri of soundscapes in his image. DIASPORA is an album that feels like traveling to various regions of the globe without leaving the warmth of your community. The leaps from UK dancehall to drug-dealer trap are natural as if they were next-door neighbors in the same Spotify playlist.
Although I have yet to uncover a larger message or underlying theme, lyrically and musically, the album doesn’t cease to captivate. As a performer, GoldLink ascends higher while the music weaves around his words. By the end of its runtime, DIASPORA reads as an otherworldly kaleidoscope. Don’t be afraid to get lost.
By Yoh aka YOHASPORA aka Yoh31