Innovative ode to the city of D.C.

Photo courtesy of RCA Records

At this point, GoldLink is used to getting praise for just about everything he drops. After “The God Complex” and its single “Sober Thoughts” showed the world for the first time his now instantly recognizable flow and style, critics have been in love with him.

After a spot on XXL’s coveted freshman list, a second mixtape and a string of loose singles, he has released his debut studio album, and it does not disappoint. In fact, it is his best work yet. Now with “At What Cost,” he has shifted gears slightly away from what he calls “future bounce” as he tells a story of his upbringing in the DMV.

After releasing “Crew” last year as well as “Meditation,” “Summatime” and “Pray Everyday (Survivor’s Guilt)” in the last couple weeks, the full album has GoldLink exploring stories of his teenage flings, dangerous neighborhoods and his unadulterated love for the city of D.C.

In an interesting move, GoldLink has his fellow DMV rapper Ciscero introduce the world he inhabits in the album. By removing himself at key moments, he allows listeners to see why they should learn to love all of D.C., rather than just the main character of the album.

The whole album has him making interesting and somewhat unexpected decisions. In “The Parable of a Rich Man,” he raps through a lo-fi vocal filter while showing the frustration of a certain woman in his life as his fame turns into a vice with a consequence. The leading single and most radio-friendly song “Crew” acts as the beginning of the more traditional rap sound that covers the last leg of the album.

Although this is a more focused and personal project than his previous releases, GoldLink still wants to make hits. “Meditation,” produced by previous partner in crime Kaytranada, gives more of the unique blend of rap, jazz and house that only this duo could create.

Featuring fellow D.C. native and 2000’s R&B star Mya, “Roll Call” would fit seamlessly in any low key house party playlist. Even though he does touch on heavy subjects, his artistic goals definitively avoid having a heavy tone. In a time when it feels like projects fall under the two extremes of either being entirely morbid or completely detached from reality, “At What Cost” strikes a refreshing middle ground.

GoldLink shows that he is one of the most versatile artists, even without a strong singing voice. Much like the history of D.C.’s music, “At What Cost” covers many sounds from the Go-Go influence on “Have You Seen That Girl?” to Steve Lacy’s bouncy bass in “Some Girl.”

He is as comfortable on the “Herside Story” remix by Ireland’s Hare Squead just as much as he is on the trap-infused beat of “Pray Everyday (Survivor’s Guilt).” These tracks prove that putting him in a box is a mistake.

The sheer amount of references to D.C. is overwhelming. References to hangout spots, favorite neighborhoods and even specifics like the minute difference of Maryland accents all show up.

With the rap culture of cities slowly eroding from the globalism of the era of Soundcloud and local slang being used worldwide, it is almost surprising how low profile the DMV has been.

One of the coolest aspects of the project is that it can act as an introduction to the DMV for the outside world while also leaving pieces that are difficult to pick up for someone who does not know about the culture, making the album be a particular gem for D.C. natives.

Although GoldLink is by no means an unknown name, he has an undeniably low key presence in hip-hop, and mostly this seems to be by his own design. Even if it was an accident, it is fitting then that “At What Cost” was released just around the same time as Drake’s massive “More Life.” But while the world was distracted by the very familiar Drizzy, GoldLink put out one of the best albums of 2017 thus far, so listeners should get acquainted with the DMV.