No Reason To Pretend is a weekly column by Stephen Kearse that explores the intersection of hip-hop and pop culture.
It’s hard to listen to GoldLink without thinking about death. The DC rapper has a taste for groovy, warm sounds that conjure images of bodies in motion, but in his music bodies hit the floor just as often as they hit the dance floor. GoldLink frequently uses parties as a muse, but the parties he goes to are as likely to end in a steamy one-night stand as a grim shootout. GoldLink isn’t a realist though. His music is expressionistic, built on textures rather than contrasts, dimensions rather than contradictions. At What Cost, his sophomore album, refines his expressionistic aesthetic even further, rendering his hometown and his worldview in vivid detail while delving further into his hectic love life.
Love can be deceptive in GoldLink’s music. On one hand, it’s utter desire and sensuality, like on “Have You Seen That Girl?” where GoldLink casually macks as beautiful women come and go. He describes women the way a food critic might detail a sumptuous dessert: curves, edges, and bite. “I was out Wak Wahler with the project boys / Lookin’ at this little fine ass joint with her French braids/ Black shades, lil’ attitude, ass wide like a lamp shade,” he raps with glee. But alongside these more lascivious vignettes he uses love as this multi-purpose glue. On “Herside Story”, generously sampling Irish rappers Hare Squead, GoldLink pledges allegiance to a lover, his city, his hitters, and himself all at once. For GoldLink love is elemental, defining relationships large and small, political and personal.
“In this world they do not know how to love me,” singer April George chants in the spooky outro on “The Parable of the Rich Man.” These lines capture both the general sentiment of the album and GoldLink’s particular alienation as a black man from Washington, D.C. I live in D.C. and many people from outside of the city have recently asked me how the presence of the Trump administration has changed the city. To their surprise, my answer has always been, “Not much.” Regardless of who’s in office, D.C. is a structurally corrupt city. The local government is circumscribed by the whims of Congress, deep segregation limits housing and job opportunities, and its unceasing influx of transient residents tend to have more interest in what the city can do for them than what they can do for the city. GoldLink is drawn to these tensions and is forthright about how they shape his worldview.