We captured the rapper in some of his favorite local haunts.
GoldLink Lives in the Present
And ultimately this growth all comes from gaining more certainty in himself, something that shows in his visual approach. Having started out wearing masks to where he is now, it’s all been a journey — which is what GoldLink would like to do for his listeners with Diaspora. “I think it's a journey for everyone,” he says. “There's a sonic journey you have to understand and there's a conceptual journey you have to understand.” And, judging from Diaspora, the journey will certainly be a fun one.
“I'm too creative to try to recreate something that I've already done,” he says. Instead he starts from a feeling rather than a strictly methodical approach. “It's about creating another vibe, realizing why that was important, why that whole album was important and why it worked for what it was.”
This conceptual approach was born from a desire to become less insular in the creation with his music. “I'm just understanding that an audience matters,” he says. “You matter too of course, but it's like not making music for self, it's making music for the betterment of whatever that you believe in.” It’s an approach that GoldLink has said in other interviews began when he became a father, which forced him to think bigger than the immediacy that drove his previous albums.
With an album he simply describes as “black music,” GoldLink is interested in combining the elements of the black diaspora that he’s encountered on his travels — something he calls Afro-nowism. He explains that “everybody's always flirting with Afro-futurism but it's like Afro-nowism is now — the shift is happening now. everything is just starting to become one.”
The broader aspects of what the rapper wants to say with his newest work are also why he’s uninterested in repeating himself. The success of “Crew” was hard to ignore, as it received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Performance and made its way onto a plethora of end-of-year playlists. It can be easy for an artist to get enraptured in trying to replicate success, but GoldLink never wanted to look backwards. “The song is special, but people are attached to how it made them feel and you can't recreate that.”
GoldLink’s Diaspora sounds like London. Hailing from Washington, D.C., the rapper made an album that captures the UK capital’s mixture of sounds better than anything we’ve heard from a rapper who wasn’t born in England. While outsiders might first picture Buckingham Palace, tea and crumpets or another outdated cliche when they think of London, the actual picture of the city is very different.
London’s population is 41% black and ethnic minorities, with the majority of black Britons coming from countries that were formerly under the rule of the British empire, such as Nigeria and Jamaica. Due to concerted pushes from Britain to recruit skilled foreign workers from these former colonies, there was a growth in immigration during the 1950s and onwards. That resulted in a combination of first and second generation Britons who grew up hearing sounds from their parents’ home continents and have, in turn, inserted it into their music.
This mixture can be heard in London’s myriad of musical scenes. While Jungle, Garage and Grime all riff on Jamaican sound system culture in their own way, afrobeats (or Afro-Fusion/Afro-Swing depending on what you prefer to call it) takes influence from the West African sounds of Nigeria and Ghana. GoldLink’s Diaspora brings all of those disparate sounds together into one album, creating something that feels both familiar and unlike anything we’ve heard before. Whether it’s “Zulu Screams” pulling from afrobeats or “Yard” looking to Dancehall, it’s a feeling that was no accident, according to GoldLink.
When we asked the D.C.-born rapper how he created Diaspora, he said that he starts with an idea, “I conceptually figure out what it is that I want to do in my head. And then try to accomplish that goal by creating a sound that doesn't really exist until I create it.” And while the album is influenced by London, it’s actually not the city where he first thought of the concept — that distinction goes instead to Amsterdam. For GoldLink, London — specifically Shoreditch, where he stays while he’s in the city — was a symbol, “I use London as an observation of what I figured out that was going on everywhere at the same time.”