Virginia rapper GoldLink doesn’t consider himself a straightforward rapper—he calls his music “future bounce,” a term he credits to producer Lakim—and today, he takes his first big step toward planting a stake in the genre.
GoldLink released his first long-playing mixtape, “The God Complex,” this afternoon. The 9-track EP serves as an introduction to an artist who, in fewer than two years, has positioned himself as one of the region’s most promising hip-hop artists. But he’s also anonymous. GoldLink hasn’t divulged his name or publicized any clear photos of himself. (When asked how he plans to perform live and maintain anonymity, he declines to offer specifics.)
Recently I met GoldLink in a suburban Virginia studio, the place where he recorded “The God Complex.” Given his anonymity, I managed to sit in a room with him for more than five minutes before I realized it was him. He is inconspicuous in person—a seemingly average 20-year-old who, after introducing himself, sat down to play “Grand Theft Auto V” because, well, that’s what 20-year-olds do.
Pausing the game every so often, GoldLink was candid as we chatted about “The God Complex,” his father, and why he took up hip-hop in the first place.
On how he got started rapping:
I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t want to go to school, and I couldn’t work a 9-to-5, and I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to try rap. I’m the type of person where I’m all in, so when I made up my mind, I started reading first. And then I started writing poetry. I started going to, like, Busboys and Poets on the very low when nobody knew who I was. I would just study it and then I started rap. The poetry introduced me to writing since, you know, rap is a form of poetry.
On the relationship between street culture and his music:
I say I’m rapping about the same [stuff] as every other street [guy], but it’s over different beats. I’m more intricate and articulate with it. “The Heart” wasn’t talking banging a [guy] over the head, but I really talk about everything that I’ve seen. Then I have songs where I do talk about that, but it’s over those beats so it’s more universal. I really don’t want to be a stereotype. And also, at the same time, it’s more fun for people. People are dancing to my pain and they don’t even know it. They get to dance and have fun while I’m still telling this story about how real…hectic [stuff] gets.
On “The God Complex”:
My tape’s called “The God Complex.” There’s two meanings behind it. I had an ex-girlfriend whose father studied philosophy, and when he talked to me about God, he said everyone should strive to be like God because God is perfect in every way. Even though we can’t be perfect, at least we can try. At the same time, if you look in the dictionary, a God complex is someone who’s full of themselves —very confident, overly confident, think they’re above. So I took both definitions and combined it to make a body of work.
On choosing to stay anonymous:
… If you believe that there is a God, then you know that God doesn’t show his face. He speaks to you, you feel him, but you’ve never seen him. There’s no painting of God. So my whole thing is I’m going to keep it to the music. It doesn’t matter what I look like. You’re going to listen and that’s all you’re going to judge it [by].
On “The God Complex (When I Die)” video:
It was the most emotional record on the whole thing. The idea was there were four kids who grew up in the ghetto. When you’re a teenager, you think you’re invincible. You don’t listen to anyone. In this situation, [stuff] got real to where his friend got shot. This is the deal: There’s actually three kids, it’s not four. The one who got shot is actually dead at the beginning of the visual. But as you see the visual, he’s still there. Conceptually, it was like they can’t accept that their friend is dead. That’s why I chose that song. If you haven’t experienced death, you will. That was probably the most universal record I could feel. That’s what it was. They could not let that kid go.
Warning: This video contains explicit lyrics and violent imagery.
On violence and grim reality in his music:
The whole concept behind [“The God Complex (When I Die)”] is kind of based on a true story. I used to run in Baltimore and that’s when I started getting into banging and [stuff] like that. Not too long ago, they had a killing spree, and it was like, “This is what people don’t talk about.” And a few of those people were my homies. It’s funny because I would call his phone, and call his phone and I just couldn’t accept it. I kept [them] in my contacts for a good five months. You would think you get numb to it, but you don’t. You can’t give a [damn] though because [stuff] happens.
On the subject of women in his lyrics:
[When I rap about women], it’s real. It dips into my life. It dips into that God complex mentality as well when you think you’re “that [guy.]” You’re a king, too, so it’s like “I can pull your [girl], ha.” When I write songs, I write from a lot of perspectives. I try to touch a lot of topics, and I try not to always talk about women, but it’s also a part of my life.
On the subject of his father in his lyrics, particularly on his track “The Heart”:
“The Heart” was in the midst of anger. That was in the midst of “[Screw] that guy, I don’t care if he dies today.” That’s where it came from, and that’s where it was spit from, so you can hear it in my voice. He left when I was super young. Then we had to fight by ourselves, and that’s when I became whatever I became. But death happens all around me so much. At 20, you don’t want to have any regrets. So I was like, “Whether he’s a [lousy] person or not, regardless, I’m going to make ends just for me, and we’re good now.”
Warning: The following mixtape contains explicit lyrics.