You’re in the back of a D.C. cab, rolling in the summer heat with all the windows down. Amid the usual street noise, you catch snatches of conversations from the crosswalk. Trap, go-go, and electronic beats bleed in from the open windows of houses and out of club doors. Bass rattles the surrounding cars. It all swirls into a delicious, dizzying mix; one that D.C. rhymer GoldLink might call future bounce.
On his debut studio album, At What Cost, GoldLink (D’Anthony Carlos) seeks to capture the sound of his city. From someone who once repeatedly rhymed that “Hip-hop will die, I promise that/If we keep the lies in our raps,” GoldLink keeps it real and pays constant tribute to The District, which is half homeland and half living, breathing character.
The album’s title (and artwork) itself tips GoldLink’s method: turning his genre’s predictable aspirations of guns&drugs&girls on their head. His approach to these touchstones is hardly glorification. There’s talk about catching bullets, but they’re less threatening and more feeling threatened. For every bad girl falling into his arms, there are three out to fuck his life up. And dealing isn’t a ladder up out of the hood; it’s a chute.
At What Cost flourishes in the able hands of damn-near-everywhere producer Kaytranada. His work summons the best in GoldLink, who brings a convincing dancehall bounce on “Meditation”. Even if Link’s accent is about the farthest thing from Jamaican patois, (try Landover, Maryland), the flow is undeniable; a chocolate twist to go with the crunchy peanut butter sample of Kay’s “Track Uno”.
Appropriately titled, “Herside Story” is a surprisingly tender jam, with Jessy Rose of Irish rap trio Hare Squead delivering the love-and-devotion sampled hook. The smooth and shimmering “Summatime” follows, with the rhymes of fellow DMV native Wale and the melody from Radiant Children playing warm reminiscences against “love crimes” and heartbreak.
The neighborhood roll calls—long a staple of DMV radio shows—and appearances by local luminaries build into this communal mood. On Hands On Your Knees “, GoldLink cedes the mic to D.C. party-starter legend Kokayi, who puts the crowd through the paces with a go-go-inflected instructional dance worthy of “Da Butt”. It’s as representative a track as there is on At What Cost. In spite of the attendant dangers, GoldLink’s devotion to his city always comes first: As he puts it on “Roll Call”: “No matter where I go…I’m always gonna go back…’cause it made me.”