On March 24, D.C.-based rapper GoldLink released his debut studio album “At What Cost.” The album follows two singles, “Meditation” and the widely popular “Crew.” The 2015 XXL freshman has also released two moderately successful mixtapes, so he has the background to debut as a practiced rapper with his own trademark flow and soulfulness. However, rather than rely on his tested formula in “At What Cost,” GoldLink moves to expand his scope by changing up and adding new elements to his style. Although GoldLink is not the most well-known performer to come out of the DMV, he matches any other artist from the area in local pride, making “At What Cost” one of the most “uniquely D.C.” albums to be popularly released.
The cover art immediately hints at GoldLink’s hometown pride. Whereas his previous mixtapes featured more abstract art, the cover of “At What Cost” displays a heavily stylized depiction of GoldLink and two women in front of a blinged-out car. The style of the art is reminiscent of D.C. street art down to its penciled-in title “At What Cost” in the bottom right corner. GoldLink’s D.C. pride doesn’t stop at the cover, though. Of the many features on the album, a good number are DMV-born artists, including Kokayi, Wale, Mya, April George, Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy. Despite GoldLink’s relative fame, none of the features, besides Wale and KAYTRANADA, are big names themselves. On “At What Cost,” GoldLink gives back to the district, helping unknown but talented artists get mainstream exposure.
GoldLink’s love for D.C. is also apparent in the songs themselves. Over the course of the album, he shouts out the city multiple times. On “Roll Call,” GoldLink and Mya sing about returning to the streets of the city that raised them. “Roll Call” is also a great example of GoldLink’s innovation on this album. Instead of his usual jazzy sound, this track is backed by a house-sounding beat. Other tracks such as the “Opening Credit,” “Hands On You Knees” and “Meditation” borrow sounds from the district itself. “Opening Credit” is an ethereal track. GoldLink’s voice is almost hidden behind rushes and harsh squeaking noises, reminiscent of metro cars. On “Hands On Your Knees” Kokayi acts as an MC of a D.C. club introducing GoldLink. The track is accompanied by a prominent surreal synth noise. On the more relaxed track, “Meditation” GoldLink raps about his love for a woman over a drumbeat similar to the beats of street performers. Although GoldLink is in many ways a unique artist, his influences also shine through on this album.
On “Have You Seen that Girl” GoldLink raps over a beat strikingly similar to Drake’s “Feel No Ways.” Instead of a regretful ballad on love lost, however, GoldLink turns to admiring a particular woman’s features. Always repping D.C., he raps about taking her out to lunch in Georgetown, the upscale waterfront area of the city. GoldLink’s appreciation for Kanye West also shines through on the album. On “Pray Everyday (Survivor’s Guilt),” GoldLink raps about “passing Kanye,” and on the impressive “The Parable of the Rich Man,” GoldLink raps using Kanye-style autotune. Over the course of “The Parable of the Rich Man,” GoldLink weaves a story of temptation in allusion to Jesus’ parable. April George closes the track with a solemn chant about not being loved.
Other highlights of “At What Cost” include “Crew,” “Herside Story,” “Kokamoe Freestyle” and “Some Girl.” “Crew” and “Herside Story” are classic GoldLink. On “Crew” he is backed by rapper Brent Faiyaz and singer Shy Glizzy, and on “Herside Story” he flows over a smooth beat with assistance from Irish R&B group Hare Squead. In this tender track, GoldLink muses about loving the same girl in spite of his fame. “Kokamoe Freestyle,” on the other hand, is a very gritty freestyle about violence and rap music. On “Some Girl,” Steve Lacy of R&B band The Internet joins GoldLink. It’s interesting to hear GoldLink rap over Steve Lacy’s cymbal-heavy beat. Like “The Parable of the Rich Man,” “Some Girl” also closes with a distinctive outro that showcases GoldLink’s creativity.
On “At What Cost,” GoldLink proves himself capable of creating an artistic rap project. Despite the stylistic changes, GoldLink’s talent shines. Thematically, the album often resorts to the familiar topic of women. However, he also broadens his approach by rapping about growing up around violence in D.C. Overall, “At What Cost” is a quality project that shows GoldLink’s maturation as a rapper.