I’ve always been an admirer of GoldLink, so it came as a huge surprise when I unexpectedly spent 24 hours with him during the last leg of his ‘At What Cost’ Tour. He is a firecracker – a wild card with a crazy work ethic, wisdom beyond his years and, not to mention, a whole city behind his back. It’s impossible to understand the mind of a man in a day, but shadowing GoldLink and his tour “crew” unmasked rarely seen traits and outrageous moments that helped paint a clearer portrait.
GoldLink isn’t the most talkative fellow – something I discovered a few years ago during a previous interview. His nonchalant attitude and oozing confidence can be a bit overwhelming. I hoped our discussion wouldn’t result in three-word responses as I sat on the side of the stage at Brooklyn Steel, feet dangling off the platform into the photo pit. As I took notes on a small piece of paper, a football spiraled over my head from the massive arena floor into the hands of GoldLink himself, who hovered above me.
To better understand GoldLink, we need to rewind to earlier that day – where my study of the blossoming star began. A downpour of supporters clogged the entryway of RetroSuperFuture in SoHo with merch in hand. Clothing lines jetted from the walls of the Howard Street store and specialty cut and sew tour merch neatly hung from pins. GoldLink, although cooperative, seemed almost robotic greeting his fans. A few photo-ops later, Link’s DJ, Marvel, swiftly called an Uber, and the young star left as quickly as he arrived.
Things moved quickly. Phone calls and daps – scheduling and rescheduling. I stood with Kazz, GoldLink’s day–to–day manager, who suggested I ride along to the venue with Link’s cinematographer Oliver, who’d spent six weeks on the tour bus with him and the tour crew. Originally from Australia – where GoldLink toured just a few months ago – Oliver broke down the science of GoldLink’s success overseas:
“There’s a club that does a hip-hop night once every two weeks, and that’s the extent of it” he reveals as we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge to the Brooklyn Steel venue. “People like 21 Savage and Lil Uzi, that’s considered ‘the culture’… that’s considered ‘diving deep.’ It’s terrible. All we get from American hip-hop is the stuff that gets big enough to spill over to our country. We’re obsessed with it, but we don’t understand it. But, GoldLink, he has a massive sound here. Australia loves EDM, so when GoldLink came out with this music that infuses that with rap, it blew up. GoldLink predicted that.”
Sound check happens quickly. The show commences. Bodies move and euphoria soaks the air. The entire experience feels like a sugar rush. Joey Bada$$ comes out briefly for a song – and just like that the concert is over. A sugar crash.
I wander around looking for Kazz, ready to get my interview done. Backstage is tighter than a pair of spandex shorts on a stripper. Tonight is no regular night – GoldLink’s “Crew” had gone platinum and even as the hour creep towards midnight, the celebration hadn’t even started. GoldLink is nowhere to be found, but I do spot Kazz, who’s standing by the back of the massive tour bus outside the venue. He invites me to shadow the boys on the last leg of the ‘At What Cost’ Tour in D.C.– the very stomping grounds of Link and many of his close friends and team members.
The following Friday, after four long hours on a Bolt bus from Penn Station, I arrive at D.C Union Station where Kazz graciously picks me up in a black Land Rover. Kazz is a busy man, one who balances phone calls, texts and the art of driving all at once. We speed down a seemingly endless road of trees to The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland.
At the backstage check-in, GoldLink’s mother greets me warmly. “Hi, I’m Momma Link,” a small brown woman says smiling. She wears a white T-shirt with GoldLink’s face printed in the center. A security guard escorts her inside. “I’m excited. I haven’t seen him in a long time,” she tells him, as the rest of the family pours in behind her.
GoldLink has blown up overseas, gaining a new level of stardom. He now leads a life of constant travel. He’s since toured Asia, Australia and just wrapped a North American tour with his counterpart Masego, a phenomenal jazz artist from the sister state of Virginia. Masego is a comical, innovative musical genius with talents that have piqued even the interest of jazz heavyweights like Quincy Jones.
I finally sit down with both GoldLink and Masego in The Fillmore’s green room after the two complete their first performance of the night. Since this is the very last show of the tour, they play a double show with a few surprise guests. A rare sense of DMV pride still looms in the air, as two incredible stage appearances from R&B legend Mya and Shy Glizzy still ring fresh from the first show of the night. It’s around 10pm when I catch up with the boys on a small couch during some downtime before the second show.
No matter how simple the question I ask is, Masego exaggerates his responses. When I prod him about his experiences via the tour, he dramatically goes into deep thought, almost dancing with his verbiage:
“This guy GoldLink, he has a lot of poise on stage,” Masego says. “It allowed me to step my game up, I learned a lot about people; we went to a lot of interesting markets, [saw] different behavior types. Salt Lake City, Utah, places like that where the skirt length is a little bit longer, they too can enjoy a concert.”
Although sincere, Masego’s statements are theatrical, contemplated and geared towards reaction. It’s unclear when he’s joking or when he’s serious, which balances out with GoldLink’s chilled out persona. GoldLink listens on, ad-libbing to Masego’s responses ever so often, slowly breaking out of his shell. His demeanor is considerably more attentive than when I first saw him a week prior in New York. Maybe it’s because he’s in his home city surrounded by family and his day ones. Still, I’m not used to the D.C personality.
“The DMV attitude is very… dry. That’s just how he is,” Kazz explained during the drive up from D.C. that afternoon. Kazz has known GoldLink since high school. He tells me Henny, his business partner, used to host free recording sessions of which GoldLink frequented. “He got really good,” Kazz says reflecting. As GoldLink’s celebrity grows to international status, his energy naturally, must remain protected. To GoldLink, being a rapper is a job.
“He’s grown up,” Henny explains. “It took a second for him to realize that he was an artist and this is, like, really his job. He had to grow into that. Those years of your life, between 18 and 24 you’re really learning how to be a man. I think he’s making it work, and he does a good job of separating it. It’s not like he’s excited to be a rapper, it’s more so what he does. It’s a job.”
“We’re basically like grown young men, old souled people,” Masego says. “To keep your sanity, you have to follow your intuition, or it will just store up, and you’ll have indigestion, and you’ll have to buy Pepto Bismol; that’s $4.95, and you don’t wanna spend money on it. Any idea I have, I just do it, and that’s the same way D works.”
D, what those closest to GoldLink know him as, reportedly purchased a motorcycle mid-tour. “Where do you put a motorcycle on a tour bus?” I ask.
“Under the tour bus. Or, on the couch. That was a thing. I’m like aight you not going to outdo me, so I bought an electric skateboard.”
The contrast between Masego and GoldLink is stark. GoldLink’s seriousness is something he’s mastered over time as a result of the growing responsibilities thrust upon him, like his new found global success and his introduction into fatherhood. On the outside, GoldLink is still a young man, full of moxie, angst and thunder, but on the inside he’s metamorphosing into a new being – one that must juggle celebrity, legacy and everyday life. Even as he speaks, it’s clear he’s still digesting the changes around him.
“[The tour] has been good,” GoldLink says. “I learned a lot about myself, in many ways I can’t really explain. I grew a lot in a short amount of time. This [tour] is the first time I got attached to people that fast… the tour family: Sego, Nick, Oli, Levi, Luke, and Jelisa.”
“Think of everyone else in life as a referee, and GoldLink is Marshawn Lynch,” Masego says. “He’s running up; he’s shoving all the referees, he’s saying take me out here! He took himself out, and now he’s back in D.C and he brought home a platinum plaque.”
GoldLink continues, “It feels like I’m responsible for half the things that go on [in D.C]. I can’t do things I used to do. It’s changed a lot. Like I help out with the soccer team [at my old] high school now. I support them and the athletics team – things like that. I’m just tryna be more involved in more ways than just music. I think about how impactful what we’re all doing now is going to be for the future. I want to make it like a walk through the door for my people.”
GoldLink’s father David stands next to the door, leaning on a file cabinet above us. His mother sits directly in front by a glowing vanity mirror. “My parents were very hard on me. Their entire lives were a sacrifice for mine. My dad worked three jobs, and my mom was working full time and going to school full time. All of those things were for me. For me, if I’m in a position to help [D.C] get the shine that we deserve then I’ll do whatever I can.”
Masego’s DJ, Jelisa comes in and tells D that the second show’s soundcheck is about to commence. She trips over his leg while shaking my hand. D dramatically clutches his knee in false agony. “Can you tell them to cancel the second show!” he says in an old Southern man’s voice. “She fucked my knee up! Almost tore my shit off!”
“The devil’s still at you”, Masego says laughing. “He almost rolled his ankle early today.”
“You wanna hear a story?” GoldLink asks me. He suddenly jumps up with a burst of energy and excitement, telling an elaborate tale about how the devil was still trying to get him since this afternoon when he rolled his ankle in Guitar Center, later having an unsavory experience in a jewelry store and with an Uber driver. With every new interaction, I begin to understand the two sides of GoldLink. One is still a young man, stocked with spryness and imagination, while the other is full of profound wisdom and elegance.
I walk down the hallway towards the stairway to the side stage. Sitting in the kitchen area is the “Crew” Platinum plaque. Brent Faiyaz, the man behind the hook on “Crew” slumps next to it in a chair. He’s also digesting his new found success. Surrounded by his friends, they comment on how unreal the experience still feels. Suddenly, a man bursts in with cups and liquor and the mood of the room intensifies. Brent and his friends all rejoice in unison and celebration. D.C veteran Wale peeks through the hallway shortly after, casually speaking with a friend. I could feel everyone’s pride, and everyone happiness even though it didn’t directly involve me – I felt involved. Inspired, even.
That’s what being around GoldLink is like – he makes you acknowledge your own coolness, and your accomplishments. His music and his attitude scream for you to big up yourself. To stop being cool and to be honest, even while rocking to a groovy dance beat. No one can break down every part of GoldLink, not in two days, but I did get a glimpse into his lifestyle, and I believe he deserves all the success he’s come into. The boys continue to drink, and the hallway adjacent the kitchen crowds up as the second show started above.
The stage, covered with AstroTurf and false greenery glows with a purple tint. “Keep praying for me y’all”; GoldLink yells out at the monstrous, roaring crowd. “I’m tryna be a hero for y’all.”
See where GoldLink’s “Crew” stacked up in our list of the 50 Best Songs of 2017 here.
- Text & Photography: Gyasi Williams Kirtley