Stop Questioning GoldLink’s Musical Risks; Instead, Look at Where they Take Us | Haram!

 Evan Dale // June 28, 2021 

There has never been anything conventional about GoldLink. There has, however been a lot of things controversial abour him. But, speaking strictly on music: pathfinding and experimental, the DC-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) area transcendentalist has always been more of an influence on hip-hop’s wide-ranging and indefinable future, than a figure of its stylistically trendy present. And he’s been pushing those boundaries since in 2014 when The God Complex – spearheaded by the evocative, poetic, and productively minimal When I Die – first gave listeners a glimpse into the intersectional stylings of an emerging star. A year later, with stardom decidedly inbound, GoldLink delivered his debut full-length production, And After That We Didn’t Talk which featured – ahead of their respective low-ups – Masego and Anderson .Paak.. A conceptual coming-of-age collection acting as both a pedestal on which to tell his story, and a platform from which to prophet the future sounds of hip-hop music, the project put on exhibition a well-curated mosaic of his unparalleled ubiquity with lyricism, his dynamic flexibility with vocals, and his boundless affinity for production reaching far beyond the conventional edges of where hip-hop was at in 2015.


In 2021, hip-hop is in a very different place than it was more than a half-decade ago, and not enough of the music world seems to understand or acknowledge just how much of an impact GoldLink has had and continues to have on its meandering, widening direction. Ahead of his time collaborating with and injecting directly into his music, electronic producers and production, much of his early work paved the way for producers – like friend and collaborator, KAYTRANADA (Together) – to seamlessly blend much of hip-hop’s stylings into their electronically modern framework. 2017’s At What Cost explored the dynamism and oft-overlook cloth of his home city. And with 2019’s Diaspora, GoldLink delivered – from the diaspora – a keystone album of the West African Cultural Renaissance and its larger influence on the rest of the world, infusing the project with a web of moving influences ranging Altè and AfroFusion to Caribbean, North American, and UK diasporic sounds and names.


In 2021, with Haram! GoldLink is again defying odds, expectations. Undeniably polarizing at first listen, one must remove themselves from the notion that he was ever bound to do the same thing twice, in order to appreciate that he is often the first to do something at all, yet never the last. He has long been exploring the global nature of hip-hop and its surrounding grey areas, bringing them to the forefront of modernity through his own knack for experimentation. Regardless of what brought an ear his way in the first place – the anthemic addiction of Crew, bass-thumping bangers like Rumble, the audacious penmanship in Got Muscle, the understated nature of his register, the depth of his thematic discourse, or his off-the-walls experimentation – there is something unendingly intriguing in his brash lack of fucks about any given listener’s preconceptions of what it is that rappers do.


To say that refreshing is the first word to come to mind as GoldLink’s Haram! sounds as though it’s being pounded through the concrete foundations of a club in the South London underground a block away, is probably a malapropism. Confounding, attention-demanding, and bold are more likely adjectives for those coming to Haram! for the first time, shaken and encapsulated by an oft-muddled rap delivery weaving jarringly in and out of so many other broad stylistic leaps and collaborative voices in their own right. But, if refreshing wasn’t first to mind, perhaps necessarily raw, and ultimately game-changing better present themselves to a listener upon the unexpected transition between GoldLink and NLE Choppa’s verses on the project’s opener, Extra Clip. In that blurred line exists an early sign of the jarring changes of pace Haram! is destined to bring into focus.


By the second listen through the album as a whole – which is exactly how it should be prescribed despite its shuffling nature – Haram! emerges refreshingly destructive. Destructive of hip-hop expectation. Destructive of GoldLink’s own stylistic boundaries, if any exist at this point in his genre-slashing career at all. Destructive of any remaining walls between global hip-hop and UK club by GoldLink’s own brutalist rap architecture.


He has been largely living between London and Amsterdam through the last year or so, and the audio-environmental influences that have decidedly soaked their way through the floorboards of his creativity are blaringly apparent and well expressed not only in his at times drill-esque rap delivery, his rangy production, and his long list of friends and collaborators, but also in the dynamic breadth of the stylings he chooses to explore throughout the unpredictable 36-minute rollercoaster of genre defiance pillared by an ever-resent GoldLink flow and euro-futuristic basement bass.


Haram! is – for all intents and purposes – Boiler Room hip-hop, inventing itself with fluid courage from start to finish and intermittingly infusing it all with moments of completely unpredictable bliss. Just wait for the Evian break from any sort of stylistic norms, or the Santigold-tinged effervescence of Wild and Lethal Trash! Per the whole project’s identity as indefinably electro-club rap – bolstered by GoldLink’s own decision to run his own lyrical prowess through a muffler across a larger part of the project – Haram! doesn’t have any contemporary album parallels from which to draw comparison. It’s a removal from hip-hop and music at large, like so much of his canon has been. But, it’s also a removal from his own prior work.


It feels like we should be listening to it at the foot of a Function One speaker; it calls for the kind of humid, smokey atmosphere that a South London Boiler Room set brings to the table; it captures the essence of a great live hip-hop show through the blurred sound of a less-than-adequate sound system; it should be spun live by KAYTRANADA as GoldLink delivers its whirlwind lyricism through a talk box; it will set a new precedent, yet again, that GoldLink doesn’t adhere to expectation, and neither does hip-hop.


Haram! as a whole is undeniably unique, surprising a listener expecting any of the many roads GoldLink’s indefinably influential career has traveled in the past. But, with a great sound system and an open mind, it’s also yet another boldly experimental patchwork of risks taken successfully sure to have a monumental impact on the scope of hip-hop’s futurist texture.