Goldlink talks blackness, representation and bedroom music

Now that we’ve sat with and marinated over the newest studio album by DC’s finest, we can confirm that ‘Diaspora’ is a career defining project. What defines a great artist? A good ear, in addition to the know-how. Recognising and appreciating lyricism and production, encompassed by an acute awareness of the craftsmanship that others possess is why Goldlink is firmly on the lips of many. We caught up with the DC rapper to get the low down on all things 'Diaspora'...

Congrats on the newest album. What was that process like?

It was cool, it was, not cool – that was a dumb answer. It was enlightening because it was like, I had to figure out… I had to live my life you know? I had figure out where I was going. It started so natural because I didn’t care about making a new album, I just felt like it all just fell into place on accident.

Yeah, because I felt like this album, compared to the others, is a lot more experimental and a lot more freeing– the other ones had solid sound that kind of carried its way through, but ‘Diaspora’ is very sporadic in my opinion. I’d love to know if that was a similar process for you.

It was similar in some ways because it was different. I didn’t want to do the same thing, I didn’t want to get the same results, but there were a few things that I decided would return in my work and see – I really just kind of self-evaluated and I decided ‘okay maybe I just like this [gestures], you know. I guess I’m doing it now’. So, I figured out what I was a fan of that kind of way of working. I thought about and figured out what I liked and did right and what I didn’t like, that I did wrong no matter what other people thought.

What were you a fan of?

I just loved how raw I was. You know, I loved how like… I oose talent right? So, it’s like, it’s so much raw talent. The earlier work exuded raw talent, but it was so uncontrolled, which is the beauty of it, but also, it’s a hindranceand aspects of it had to go. That’s what I loved. Another thing is that my process was raw. I was a bedroom artist, so it was kind of like I had started because I didn’t have the infrastructure to do it any other way. Then, when I gained the access to do it another way, I never wavered from that. When I began, I felt like I was making better bedroom music than everyone else, you know, like even ‘Crew’, I made it in my bedroom so it’s such [clicks] records that people love. I was just sort of doing it that way, I had to sit and ask myself, ‘imagine if I had decided to expand and change the things that I’m used to doing?’

 What ritual do you tap into to get this creative process going?

There is no such thing, you just live your life, if it comes, it comes.

Do you carry around a notepad or your phone? Are you literally just freestyling?

Yeah. Like, by definition of freestyle so like, I don’t – I stopped having my homework ready to go when I walked into the studio, do you get what I’m saying? I start to just speak, if I felt it, I liked it. If I liked it, I fucking like it, if I fucking don’t then whatever. I never wrote everything at home, and never wrote anything in the studio, I just fucking wrote wherever a rough idea came by.

Yeah, you make references to study – Are you still a student of the music or have you graduated?

I am still a student. Definitely.

One of my favourite songs from ‘Diaspora’ album is ‘Zulu’as it speaks to me actually being Congolese. I love the little Congolese afflictions that Bibi [Bourelly] adds. I just wanted to know, what were those influences? How did that collaboration come about?

Very natural. The thing is, Zulu is such a big accident, I made it probably the first, second or third day that I met him. He (producer, P2J) plays it by accident, he was meant to play me something else and I’d only heard like two seconds as he was going through [the files] he plays it and I was like woah stop, but then we skipped to another one. I wrote it [Zulu Screams] and then the Congolese bit was kind of like ‘aaah’ and we just kind of tried it and had it for time though, to the point where we forgot about it, he even forgot the guy who made it or where to find him. After finding it he (producer, P2J) came back and when I heard it the second time I was like ‘this is maaad’… then, it just kind of came together from there.

After hearing Zulu, I just started hearing old school 90s Papa Wemba and early Kofi Olomide from it, I don’t know if you’re familiar with those artists but they’re like really iconic Congolese artists.

Yo, I didn’t know that- haven’t heard them. That’s sick though.

Yeah, check them out! That was just kind of the vibe that I got from it and resonated with – it’s more dance-y, it’s more melodic, there’s a lot of feeling. And that kind of carries through the entire album- successions of ups and changes, but it’s still rooted in what it is. How did you channel those different aspects of who you are and collaborating with people from different cultures from your own?

It’s natural, even with what you said, the Congolese thing, that’s so sick, I never knew that and I want to study that. But yeah, I was just making stuff that was true to me, I never really wanted to look for the biggest kind of people, I was kind of looking at people that felt like did what was best in the system of what I was trying to create. It was a natural process because the basis of it was just being black, it wasn’t about being black and American, it was about being black and what that felt like and represented for me and I felt like that would translate for everybody. Everybody is technically misplaced.

I really do get that impression, especially the fact that it is titled Diaspora, I really do get a sense of that because a lot of the time, music from the US is wide reaching, however, with genres like Afro-beats it’s been quite difficult to translate stateside. Probably why in the last few years Nigerian and Ghanaian artists have shot up to great heights in the US. On the flipside, Congolese artists, Ivorian artists, or Cameroonian artists, francophone countries, they connect to that more. Diaspora is a great way to kind of combat the ignorance of the anglophones and bridge the gap that the other continents have long forged.

That’s what I guess the definition of being black is because there’s so many variations- there’s not one set way of being black, there’s so many definitions, cultures and it’s not wrong. So, I kind of just embodiedwhat I believed it was almost like a self-gratifying thing for me.For me, there was no real hitting-I didn’t really want to study too much, I didn’t want to go to Africa to make the album, I don’t have to go to Africa to figure how black people live. There are black people in DC, there’s black people here [London], there’s black people in New Orleans. I didn’t have to go far to be myself and see people that look like myself. That’s why I wasn’t really making music for the continent [Africa] blackness is global, you can see that by the people I collaborated with, which is why I think it works so well, it’s much bigger than just the continent, but it connects to it so easily. It hits so many different audiences and I never really wanted to settle for just one thing- I never wanted to just section it into, ‘This is Nigerian shit right here! All my Nigerians come’- Yeah, that’s cool, but what about people that don’t give a flying fuck about it which is Americans, we don’t care, it’s sad, but, do you know what I’m saying? So yeah, that’s the only thing I was more aware of, not being too prepared on the thing that I know so much about that I just start sectioning off how I’m actually feeling based off of my logic.

Yeah, because I think the most impressive name on the album for me is Maleek Berry.

The thing about it is just like him and everybody else, every person featured has everybody out of their element. Maleek kills melodic songs, Maleek can sing a ballad better than anybody else. That’s not a ballad, that BPM is way faster than what Maleek’s used to. Wizkid is so good ata certain BPM and certain few styles so well that, we took him out of that element. We took all the drums away. He can do soca sounds all day but if you put him on something where there’s no drums, what happens? And then Khalid can sing, write hooks and he can write pop songs better than anybody his age, but what if you put him in that dark setting, what happens then? Pusha. Pusha talks like over cool Kanye sampled beats, butthis was a little moremodernised, it’s more Pharrell-esque leaning, sothis was always going to be, I was just trying to get everybody out of their element; it was crazy, especially Maleek he killed it!

He was amazing on that.

I feel like that’s the direction that he should go; speed up his beats, because he’s really good at it

Is that the driving force for you, coming out of your comfort zone for every project that you produce and reinventing yourself with everything that you make?

Yeah, for sure. It’s more fun that way for everybody.

Have you been like immersing yourself in the culture and what do you think about the music that’s coming out in London right now and in the UK?

It’s exciting. I admire it, honestly.

How different is it from the US?

First of all, there’s a lot that I fuck with. I love the new age artists in the UK and they’re being championed and that’s sick. More so, they’re more experimental than the artists back home when they [US artists] find their pocket they stay in that pocket and they never want to leave. That’s the problem. Then you have a Stormzy and or Dave or someone like that- they don’t stay in one thing. Even if you love them for that one thing, they’ll just switch it

Yeah and you have to deal with it.

Yeah and that might just be the upbringing around here. Through a lot of the music coming out here.

I wanted to talk about your album cover. What was the inspiration behind it?

She’s black and she’s sick

You know what, I actually really love that.

Yeah, it’s not deep. She’s black and she’s tight. I think she’s that important and I was just like, ’You know what, I would love to put what I believe is important representation for black women’ a black woman.

So you do know who your fans are…

Watch the official video to U Say by Goldlink featuring Tyler The Creator and Jay Prince here…

wordsConnie Mangumbu