GoldLink On Go-Go And Making The Best Of A Bittersweet History

Apr 14, 2017
Originally published on April 14, 2017 1:57 pm

GoldLink — born D'Anthony Carlos — grew up surrounded by the sounds of Washington, D.C., in the 1990s. His father, an employee of the District's Parks and Recreation department, introduced him to go-go: a funk-infused dance music that originated in D.C. in the '70s and is one of the influences on his latest album, At What Cost.

"[Go-go is] all heavy percussion, so it's more funky, but it's really heavy drum percussion, right?" GoldLink says. "The fact that all of these black people would gather together into a venue, no matter what the outcome was, to dance and use this music as an outlet and escape from the everyday community — like, problems that we had — was just amazing to me. You know, that shows ... how much unity that we really do have that we don't think that we have."

The music brought the community together — but by the late '00s, the city had closed several of the most popular go-go venues because of violent incidents.

"It kind of took the outlet away," he recalls. "And if you ask me, it kind of had the city on standstill because it was like, 'What do we do now?' And then for a minute it was really quiet and then I guess people just started rapping, you know? And I think it started this whole new music renaissance that we're doing right now."

At 23 years old, GoldLink now feels he's part of that renaissance. At What Cost is a bittersweet reflection on how far he's come.

"My father grew up in the crack era," he says. "He would sell drugs and his friends would sell drugs ... in these broken homes. My father is like, one of like seven, eight kids with no father, you know what I'm saying? From that era, all of those dudes went to jail or they got killed — and then from that it spawned, they had babies, which was us. I feel like their generational curse or problem, whatever it was, kind of just trickled down on us and it's in our DNA."

That legacy shows up on "Crew," a song on At What Cost that casts GoldLink's personal and community history in a triumphant light.

"It's low-key a celebration-of-life record, knowing you can die any day ... and then just kind of celebrating the life that you have with the people that you love," he says. "I was just happy to be alive growing up. I just didn't even know if I could make it, 'cause a lot of kids that I knew did not make it ... I'd get calls like, 'Yo, so-and-so got locked up for 55 years,' like seriously, and then like, 'Oh, so-and-so just got shot at the court. So-and-so got hurt here. So-and-so got into some bull over there...' you know what I'm saying? Everybody just dropping like flies."

That GoldLink has both survived and achieved success is — according to him — a cause for not only celebration, but also some measure of soul-searching.

"You know, I suffer kind of from survivor's guilt," he says. "It's like you suffer from success because you feel like — why me? Why am I so special? What makes me so different from the next man and why am I able to achieve these things that this person can't? Prayer is the only thing that helps me get through it."

Even if he's sometimes conflicted about it, GoldLink doesn't see himself leaving D.C. for the foreseeable future.

"It's a great place. I'm from here, I know this place, I was born and raised and it keeps you grounded, it does," he says. "Just knowing that you're still very close to the things that I talk about, it shows that there's still so much work to and I just — I need to be here in order for me to help."

Radio editor Monika Evstatieva and web intern Jake Witz contributed to this story.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KOKAMOE FREESTYLE")

GOLDLINK: (Rapping) Legging with the - we dump it off like V. Radmanovic. Sorry homie, you know we not friends, it's all for politics.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The music of rapper GoldLink reflects his hometown Washington, D.C., in the 1990s and the history of his family in it.

GOLDLINK: My father grew up in the crack era. And he would sell drugs. And his friends would sell drugs. So his neighborhood friends would sell drugs in these broken homes. Like, my father is one of, like, I want to say seven, eight kids with no father. You know what I'm saying?

From that era, all of those dudes went to jail or they got killed. And then from that it spawned, they had babies which was us. I feel like their generational curse or problem, whatever it was, kind of just trickled down on us. And it's in our DNA.

CORNISH: GoldLink, born DeAnthony Carlos, also grew up surrounded by the sounds of the district. His father introduced him to go-go, a funk-influenced dance music that originated in the city in the '70s.

GOLDLINK: So my father used to work for Water, Park and Recreation in D.C. So, like, when I be out there, it was just go-go.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GOLDLINK: It's all heavy percussion. So it's more funky but it's really heavy drum percussion, right? And then it's like the fact that all of these black people would gather together into a venue, no matter what the outcome was, to dance and use this music as an outlet, an escape from the everyday community, like, problems that we had was just amazing to me. You know, that shows how much - I don't know. It shows how much unity that we really do have that we don't think that we had.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANDS ON YOUR KNEES")

KOKAYI: I see you, I see you. Ladies, right now, right now, you got to have them numbers ready around here. Fellas, tuck your chains, tighten up your laces.

CORNISH: The music brought the community together. But by the late 2000s, the city had closed several of the most popular go-go venues because of violent incidents.

GOLDLINK: It kind of took the outlet away. And, like, if you ask me, it kind of had the city on standstill because it was like what do we do now? And then for a minute, it was really quiet. And then I guess people just started rapping, you know. And I think it started this whole new music renaissance that we're doing right now.

CORNISH: A new music renaissance that at age 23, GoldLink now feels a part of. His latest project, "At What Cost," is a bittersweet reflection on how far he's come. Like on this track, it's called "Crew."

GOLDLINK: When we were making "Crew," it's - honestly it's a - low key a celebration of life record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CREW")

BRENT FAIYAZ: (Singing) She see money all around me. I look like I'm the man, yeah. But I was down and out like last week. Tell me, where have you been? You came out of hiding.

GOLDLINK: You know, just knowing that you could die any day kind of a type of thing and then just kind of celebrating the life that you have with the people that you love. And I ain't trying to sound dark or nothing but it was like I was just happy to be alive growing up. I just didn't even know if I could make it 'cause a lot of kids I knew did not make it.

It was like I'd get calls like yo, so-and-so got locked up for 55 years, like, seriously and then, like, be like oh, so-and-so just got shot at the court. So-and-so got hurt here. So-and-so got into some bull over there. My man got deported right there. You know what I'm saying? And it was just like everybody just dropping like flies. I had to be like 16.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WILL NEVER DIE")

GOLDLINK: (Singing) We will never die, hell yeah. Hell yeah. Hell yeah. Put one in the sky, hell yeah.

You know, I suffer kind of from survivor's guilt I want to say. It's like you suffer from success because you feel like why me? Why am I so special? Like, what makes me so different from the next man? And why am I able to achieve these things that this person can't? Prayer is the only thing that helps me get through it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAY EVERYDAY - SURVIVOR'S GUILT")

GOLDLINK: (Singing) Pray every day, say your grace. Keep the haters...

It's a great place. I'm from here. I know this place, born and raised. And it just keeps you - it keeps you grounded. It does, just knowing that you're very - you're still very close to the things that I talk, shows that there's still so much more work to do. And I just - I need to be here in order for me to help.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROLL CALL")

GOLDLINK: (Rapping) Bossed up, feeling good this year. Word around town, we the real hood this year. Two-five been alive this year. Real - with the shirt rocking side ball, yeah.

CORNISH: Rapper GoldLink. His latest album is called "At What Cost."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROLL CALL")

GOLDLINK: (Rapping) Tell the homie, tell the girl, tell her bring her friend, friend, friend, yeah.

MYA: (Singing) Coming from where we're from. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.