RCA Records

For the past three years, GoldLink has been low-key carving his own lane within rap but has yet to reach the level of success he so unequivocally deserves. Since his 2014 debut, The God Complex, he’s been delivering smart rhymes over quickly-paced dance-centered beats—and not in the way Pitbull does either. His ability to combine smart wordplay with rapid-fire rhythm has brought him critical acclaim but not the mainstream triumph. Despite being a member of the esteemed 2015 XXL Freshmen class and having two acclaimed efforts—The God Complex and And After That, We Didn't Talk—firmly logged in his catalog, GoldLink is still searching for his tangible game-changer.

His first official major label project, At What Cost, attempts to fill that long-awaited void. Even though it’s a very strong offering, there may not be anything to break him out of the glass ceiling he’s been placed underneath. In many ways, At What Cost follows the same pattern of his two aforementioned projects with the same lyrical dexterity and progressive beats. From the club to the car to those Apple earphones, it’s the type of project that can exist almost anywhere at any time; this self-possessed structure makes its replay value limitless.

While there are 14 really strong songs on At What Cost, they feel like they could have easily been included on either of his past two works. This obvious consistency doesn’t necessarily extend an olive branch for a brand new gang of fans, but loyal supporters will appreciate his return to form.

If his 2015 XXL Freshman profile interview still holds true then his fear of “burning out or fading away” remains at the top of his mind because this project is incredibly well-paced. At every turn, there is something exciting happening whether it’s an intrinsic beat, a bar worth rewinding or a seamless mix of the two. After the minute-long instrumental intro, GoldLink brings the beats and rhymes to life on “Same Clothes as Yesterday.” Funky organ keys and a catchy “I don’t give a fuck about shit” chorus let him get off blissful bars like “All this bullshit happened, I still smile through the shit." That optimistic sensibility is translated from top to bottom with lots of carefully-placed messaging and rhythms. Even when he’s discussing seemingly intense altercations that end with “Then the homegirl brother tried to fight me/I had to have the nigga kiss the bottom of my Nikes,” he still manages to keep the mood light and almost a direct discourse for water-under-the-bridge.

If there is one song that the masses can latch onto it’s the Kaytranada-produced, Jazmine Sullivan-assisted “Meditation.” The way Kaytra’s bongos bounce around the electronic bassline brings out the best in GoldLink. He keeps the meditation message clear but the lyrics rather playful, especially with witty name flip: “I got a light-skinned bitch who look like Beige Loaf/And she fight and fuck me in the same clothes." The entire four minutes is just another reason why both Link and Kaytranada need to churn out an entire collaboration project.

Directly proceeding the high-energy vibes of “Meditation,” GoldLink travels through more downtempo deep cuts in the form of “Herside Story” and “Summatime” featuring Wale and Radiant Children. Both tracks dial in on summertime love and old-fashioned reminiscing, the latter featuring a standout verse from fellow DMVer, Wale.

GoldLink never really breaks from his go-go inspired dance flows expect for on the trap ballad “Crew.” It still features a strong vocal performance from Link but instead of futuristic synths paving the way, producer Teddy Walton subs in heavy 808s and a trap clap to take the reins. “Pray Everyday” is another shining light to Link’s versatility. Heavy trap drums are collided with a gospel sample that is definitely a first for GoldLink, which showcases a moment of clear self-awareness that culminates his standoffish attitude. At the very end of the first verse he simply says, “I don't got no industry friends, 'cause I'm rude.” It’s an interesting line that adds yet another layer to his unravelling personality.

At What Cost finds GoldLink rapping aplenty about haters, fights and apparently destructive situations but he does so in such a lighthearted way that it's not out of place to question how someone might be able to dance so hard to songs filled with seemingly negative lyrics. That’s the beauty of Link’s music; his cadence and dance party-made flow make light of his more serious situations in a way that translates well to listeners. His rhymes are relatable and the beats are bumping—a true win-win.

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