Review: Goldlink, The Homecoming Prince
In the original hero’s journey, the homecoming is the final stage of our protagonist’s path to greatness. After traversing the trials and tribulations of the outside world, with its vices and ever-present villains alike, our knight in gilded armor returns with the fruits of his labor. Sometimes it’s a magic potion. Sometimes it’s the forbidden scroll. But inevitably it all boils down to the same symbol, hope. The return of a hero, whether it be a Skywalker or a LeBron, sparks something in our souls, a reminder that whatever darkness you charged into the night only makes the light you come back to burn its brightest.
“Who’s here with somebody they love tonight?,” rings from the speakers at U Street Music Hall, inviting a chorus of screams from the various couples in the audience, presumably all on the same DC date night. I am not one of these people. My friend and his girlfriend are, however, and they join in a synchronized sway as the DJ spins a seamless transition from Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” into Usher’s “My Boo,” their singing of “There's always that one person, that will always have your heart,” magically blending in tune with other pairs of sweethearts in the packed Saturday night room. I try to be less salty about the beauty of it all.
Gratefully, the DJ shows mercy on the un-cuffed population of the sold-out venue and plays the first chorus of Kung Fu Kenny’s “Alright” leaving us to finish the rest of the hymn, like any good congregation would. ALL MY LIFE I HAD TO FIGHT, NIGGA. I paused and looked at the group of frat boys in front of me, who proudly knew every word of the DJ’s set so far, but ducked behind their beer cans on these last two syllables. I hope they didn’t say it. (I know they did.)
Goldlink is one of the few DC artists that can bring these two crowds together. The Northwest and The Southeast. The boatshoes and and foamposites. So even when tensions rise, we all find solace in the fact we’ve all made the same journey; to see the boy prince, the artist formerly known as D'Anthony Carlos, the hero armed with only a single gold chain, home to greet his city once more.
When Goldlink comes onto the stage, he transforms into both court royalty and court jester. He is adorned in a black bulletproof police vest, a collection of small tags and accessories dangling from his neck.
“You know, Beyonce called me again today, she brought me out to On the Run yesterday.”
A grin crawls across the 25 year old’s face. He stands on the stage alone, a man anchored to his own island. In the spotlight he looks more Eddie Murphy than a grammy-nominated artist, the way he glides across the black platform patiently waiting for the murmurs of the crowd to die down, it makes me feel like we’ve slipped in a Def Jam comedy routine, circa ‘94. “She wanted me to come through again but I told her nah.....nah, I got something to do tonight.” Cheers wash onto the stage and pool at his feet, the art of the subtle flex. The mark of a natural showman.
This show was the final run of a three-night series called “9:30 Club and Trillectro Present GoldLink: Three Nights On U Street,” a residency dedicated to each of the DC rapper’s projects. Closing out the weekend with selections from his latest album, At What Cost, the night quickly turned into the equal parts trap and future bounce-inspired scene that has made Goldlink, who was born in the District, and grew up between there and Landover, Maryland, a radio mainstay not only nationwide but particularly in the DMV, where his sound gathers its origins from. The infectious rhythms turned the inside of U Hall into a nostalgic 90’s house party. Our vibrating bodies turning into a melting pot of sweat and bass and youthfulness. This is where Goldlink is most comfortable in my ears.
If I had to place Goldlink next to any of his classmates, a task that is relatively hard to do with his balancing act of unconventional rhyme schemes, heavy 90's influence, and commercial appeal that grows (arguably) in spite of those two trademarks, I’d put him opposite Joey Bada$$. Where Joey took the dusty boom bap path set by greats like RZA, Goldlink is this generation’s Fresh Prince, supplying endless summer bops. I see rows of backs sink into the chest of others as the Steve Lacy-assisted track “Some Girl” drills through the air. I can’t help but think of this as a ritual of sorts, as a kind of festival of honor. Goldlink is our adventurous prince, and we are all the townspeople, celebrating the fact that we know at least one body that crawled out the beast of our city and left with enough life wrapped around his lungs to venture back into its mouth and tell us what he saw out there. A mosh pit emerges as the lyrics of “We Will Never Die” featuring Lil Dude, “We will never die, hell yeah/ Put one in the sky, hell yeah,” have us giving all our breaths to the ether, our bodies in submission to the preacher’s sermon. I’m sure a little blood was spilled in the aftermath, we’ll simply call it communion.
True to to the hero's journey form, a gift must be given for a trip well traveled. After performing an unreleased song featuring the man Andre 3000 himself [The record didn’t make the album due to clearance issues], a representative from Senator Chris Van Hollen, a young black woman wearing a striped blouse with a pleated skirt, appears from the darkness with a white packet. When she unsheaths a piece of paper from it, she awards Goldlink with a congressional citation of honor for his “contributions as a DC ambassador of the arts,” signed by Senator Van Hollen. Not the forbidden scroll, but close. Goldlink, now sliding back into his comedian persona, declares, “I can’t go to jail no more. Now… now, I got my white card.” Soon after that, an even bigger packet is hauled onto the stage. Due to be being on tour, Goldlink was never able to receive his platinum record from 2017’s song of the summer, “Crew" so it seemed only right that he hoisted the gigantic plaque over all our heads head right here, with a smile as big as the city itself.
In the end, he plays Crew, twice, and orders the moshpit to reopen each time. We do as we’re told. Man, that boy just can’t wait to be king.
All photos by Leigha Jenkins for Capitol Sound DC