Before playing Trillectro, Washington D.C. rapper GoldLink talks Rick Rubin's advice, signing with RCA and growing up in Maryland.
Rick Rubin, the influential producer and mentor of Washington rapper GoldLink, has given his 23-year-old pupil plenty of advice. One piece stuck with him in particular.
"You focus on yourself, and you don't focus on anybody else," GoldLink said on the phone from D.C. last week.
Coming from a storied figure like Rubin, a cliché like that probably sounds novel. Besides, it's working for GoldLink — born D'Anthony Carlos — as evidenced by the positive reaction to his latest project, October's "And After That, We Didn't Talk," and his recent signing to RCA Records.
On Saturday, he's one of the main draws of the rap-meets-electronic dance music festival Trillectro at Columbia's Merriweather Post Pavilion.
The stop in Howard County will feel something like a homecoming for GoldLink. He was born in D.C. and lives there now, and the rapper spent much of his time growing up in Landover, until he moved to Virginia at 16.
While artists from the region use "DMV" as a catchall for D.C., Maryland and Virginia, GoldLink can authentically claim all three as home. He said he receives plenty of love from the area because he's still popping up in the same places, carrying himself the same way he did before any labels showed interest.
"I'll be at a dirty house party or walking around the mall, just random things I still take pride in and I still think are important for mental purposes," GoldLink said. "It works out in my favor because people are like, 'Oh man, you're really down to earth.'"
His demeanor may be grounded, but his eclectic style of rap floats through speakers with skittering drum patterns and atmospheric synthesizer chords, along with touches of bachata, house and more. He calls the hard-to-classify sound "future bounce," and GoldLink owes much of it to his upbringing.
"You can hear Baltimore club music, you can hear go-go music," he said. "You can hear ['80s Washington band] Trouble Funk and newer bands like TCB. Everything from me comes from here, just in my interpretation."
GoldLink first caught the Internet's attention in 2014, when he self-released his well-received debut mixtape, "The God Complex." The following year, he began to hit the studio with Rubin and made XXL's often-discussed "Freshman" cover — the hip-hop magazine's annual issue that attempts to identify the genre's next stars.
GoldLink greatly values Rubin's involvement in his career, but said the cover — while helpful — doesn't hold the same weight as it once did. Now, listeners use the Internet rather than print magazines and TV shows to introduce them to new acts, he said.
"I don't think it means a damn thing anymore," he said. "The only thing I think is personally good about the cover is looking back five, 10 years from now and seeing how much has changed. That's the best part about it — seeing the outcome."
In October, GoldLink released his second project, "And After That, We Didn't Talk." Much of the press around the release described it as a concept album about a failed relationship, but GoldLink sounds upbeat discussing it now.
"The only thing I was trying to accomplish was just tell some girl that I liked her," he said.
"It worked very well," GoldLink said, laughing. "Worked exactly how I wanted it to."
The exchange encapsulates GoldLink — he's honest, but self-aware and guarded, too. He's been purposefully enigmatic to this point, but with his RCA deal, that's about to change.
"I'm a private person," he said. "At the end of the day this is my job — it's not my life. At the same time, I want to open up more now that I have the resources to say what I actually want to say."
His debut album for RCA will arrive sometime next year, and GoldLink said he mapped out the entire project when he first started rapping. He's keeping the details to himself, but said it will be a major step forward from the two previous releases.
"I never decided to talk about what I wanted to talk about until I positioned myself to where I am now," GoldLink said. "So when I say it, it'll make 100 percent sense now. I'm positioned to make it a powerful statement."
Dish Baltimore Newsletter
Get the scoop on that new restaurant, learn about chef changes and discover your favorite new recipe. All your Baltimore food news is here.