There has never been a better or more challenging time to be a young rapper.
On the one hand, the entire rap canon is available at the click of a mouse, a university stocked with lessons old and new awaiting willing students. Up and coming emcees, as such, seem to emerge with greater technical proficiency at an earlier age, with rappers like Earl Sweatshirt and Joey Bada$$ leading a charge of teenage prodigies that reaches into the inky depths of YouTube. Emerging talents also have the ability to immediately compare themselves to the competition, gaining inspiration to separate themselves or otherwise picking and choosing pieces of other styles to add to their own. The dedicated can gain proficiency; the dedicated and gifted can become special.
On the other hand, some old, bad news: There’s more music than ever, much of it isn’t very good, and it’s exceedingly difficult to gain any sort of significant traction (the definition of “significant” is up for some debate, because the musical landscape is so fragmented now that even a mega-hit can miss the ears of certain crowds, but that fact supports the notion that getting noticed is difficult). To connect with an audience is to either provide a song for them to sing, a culture for them to buy into, or the union of the two, the rare gem that can lead to longevity.
Consider this part two of the conversation (that I might be having with myself) on young rapper differentiation.
Virginia’s GoldLink is a considerable talent, a rapper with the ability to wield his flow as he sees fit, weaving in and out of the pocket, switching rhythms, stacking syllables, cascading into melody and swinging back around to start the roller coaster again. On new single “Electronic Relaxation,” GoldLink takes a Ta-Ku beat that would overwhelm most emcees–its drums pummeling a familiar sample with Jersey club influence–and rides the lightning. Some emcees tame the production they rap on, forcing beats into submission with violent flows (Danny Brown, in particular, springs to mind as a rapper who often seems at war with the beat); GoldLink bears more in common with Childish Gambino and, in particular, Chance the Rapper, possessing a capacity to maneuver the beat deftly, discovering new cadences every few bars.
While GoldLink still has room to grow before distancing himself fully from his contemporaries (he may, in fact, provide an interesting example of an artist rapidly evolving in real time, molded by the conditions of the hip-hop ecosystem, pulling in influence and figuring out how to adapt accordingly), his considerable ability forms a promising base.
Check out “Electronic Relaxation” and another catalog highlight, “Black Ski Mask,” below.