Image via Julian Berman

By Adam Popescu

The fans at a GoldLink show love like they’re swiping right—in a mosh pit.

That’s what it felt like at the DMV rapper’s recent Red Bull Soundstage performance. Beasting for hundreds of gyrating fans in downtown L.A., the Soulection fête for the 22-year-old spitter featured Wale in a pass-the-torch moment, and a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” rendition with air-guitars, chants of “where my white people at,” and grunge-era headbanging that made the Regent Theatre resemble Seattle in 1993.

His is millennial-rap to the nth degree, the melding of genres and time periods, a Jackson Pollock amalgamation of past and present dubbed future bounce. It’s a sound like the DMV itself—a mix of Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia—a mix of styles. Nothing seems out of place in his music.

“It has to come to me,” he explained from the comfort of a West L.A. Airbnb, wearing black adidas track pants, Vans, and no shirt. “If it never comes, then I never rap. That’s it. It’s really weird. It took me a month to make the album. I didn’t do anything in a month, but September I was like, ‘I can do this.’”

The kid’s one of the hottest names in music right now. Talk of a major label signing and a ton of buzz came on the heels of his debut, And After That, We Didn’t Talk, a project he several times claims to have completed in less than 30 days.

He has the Internet to thank for the worship—SoundCloud stalwarts around the world got hooked on “When I Die” and the happy-sexy-synthy “Dance On Me.” After his breakout tape The God Complex, a Mr. Miyagi connection with Rick Rubin upgraded the rapper to blue chip status.

Despite the name, GoldLink doesn’t rock any gold beyond a nose ring. Listening to his stories—filled with absentee fathers, lost lovers, and wayward friends—the pain is palpable. The title of his album could be the epitaph to any broken relationship. I had the chance to sit down with GoldLink, born D’Anthony Carlos, in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles—light years from the stoops of our nation’s capital where he grew up.

What does love mean to you?
Real love is unconditional. Love to me has no bounds. If I love someone, no matter what light I see them in, I still feel the same way. How far I would go with them determines how much I love them. It’s like would I take a bullet for you without thinking? If I was walking down the street and someone said anything remotely off, would I snap without even thinking because my love for her is so deep?

Do you have a relationship with your father?
We just got one. We’re cool now.

Is that hard, because it’s later in life?
At this point no, because it’s not father-to son, it’s just n***a-to-n***a. He’s the homie, because I grew up without him. I don’t need him to teach me anything I don’t already know. It’s more like I tell him what I learned, he tells me what he learned. We both learn from each other. He can’t say shit to me. He used to sell coke, crack. I’ve done mine, so we talk about it. He can’t be like, “Damn son, I’m disappointed.”

You’ve said a lot of artists are actors, portraying a stereotype.
Everything has a cause and an effect. You gotta think about the repercussions: mental, emotional, physical repercussions, actual repercussions, whether going to jail for life, or retaliation, that’s realistic. Everything is not so cut and dry as we make it seen in rap music. Make sure it comes from a real place, because people can tell.

How did dealing in D.C. influence you?
We stuck to molly, weed, edibles, all that illegal bullshit. From an emotional standpoint, I was angry. I didn’t have anything. When you get out of that, you’re forced to deal with people of all types of backgrounds, you learn to adjust. When I thought about it, I was like, “Why am I so angry?”

Everything is not so cut and dry as we make it seen in rap music. Make sure it comes from a real place, because people can tell.

Which is?
The girl I fell in love with. We were in a relationship. Pride and a bunch of bullshit happened. I think for men and women, there’s a different dynamic when it comes to love. Because I feel like a man who falls in love with a woman falls harder than a woman falling for a man. We’re not emotionally as accepting as women are.

So you think we fall in love—
Harder than a woman. We’re not built to be emotional characters. When everything that happened between us happened, I became broken. I outwardly displayed it like, “Fuck this bitch.” What I’m gonna do is mask it by doing other things, she has to be like, “I made a mistake.” I pushed her away thinking I was gonna get her back. Selling drugs, being dangerous…

Girls don’t like that shit. Girls who do, they’re no good.
Exactly. You find out later.

Do you use Tinder?
No [Laughs]. If I like them, I talk to ’em. I have a precious opportunity, and I’m not gonna throw it away for no bitches, for nobody. I think about the reason why I’m here. I honestly stay away from that.

Being young and black, what’s your take on race relations these days?
It’s nothing new. Other people are starting to understand we’re getting killed. We been having problems with the feds, we’ve been dying. Do you know how many n***s I know that died at 22? I know that ain’t shit gonna change unless we change it. If n***s start educating themselves, maybe start trying to become police officers, judges, instead of trying to become rappers and athletes. It doesn’t change the system.

As a rapper, are you allowed to speak on it?
Yes and no, we’re not allowed to talk about that shit. You can’t be speaking all free. I mean, I will when it’s time, but they’ll shut your ass up, one. Two: as a rapper I can do a lot, but how much more would it be if I was a black political leader? Then I could actually move and shape the shit in a certain way, but that’s what I feel like n***s should do. N***s got to go into the system, become a part of it to change it.

Rodney King got his ass whooped almost 20 years ago. Now n***s are getting their ass whooped on Vine, and we’re like, “We should rally about it.” No more rallies. No more Twitter bullshit. What does that do? The fuck is Black Twitter? You know what blows me about black people? Black people are so quick to isolate themselves, then pull a card if you do the same. How the fuck is it okay to do a “Black Twitter?” It’s not.

We have to go into action. Black people have to understand their history, their worth, understand what’s wrong with the system, become a part of the system, change it for their communities so they can look out for them. That’s the only way—but nobody’s tried that. We’ve tried everything else. Black Panthers didn’t work, the feds dicked them terribly. Peaceful route with Martin Luther King, got our ass whooped. Malcolm X tried the violent way. Where’s Malcolm X? We tried to rap about it, that didn’t work, so maybe… it’s infiltration.

It seems like it is a moment though, if you’re black, in terms of education, white America wants to hire you. But if you’re on the opposite side, they want an excuse to fuck you.
Exactly, so don’t give them one. It’s so easy. I play the game. I’m not going to bow down to no n***a, but I’m not gonna be extra like, “fuck you, n***a,” cause that’s just ignorant.

[A]s a rapper I can do a lot, but how much more would it be if I was a black political leader? Then I could actually move and shape the shit in a certain way.

How did “Smells Like Teen Spirit” become part of your act?
I call it the party set. I want it to be an environment that I create that you feel like you can let go. I’m just the emcee at a party that we should all just be dancing at. I play songs that everyone can identify. If everyone feels like they’re together we can all move forward together as one big ass collective energy. That’s just a nostalgic song. I don’t give a fuck who you are, where you are, that song goes.

Everybody will be like, “this is cool,” and look back to see if anybody else likes it. People are influenced by other people. When you have the party set, everybody can forget, they let go, and it sets a tone.

For me, music doesn’t have a color. “Teen Spirit” is a fire song made by a white guy that me as a black person loves and can identify with. It’s the same type of thing just different music. It’s the same thing, and that’s what I realized: we’re really not that different. It’s just different music or different scenario same situations, because at the end of the day we’re all humans.

How would you describe the future bounce sound?
Indescribable in a way. It’s like taking the essence of ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s music, what we love about it and then modernizing it.

When I get into a booth, I just go somewhere else. I’m 100% sober. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke or nothing. I don’t do anything. I never did it. We were born sober. It’s not me. You’re not supposed to be high and drunk all the time. Where I’m from, I never thought it’d be tight, and I never got pressured into it ever. I just thought you should make more profit not using the product, and just selling the product.

That’s true, but you have to know what your product is.
That’s what I got other n***s for. Like for example, if a n***a was selling coke, sometimes they do it, but sometimes they get crackheads to do it. Sometimes it just worked out. I just didn’t do it. It doesn’t look tight to be high to me, or look drunk. It just looks weird. I’m too late to do it anyway. I would just ruin my life.

What can we expect from you in 2016?
I’m just trying to figure out everything I can do outside of music, so we can push the music further I guess; try to set up correct tours to keep people happy.

How do you shut out the outside voices?
Don’t listen to anybody outside of the people that are important to you.

What’s Rick Rubin like on a one-to-one basis?
He’s great, and I want to say he’s figured out life, because he’s so spiritually inclined, and he’s like the center of gravity. He doesn’t get super happy, or excited; he doesn’t get super sad, and blown. He’s just right there constantly. I talk to him, learn from people like that, and then apply it to my own life.

What’s up with the beard?
I tried to ask him, I touched it. It’s soft as fuck. He has beautiful hair.

What are you most proud of?
I’m just proud to be alive, and doing something that’s legal. Being from D.C. and not being a stereotype is what makes me excited. I don’t have kids, I have no criminal record, I’m not dead. I’m 22, my mom’s happy, and she’s never been happy like that.

Goldlink’s goes on tour next month. This article will appear in the Feb/March issue of Complex Magazine.