As GoldLink’s The God Complex fades to black, it finds its lead character desperately trying to grasp his own mortality. How ironic. A god complex, by definition, is a state of being characterized specifically by an air of infallibility and divinity, yet here stands a young man preparing his last will and testament. If this truly were an act of self-deification there would be a focus on the infinite, the enduring, everlasting power of Rap as a remarkably preserving sonic sarcophagus; instead the closing moments of the DMV native’s unique God Complex are marked by brevity and transience. It is, in a word, human.
“When I Die” is the sobering cut in question, and it provides quite a bit of context for GoldLink’s otherwise detached universe, one that explores fictional planets and a plethora of pseudo spacey subgenres without missing a beat. The outro is the grounding force where the dust settles and the mothership comes down to Earth. Toronto producer McCallaman lays a vocal chop that induces pure melancholia; it’s like wandering through a graveyard covered in a dense fog possessed by the spirits of the undead. “Who taught me to be that nigga / Nobody, I’m that nigga all by myself,” GoldLink proclaims just before a car crash, and in that instance everything becomes unmistakably clear: The God Complex is about exploiting the finite window that is unheralded fame and embracing the perishable nature of the human flesh.
Much of GoldLink’s debut tape accepts vulnerability: susceptibility to female deception, shouldering weighty grudges against an absentee father, casually examining suicide on an ideological level, etc. His humanity is far from palpable, but it is powerful, lying just on the fringes of his art cleverly masked by oozing braggadocio and perpetually dancey bouts of Boogie and Baltimore House. Tucked away discreetly behind the elaborate, futuristic jungle production—which pops, clicks, zings, and thumps somewhere just outside of Earth’s atmosphere from a seemingly not too distant future—are raw feelings representative of the human condition. Instead of harping on those feelings, though, his focus lies on attaining glory and retaining it as long as possible, like a championship wrestler constantly in jeopardy of tumbling from the summit. The God Complex compulsively fixates on his obsession with Rap stardom.
“I’m the next muthafucka with the juice,” he raps in “Ay Ay,” the groovy yet House intro to this masterwork and his conviction is convincing. On “Planet Paradise,” a bouncey, Afro Funk jam with a heavy dance pulse he spits, “We the next to take the throne,” insinuating the time is rapidly approaching. The pattern continues throughout. You can feel the irrevocable passion in his voice when he spouts off nostalgically about Tupac and Master P in “Hip Hop (Interlude)” before reminiscing about when Wayne used to be that nigga. “Now, I’ma be that nigga,” he adds, and there isn’t much to suggest he can’t be. His flow is pliable, and it is his strength, but his true skill is his ability to enunciate clearly and precisely in the company of so much fuss. He is a masterful elucidator. While his syllabic control is probably enough to hold one’s attention, sputtering off kilter like a train derailed, it is somewhat of an inevitability that listeners will become mesmerized by the transcendence of his “Future Bounce” aesthetic.
GoldLink is being championed as a pioneer of sound reinventing Rap, and though that isn’t entirely true (OutKast was doing many things fundamentally similar to this as early as ‘96, just at lower BPM), he is ushering in a new wave that feels both organic and avant-garde. God Complex transmits a brand of music that would probably be the norm had we all been raised by sentient machines. The term “Future Bounce,” a tag now slapped on every one of his records like a trademark, was first coined when he adopted a now eponymous beat from Soulection producer Lakim and flipped it. However, while that marked his official jumpstart, the true game-changing metamorphosis—one from traditional Rap to Electronica-fused Future Funk—occurred far earlier with the assistance of Electronic Rap alchemists Lapalux and Ta-Ku. You have to scour the depths of YouTube to find those records now, but they were the catalysts for mixing the two divergent aesthetics he now manages effortlessly to integrate into his own sound. It’s sharply New Age. The God Complex is a stunning re-invisioning of what Rap can be and do.
GoldLink is a wild card in a modern Rap landscape. His sing-songy musings and his elastic delivery have led some to draw comparisons to Chance the Rapper, but such a jump is lazy and uninspired. (His crooning is based in classic R&B with no ties to Juke—as demonstrated in “How It’s Done” and “CNTRL”—and his lyricism is less dexterous than the Chicagoan’s. Instead, GoldLink opts for a more blunt sort of wit—a cut to the chase, brazen cleverness that is more forward than metaphorical.) Though baseless, the claims saturate the DMV up-and-comer’s identity and raise questions about viability. However, in time, he should grow into his own; after all, he is not only in a niche market…he is the market. Even so, he can’t get too aroused by the prospective evolution of his sound. The magic still lies in the Soul not the New Age. Rap stardom can be his in the present day. He simply must avoid going full robot.