Washington, D.C.'s vibrant music scene is known for its continued evolution. The city served as the birthplace of Moombahton and a continued source of inspiration for Thievery Corporation's experimentation with reggae and lo-fi trip-hop.
It inspired the ethereal melodies of Duke Ellington and later churned out Tank and Ginuwine, the pinnacle icons of early 2000's R&B. Wale, whose continued experimentation with Afropop, R&B, and slam poetry has historically been met with mixed reactions, is credited with being one of the first big mainstream rappers out of the area, and despite his 13 years in the spotlight, he continues to chase versatility, with each of his projects sounding vastly different from the last.
Even so, continued experimentation can lead to issues. Wale was recently accused of cultural appropriation for the Major-Lazer assisted single "My Love," and Moombahton quickly became a dated subgenre as Afro melodies seeped into the mainstream. When Goldlink announced Diaspora, many were trepidatious. For a rapper who was lauded for his experimentation on his debut At What Cost, the project's follow-up appeared to be an attempt to capitalize on past praise, and it was difficult not to worry that the 26-year-old was having a Wale-esque identity crisis.
"I keep my energy calibrated" Goldlink raps on "Rumble," and it's true. Everything about Diaspora is subtle and fine-tuned. Tight wordplay and sophisticated experimentation are sprinkled throughout the album and give way to rewarding moments. Goldlink samples the best of D.C.'s budding Afro-influenced underground acts without raising questions about its legitimacy, while demanding the most out of his eclectic features. While Maleek Berry sounds right at home on "Zulu Screams," WizKid is asked to challenge himself on the lo-fi instrumentation of "No Lie." Even Khalid sounds relatively out of his comfort zone as he takes on mumble rap in his "Days Like This" hook. Despite the 14-track project having 11 features, none of them overshadow the lyrical prowess of Diaspora's protagonist. Goldlink takes plenty of moments for himself, letting loose on "Maniac" and "More" and then reining it in for a quick humble-brag on the album closer, "Swoosh." He goes blow for blow against Pusha T on "Coke White/Moscow" and comes out unscathed, then immediately dives into a relaxed bossa nova experiment with "U Say."
The album ebbs and flows as frequently as D.C. culture, yet Goldlink never gets lost along the way. "I'm committed to the movement, you committed to the wave," Goldlink raps on "Moscow." The album cover, a candid photo shot by Hailey Bieber of Goldlink's love interest, Justine Skye, further questions the idea of identity and diaspora (Skye famously got into an Instagram debacle over identifying as Jamaican despite being born in the U.S.). Like Justine, Goldlink's sophomore effort is authentic and influenced by multiple cultures. Putting Skye on the cover finalizes his thesis: We are each more than just our nationality, and Goldlink is more than just another rapper.