- Words Miki Hellerbach
- Photography Phil Knott
With 500M+ Spotify streams and collabs with Fetty Wap, Clean Bandit and Mabel, California rapper 24kGoldn is starting to become just that, a Golden Boy.
About two minutes into our conversation, he had to abruptly answer a call from the Final Boss manager of Pop Stars, the one and only Scooter Braun. For the record, he was apologetic, and I’ve never been more understanding. Soon after we hung up, Goldn posted an Instagram photo of the just released Billboard Top 10 songs. His recent single “Mood” feat. iann dior had locked in at number 8. It seems like that call could have been a way of congratulations. In an ideal world, it would be for a collaboration with one of Braun’s artists. After speaking with Goldn, it was impossible not to hope something like that will happen for him. I’m sure we won’t have to wait long.
In the Cambridge English dictionary, the definition of “Golden Boy” reads as follows: “a man who is very successful and is much admired: He retains the graceful ease and rugged good looks that once made him the golden boy of Hollywood.” 24kGoldn’s Bay Area chill demeanor mixed with his scrappy hustler’s mentality, when transported to Hollywood, created a combustion of energy around him. He came to the City of Angels to study business at USC, but his song “Valentino” blew up until his studies couldn’t outweigh his musical potential.
24kGoldn just exudes positive energy. You can tell immediately why his fans and the industry itself have been so drawn to him. Before the Top 10 slot, his most recent success landed him on the XXL Freshman cover along with heavy hitters like Polo G and Jack Harlow. Goldn’s sound differentiates him slightly from his other peers on the cover, however. He has as much indie rock in his sound as rap. On my favorite song of his, “City of Angels,” Goldn channels Sublime and blink-182 as much as he does Lil Uzi Vert or Trippie Redd. This dual scene influence mixed with his vibe alone makes you realize that where he is and what he’s received doesn’t have to do with his talent entirely. He fits everywhere because he doesn’t totally close himself off to anything or anyone.
With all the hype surrounding 24kGoldn, it would be hard to imagine his ego not getting the better of him. But throughout our conversation, he spoke many times about how aware he is of his own need to stay grounded and find balance. His humble beginnings, mixed with a general awareness of how quickly it could all be taken away, sets him apart from the typical youthful sensation. Goldn celebrates his wins but not at the risk of his longevity.
It was impossible not to notice how astute Goldn is while speaking to him. Yet it was even more impressive to hear much he had thought through all that had gotten him here.
We spoke on everything from high school shoe reselling and Cartoon Network shows to building schools in Tanzania. Tap in.
In the context of moving to LA to study business at USC, what’s it like to be on the XXL Freshman cover?
I’ve never been that split off from reality because of the way I came up and the way I was raised. I feel like it’s a lot easier for me to remain grounded and retain perspective. The biggest time of my career is during a global pandemic when most people don’t want to or can’t come out of their houses. We can’t party like we would. We can’t hear a song in the club like we regularly would. I still feel like me. I’m still Goldn, no matter how big my song gets.
So, what’s it like going through that whole process at XXL? When’s your cypher dropping?
My cypher will probably come out early next week. But that shit was so fun bro! Getting to connect with some of my peers that I admire that I’d never met before. We’re all here now, and we all deserve it. You gotta be a dickhead if you’re mean at the XXL photoshoot. Everyone was super chill. Everyone was super nice, super accommodating. I had a really good time. 16 year old me was freaking out.
Who’s your freestyle with? And is jetsonmade the DJ for all of them?
Yeah, jetsonmade did the beats for all of em, and my freestyle is Calboy, Fivio Foreign, Mulatto, and myself.
Jeez, that’s quite the eclectic group!
We’re like the wild card group! You don’t know what’s gonna happen.
Word. So let’s get into the music. On “Mood,” what’s enticing about the game with a girl that gives attitude?
Maybe it’s like all those cartoons we watched as little kids. You know, like Trixie in Fairly Odd Parents or like that goth girl in Danny Phantom (Sam). Since a young age, we’ve been trained to love that little bit of toxicity in a relationship.
I didn’t expect you to say cartoons!
Oh wait, Scooter Braun’s callin me hold on…
(A few minutes pass)
I think I just got invited to the Illuminati. Nah, I’m just playin’.
(Both laugh again)
The type of person I am, I’d never stop an interview to pick up a phone call, but I’m like, “buzz buzz, Scooter Braun, buzz buzz, oh shit!”
Listen bro, I’ve never been less offended in my life. But yeah, let’s get back to it! On “The Gram,” you reference a specific time a girl hit you online; then, when you met in person, you realized it was for show, not her interest in you. Is that from a real-life experience?
I wouldn’t say there’s a specific time (that happened), but it’s part of the game in LA. Since moving here I’ve learned a lot. I made that song Winter 2018. Now we’re approaching Winter 2020. If I was still having those problems, I would not be a good student of the game. I don’t really be sliding into DMs as much as I used to. I don’t wanna say at all cuz that would be a lie. But I like meeting people in person more cuz you can read the vibe of the rip instead of having to deal with all these internet games.
Is there a specific psyche of the people who live in LA that you’ve noticed?
The people that come here are some of the hungriest. They want it bad, and that reflects in people in a lot of different ways. For some people, that’s “aight let me lock down and keep workin’.” And for some people, it’s like, “let me do whatever I can to get a droplet of clout.” So it’s dealing with all these different clout demons and finding the good people in the mix. You know I don’t like it when people say, “everyone in LA is fake” or “everyone in LA sucks” because everyone everywhere isn’t anything. That’s a bar. (Both laugh) But you can find good people anywhere you just gotta be lookin’. You find what you seek, and you get what you put out.
True. Back to the music. I’ve heard you speak a lot on your hip hop influences but not on your rock ones. That style is so prevalent in your sound, who do you draw from?
In the early 2000s, rock was super big. It was alternative, and that’s the sound that inspires my music now. I remember pirating LEGO Rock Band 2 for my Nintendo DS back in the day and just playin’ the fuck outta that. And that’s where I found all the songs like “Song 2” by Blur, like “Check Yes Juliet” and Sum 41 and all those guys. A lot of that came from video games like Rock Band and Tony Hawk Pro Skate. And like the background songs from Cheaper By The Dozen. That was probably one of the most influential movies to me because of the soundtrack.
On “Been Here Before,” you sing about love or lust as an addiction. What’s so addictive about it?
They both deliver such a strong emotional response. And in the moment, it can be hard to tell which is which. I feel like I’ve been in love before, but I don’t know. I love music more than I could love any other person romantically as far as giving my attention and time to them right now. So I’ve been in love, but I haven’t felt the need to fully jump into it yet. I’m young. I got shit to do first.
So, in order for it to count, someone has to make you take a step back from the grind to focus more on them?
Whoever can do that, I’ll marry them!
So we kind of spoke on this before, but I’m interested in the dichotomy of having nothing to lose when you don’t have anything, to now having “A lot to Lose” as you talk about in that song. What’s that like?
Having a lot to lose can be just as powerful as having nothing to lose because having a lot to lose gives you something to fight for. It’s something to keep you on track and keep you focused. And it makes the possible consequences of life very real. I gotta keep doing what I know I gotta do.
Right, so the inspiration you took from both is similar. So there’s a substantial local rap scene in The Bay. Who were you and your friends listening to within that scene growing up?
I was born in 2000, so up til Kindergarten and first grade, that was the prime hyphy era movement. So Mac Dre, E-40, Keak da Sneak; guys like that were really influential. I remember driving to school in Kindergarten, and me and my friends we’d all be singin’ “Tell Me When to Go” or poppin’ our collars or shit like that as lil’ 5 years olds. And that essence of that Bay Area swag, that Bay Area energy, that gets imbued into you at a young age. Especially during that time, and I couldn’t get rid of it even if I wanted to.
You’ve said you were generally a good student but did you like school?
I liked school! I wasn’t one of those kids that were like, “ugh, I hate school I have to go to school today?” I had my friends. I was doing good in the classes. I genuinely love learning. I had great teachers. So I was able to make the best of it. One thing that I understood was that school was not forever. It is in a sense of learning, but as far as me having to wake up at 7:30 in the morning, get out of my pajamas and go into this class, that is not forever. That was a step in my journey to getting here. I knew if I did well in school, it would make everything else a lot easier. I don’t think anyone’s life gets better by not doing well in school.
Can you talk about your high school hustles to make money?
I was hustling any way I could. Shoes was a nice clean hustle that got me started. I used to paint sneakers and resell shoes and stuff like that.
Why did you decide to study hedge fund management?
I wanted to become a hedge fund manager because the most successful person in my life, that’s what they did. I wanted to achieve success bro. I wanted to be able to give my kids things I didn’t have. I wanted to be able to take them on vacation and take my parents on vacation. Money doesn’t buy happiness; I know that. It does buy things that make other people happy that will, in turn, make me happy though. But as I got older, I realized if I’m in a hedge fund I gotta cut my hair, I can’t wear earrings, I gotta wear suits every day, and I was like “I don’t know if this shit really is for me.” Then that was around the time the music started becoming bigger and bigger in my life. And it became a crossroads where I was like, “I can do this music shit for real, and the money will come.” I’m not in music for the money. I’m in it cuz I love doin’ it. And I know that when you do what you love well, the money will come.
So the timing of you questioning that path and starting a new one just lined up, yeah?
Yeah! I really didn’t want to be the guy that was doing a hundred hours a week, maybe making 150,000 dollars but hating my life. Happiness is the ultimate goal, not money.
Have you been able to do a lot of recording during COVID since touring is off the table?
Yeah, so I’ve been working on my album, ‘El Dorado’. It’s my first album. I feel like I’m almost done with it. There are a couple more slots that I wanna fill, but when you have ten really good songs, it’s so hard to fill those last three, because if the new songs aren’t as good or better than the ten I’ve made before, I gotta trash them.
Since El Dorado is the lost city of gold and your name is 24k Goldn. Are we gonna get the Trinidad James feature on the album? Like an “All Gold Everything 2?”
Yo speaking of Trinidad James, he’s a really interesting figure. He’s big into sneakers too. I remember going to sneaker conventions. And one of the things that I was selling is I would get these gold Casio look-alike watches for like 2 dollars each online, and I’d go around sellin’ them for like 10 to 15. And he pulled up to a sneaker event in The Bay one time, and I was like, “Gold all in my watch n***a n***a just watch! Come buy this and support a young hustler!” And he was mad cool about it. But fast forward 7 years into the future, I’m doing songwriting with APG, and me and him are writing songs together, building a personal relationship. It’s cool how everything goes full circle.
Well, he’d be a perfect ‘El Dorado’ feature!
Might be might be.
Yo, before I forget, I heard you tell people they had to go thrifting in San Francisco once. You got any spot recommendations?
Yo, if I tell you my spots then there ain’t gon be none left for me when I get back!
Are they all on the low, like people don’t know about them?
I mean people know about ’em. It’s just I don’t wanna blow up the spot.
Damn, you’ll tell me all about Trinidad James but SF thrift stores is where you draw the line?
I like to give out a lot of game but when it comes to the clothes, I freestyle, but I don’t style for free!
So this is something I was surprised I hadn’t seen anyone ask you. You’re homie and fellow Bay Area rapper Paperboy; how did he feel when he saw that the main rapper in the show Atlanta had the same name?
Yo, he was like, “THEY STOLE MY NAME!” And I was like, “YOU’RE RIGHT!” Because they really stole his name! Donald Glover, come on man! You must’ve been watching or something. My Paperboy is the original Paperboy. No hate to the Paperboy from Atlanta, I love that show but…YA KNOW?! He’s the real-life Paperboy like a rapper the chains like everything, but it’s a great name, and great minds think alike. That’s all imma say about that.
Heard that. This is a bit of a non sequitur, but what service work did you do in Tanzania?
So I’m a Jackie Robinson Foundation scholar. Part of that program is after your first year of college, they take you to Tanzania, and you stay with the Tribe of Masai for three weeks. And you help build schools and just integrate as part of the community in hope to connect African Americans with their African history. So I was hanging out with the kids every day. We were building a school and laying the foundation. This was after “Valentino” had already blown up. I really wanted to do this before everything went crazy because putting yourself through disciplining and challenging moments like that, like sleeping in a tent every day for three weeks and showering out of a bucket when you’re already kind of a poppin’ rapper, that kept me very grounded. That’s something I really value in myself, and I wanna keep doin’ stuff like that.
Wow, cool man. What do you feel like you learned about life from your Capoeira training?
Balance. Balance is the most important thing in Capoeira. You’re constantly moving. It’s a very fluid fighting style. You gotta find your center, and I think that lesson still resonates for me to this day.
You’ve said beyond music, and hedge fund managing, and even Brazilian dance fighting you also want to act in movies. What kind of roles do you wanna play?
I wanna be a superhero. I wanna be the next Spider-Man. Besides that, I’m really tryna do everything. When I look at actors like Will Smith or Adam Sandler there able to play a variety of roles. And the reason they’re so big is they’re able to capture the full spectrum of human emotion, and all the different types of people there are. I consider myself a man of the people still, and I think it’s important to recognize the full spectrum of life and humanity, not just the good parts. Of course, I wanna do a superhero movie, but I’ll do a sad movie too. I wanna do everything I’m on my Vincent Chase shit! (Entourage the TV show)
Ok, last thing, you’ve mentioned your skincare line; where’s it at?
The Skin products I’m not in a rush for that. I like to take my time with something as delicate as people’s faces.
Anything else you wanna add?
‘El Dorado’ coming soon. Stream “Mood” for clear skin.