Bay Area rapper 24kGoldn is near bouncing out of the Zoom session during our interview. The guy is jovial – full of life – and a charming conversationalist.
It’s no wonder that he’s so infectiously cheerful; the pandemic and lockdown have been challenging for everyone but Goldn has seen his career thrive thanks in no small part to the global smash that is his “Mood” single (with Iann Dior). It didn’t hurt when it was later remixed by Justin Bieber AND J Balvin. It’s been a crazy year.
“I’m having the biggest career moments of my life so far, in the middle of a global pandemic,” Goldn says. “What the fuck is going on?”
It’s a fair question. Nobody saw the success of “Mood” coming, least of all the artist.
“I don’t think unless you’re at the Drake, Taylor Swift, Weeknd, Ariana Grande level, you can’t expect a song to go number one like that,” he says. “I hadn’t had anywhere close, I hadn’t even had a top 40 song at that time. So I knew it was a great song, if it gets 300 million plays, I’m ecstatic. It did that in like three months. I knew we had something special. I think it’s over a billion between everything now.”
That’s incredible, and perhaps it points to the fact that the world needed a song like “Mood” to literally lift the collective mood. The song was included on Spotify’s mood-boosting playlist, only increasing the feel-good factor. And now, life has completely changed for the artist. Hell, he has even performed on Ellen.
“In every way possible, from where I live to what my day-to-day basis is,” he says. “I would say literally, my entire life has changed. Now it’s readjusting and figuring out the new normal.”
It’s all a long way from his 15-year-old self, rapping at home to YouTube beats.
“At 15, I was going to this sneaker store, DreamTeam SF, and I had developed a mentor relationship with the owner Paypa Boy,” Goldn says. “I came in one day and said I want to make a song. He said, ‘Don’t even worry about it, we’ve got the studio upstairs. You’re good.’ I go to the studio upstairs, make my first song, drop it on Soundcloud, send it to literally every single person I went to school with. Then when I came to school the next day, kids were bumping it in the courtyard and at lunchtime. I thought, this could be nice.”
24kGoldn (genuinely born Golden Landis Von Jones) has two former models for parents, so he was stylish from the get-go. A career in advertising beckoned.
“I had this crazy big afro, and nobody had an afro back then,” he says. “I’d walk into an audition and they’d be like, that kid’s different, we gotta put him in. So I did Lunchables commercials. Blue Diamond Almonds, Honda, Toyota. When you’re 14, 15 if you get $1,000, it’s like you got a million dollars. You can buy any video game you want. I was enjoying that.”
Financial success was understandably addictive to the young man, and he was even tempted to a career in finance due to his admiration for a family friend who worked as a hedge fund manager.
“I was like, I like this house, I like this lifestyle. I want to be able to provide that for my friends and family,” he says. “I’ll be a hedge fund manager because I can do whatever I want. I went to school for business, but at 15 I had just gotten my ears pierced, trying to get into that rapper mode. I go to the house, and he’s like, ‘If you’re trying to get into finance, they’re going to try to block you out by any means necessary. You’re already a black man, they don’t want to see you win. Having earrings gives them another reason to write you off.’ I didn’t want to be in a career where I can’t be myself and live the way I want. So I decided to be a rapper.”
Clearly, it worked out for the best. Goldn has a chill style that has been evident from the start – even when he was rapping “B**ch I Go to USC” and raising a ruckus. Forever a hustler, a cease and desist letter from the college wasn’t what it seemed.
“Now that it’s been enough time, I can admit that I photoshopped that to create the hype around the song,” Goldn says. “The truth has been revealed. I was like, people like controversy and how can I get the song out.”
In fact, Goldn soon dropped out of school to pursue his career, releasing the Dropped Outta College EP in 2019 to celebrate. The evolution from then to now, and his about-to-drop El Dorado debut album, is huge.
“The EP was more me figuring out what I can do,” he says. El Dorado is my own sound. R&B, pop, rock, alternative. I mixed them all together to create something that’s uniquely me.”
The title of the album is of course a reference to the lost city of gold, a continuation of the theme in his name.
“It also means the ‘golden one’,” he says. “That was a nickname I had gotten from my mom. It always stuck with me. Hundreds of explorers came looking for this mythical treasure and nobody found it. I just think music takes you to another world. I mixed it all together, made some music, and we’re here.”
The rapper is convinced that El Dorado features the best music that he has made in his life (unsurprising seeing as it’s his debut album). His goal, he says, was to create a world, rather than lump a bunch of songs together.
“This is the start of my world,” he says. “Something I learned during this pandemic with ‘Mood’ was, music really does have the power to transport you to a whole other reality. So many people told me that ‘Mood’ saved their quarantine. It’s literally helping people. With El Dorado, let me create this world that people can escape to if they’re stuck in the house or not feeling what their current situation is. Just live in the music.”
Things are clearly going swimmingly for Goldn, though the yin to that yang is the pressure that comes with success. There’s no resting on laurels now.
“After the song was going crazy, I was like ‘fuck, how do I do it again? Can I do it again?’ But that wasn’t even a song I thought was going to be that big,” he says. “All I can control is the music. I can control what I say, the production we use. A little bit of marketing too. But anything beyond that is more up to the world. So if I’m trying to force these situations or getting upset because things aren’t happening just like ‘Mood’ did, that’s unreasonable expectations. All I’ve got to do is be happy and proud of the music I put out there, and then let the universe take care of the rest.”
He’s playing humble though – it’s not just the universe. Goldn hustles harder than most anyone else.
“Hard work is gonna beat talent every time,” he says. “I was in the studio so much, trying to meet people and make all these plays for so long. One day, it had to pay off. You’ve got to believe in the vision, believe in the dream, but if you don’t put the work in, ain’t shit gonna happen.”
El Dorado is the culmination of all that hard work to this point. “Mood” is the song that closes the album, while the ultra-emotional “Don’t Sleep” precedes it.
“It’s important to show people that not every day is a party,” he says. “Have music to help people process and understand those feelings too. There are two types of sad songs – the songs that let you wallow in your feelings, and the songs that offer some perspective. Some days you’re happy, some days you’re sad. I wanted to give people ways to work through those feelings.”
So that’s where we are. No surprises on the album (unless he’s looking to genuinely surprise us) – he’s laid out his work over the past year or so, proudly, for all to enjoy. And then, as 2021 shows signs of life, he’s hoping to take it out to the people.
“I’m ready to go but it’s not under my control so I’ve just got to roll with the punches,” he says. “There’s been a lot of virtual shows, and things are starting to open up in the south which is cool. I’m trying to see the world. I’m an international superstar right now and I’ve only been to three countries – USA, Japan and Tanzania – in my whole life. What’s up with that?” ❖
24kGoldn’s El Dorado album is out March 26 on all major streaming platforms.
Thanks to Brian Calle, Bryan Escalante and Ryan Leutz (the podcast crew).