Way back in 2006, I spent two sweltering days in the Giants Stadium parking lot. The Bamboozle festival was happening, and I felt like I had to know. A whole new wave of MySpace emo bands was ascendent, and a great many of those bands were in that parking lot that weekend. It all seemed so mysterious — these armies of fresh-faced young singers with smudged eyeliner and elaborate haircuts and jelly bracelets, all yelping out complaints about ex-girlfriends’ various cruelties, all more popular than you could imagine.
This felt like a new thing. The bands who were still playing ’90s-style melodic punk were totally lost. Lifetime, beloved New Jersey emo greats who’d just reunited and signed to Pete Wentz’s label, played to crickets. But the ’90s bands who’d updated their formula were golden. I’d once seen AFI play fast, snotty hardcore in a Baltimore garage. Here, they were theatrical hair-flipping spin-kick goth gods, and the assembled throngs of teenagers couldn’t get enough.
In retrospect, that weekend was right around the peak of that MySpace emo moment, a generational blip that has had unforeseen ripple-effects. That moment might’ve been the last time that rock bands with guitars had any claim on the heart of teenage America. But while the specific sound of that weekend died away pretty quickly, and while most of the bands who played remain pop-cultural footnotes, certain looks and sounds and attitudes have carried over to circa-2020 AutoTune-rap. If big-scale music festivals ever come back, then the next edition of Rolling Loud might look and sound and feel a little bit like the 2006 Bamboozle Festival. So maybe that means 24kGoldn is the new Hawthorne Heights, or the new Silverstein, or the new Cute Is What We Aim For.
Every year, XXL unveils its Freshman Class, the list of rappers tabbed to become hitmakers in the years ahead. Usually, the picks are pretty obvious. But every year, there’s at least one rapper who I’ve never heard of but who quickly becomes inescapable, at least for a little while. Last year, it was Lil Mosey, who had a monster hit with “Blueberry Faygo” this summer. This year, the churn happened even more quickly. The 19-year-old Bay Area newcomer 24kGoldn was completely unknown to me, and he ended up as part of the Freshman Class thanks to fan voting. But this wasn’t some local kid’s friends stuffing the ballots. 24kGoldn was already ascending various social-media charts with “Mood,” a giddy whine that manages to be both sunny and sullen. The ascent has continued. This week, “Mood” is the #12 song in America. Next week, it’ll probably be top 10.
“Mood” hasn’t charted on R&B radio, but it’s currently the #1 song on Billboard’s Hot Rock/Alternative Songs chart. That’s the rebranded version of Hot Rock Songs — the same chart that Panic! At The Disco, one of the bands I saw at Bamboozle way back in 2006, topped for literally all of 2019. (34 weeks for “High Hopes,” followed by 11 weeks for “Hey Look Ma, I Made It,” followed by 31 more weeks for “High Hopes.”) On that chart, “Mood” replaces “Come & Go,” the Juice WRLD/Marshmello collab. The world is changing.
It makes sense, in its own kind of strange way, that “Mood” is getting love on rock radio. To watch the “Mood” video is to plunge yourself back into a mid-’00s Fuse countdown. Part of it is purely aesthetic. Iann Dior, 24kGoldn’s 21-year-old collaborator, looks extremely Warped Tour, complete with dangling hair-lock and chipped nail polish. The song is built on ringing minor-key guitars, and the two rappers don’t really rap. Instead, they mewl everything in a familiar nasal whine-bleat. Even the sentiment is pure Alternative Press bait. It’s a hymn to horny self-pity: “We play games of love to avoid the depression/ We been here before, and I won’t be your victim.”
24kGoldn is Golden Landis Von Jones, a San Francisco native who’s been making rap music since 2017. Last year, he started out his freshman year at USC, but he took a break from school shortly after he signed to Columbia. (His first release on the label is a 2019 EP called Dropped Outta College.) 24kGoldn can rap, and he also has a sense of playfulness that many of his emo-rap peers don’t share. (His “Dropped Outta College” is a pretty good DaBaby/Lil Pump pastiche, and its video is not-bad sketch comedy.) But 24kGoldn has clearly found his lane by making a bright, energetic variation on 808-heavy whine-sing that’s become hugely popular in the past few years. That’s how we get strange little time-capsule moments like 24kGoldn’s XXL freestyle, where he abandons all pretense of rapping halfway through and wails about going to El Dorado instead.
We’ve been headed in this direction for a while now. XXXTentacion and Lil Peep and Juice WRLD all did their part to make rap music safe for pop-punk catharsis. But none of them are alive anymore, and a generation of kids — your Lil Moseys and your Tha Kid Larois, has rushed in to fill the void. These aren’t the new rap depressives — the artists like Polo G and Rod Wave who are using melodic rap music to work their way through pain and trauma. Instead, these kids are making some kind of hybrid pop music that’s really only notionally rap. Instead, this stuff exists in more of a post-genre blur-world. (24kGoldn, for instance, is perfectly at home guesting on EDM tracks or doing a remix with quasi-rock goon Yungblud.) That blur-world is thriving on TikTok, which strips music of its context and reduces it to hypnotic 10-second hook-loops. TikTok does for these pseudo-rap kids what MySpace did for MySpace emo.
Even if you’ve been here before — if, for instance, you were on that parking lot in May of 2006 — the speed of it can all be a little overwhelming. The streaming-service playlists are suddenly filling up with anonymous young men scream-whining about romantic betrayal over processed guitars. This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing; it’s simply what is. 24kGoldn is a success for a reason. His timing and his instincts are good, and he’s doing a pretty catchy version of this particular sound. But this particular sound didn’t make much sense to me when it existed over crunchy guitar riffs in 2006, and it doesn’t make much sense to me now, either.
1. The Opioid Era – “The Foundation” (Feat. Benny The Butcher)
This? Grizzled seen-it-all literary drug-dealer stories over hypnotic soulful haze? This I understand. This is special.
2. Xavier Wulf – “Trophy Boyz”
The bass on this thing forces me to do ugly things with my face. It’s involuntary. That demented churn kicks in, and my face just contorts itself into terrible shapes. Be glad you’re not in the room with me when this hits.
3. MC Eiht – “Honcho” (Feat. Conway The Machine)
DJ Premier never went away, but he is on a beautiful little run right now. Eiht’s heavy, authoritative California drawl is one of rap’s great instruments, and he and Premier work beautifully together, especially in a Griselda context.
4. YG Teck – “Flood Da City”
I cannot tell you how amped I am that Baltimore rappers are now fucking around with UK drill sonics. The choppy Baltimore twang is, quite simply, the world’s greatest regional accent — I will not debate this point — and it meshes with hectic drum-clusters in ways that hit me right in the pleasure cortex. Also, Baltimore’s dirtbike culture makes a beautiful music-video backdrop.
5. King Critical – “Everything’s Chrome” (Feat. Key Glock & Duke Deuce)
Everytime Duke Deuce yells “what the fuuuuuuuck” over an evil Memphis bass-crawl beat, an angel punches you in the face.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO