Rapper, Singer, Songwriter 24KGoldn Shares Early Influences, Musical Process and Writing More Personal Music

Words by Max Bell
Photography by Christian Witkin
Styling by Be

Rapper, singer, and songwriter 24kGoldn has two Hot 100 hits.
24k followed 2019s trap-leaning “Valentino” with this July’s “Mood,”
a breezy yet slightly melancholic song about a lover’s quarrel. “Mood” is the number one song in the world on Spotify at the time of this writing.

Midway through our interview that ranges from leaving college, tour bus crashes, Covid and his new album, I sarcastically ask, “What else is left?” 24k breaks to Google how many Hot 100 hits Drake has to his name. “[Drake] is the standard now,” he says, speaking from his new home in Bel-Air, the moneyed LA neighborhood of Fresh Prince fame. “We just got to do it over and over again.”

While many travel cross-country to pursue music careers in LA, 24k lives only a six-hour drive from his hometown. (Traffic permitting, of course.) Born Golden Landis Von Jones, 24k was raised in Ingleside, the last low-income neighborhood in San Francisco’s exorbitantly wealthy techtopia. 24k absorbed the diversity in his neighborhood and his parents’ diverse musical tastes while gravitating toward rap on the radio. In high school, he befriended the owner of a local streetwear boutique who gifted him studio time. By the time 24k graduated from Lowell High School and earned a full academic scholarship to USC, his song “Ballin Like Shareef” had racked up hundreds of thousands of plays online.

After one semester in LA, 24k signed with RECORDS/Columbia. “Valentino” proved that 24k could make a hit, but that single nor the music he made before spoke to the breadth of his talents. He rectified that with last year’s idiosyncratic Dropped Outta College EP, which featured the TikTok-assisted single “City of Angels.” Moving from rap to pop-punk baffled the label, but it made sense to 24k and his fans. “City of Angels” didn’t hit the Hot 100, but it remains one of the most popular songs in his catalog.

“I’m so happy that it happened the way it did because for me to go from “Valentino” to “City of Angels”—two opposite ends of the spectrum—I feel like now I have the freedom to kind of do whatever I want,” he says.

24k made use of that freedom when recording El Dorado, his forthcoming debut album due out at the top of 2021. He says it will be a fusion of his favorite sounds and genres, a record that won’t fit neatly into any category. Ahead of the album, we talked to 24k his personal and musical influences, the stories behind his biggest songs, leaving college, surviving a car crash while on tour, and much more.

You’re from SF’s Ingleside neighborhood, which I believe locals call Lakeview. What was it like growing up there?
It was a very unique experience. You’re still growing up in San Francisco, but it’s one of the last hoods in San Francisco. That’s definitely changed as I got older, and I saw my neighborhood get gentrified. But I got no complaints about where I grew up. I also feel like I got to see both sides of it because I grew up in Lakeview but went to school in The Sunset [district]. The Sunset was a nicer area, more residential. I was getting a good education, and then I got to go back to where I lived. It wasn’t an awful situation but seeing the contrast between where I went to school and where I was growing up made me aware that there’s more out there.

What kind of music did your parents listen to during your childhood?
They listened to everything, from Miles Davis and Beethoven to Kanye, Lauryn Hill, and Robin Thicke. My mom would go to the public library and take out CDs every day and burn them to her iTunes library. She got like damn near 100,000 songs just in her library. If she listened to her library all day every day, it would take like 20 years or something for her to get through all of them. Growing up, I think the variety of perspectives is a big thing that made me who I am today. Whether it was what I was doing, seeing, listening to, or eating, variety and diversity was always celebrated.

Which artists influenced your earliest music?
You could definitely tell my early music was inspired by Drake, A$AP Rocky, [Young] Thug, Future, and Chief Keef. As I got older, I started expanding my horizons. Then a lot of the stuff I was listening to when I was younger, I felt more comfortable integrating that into the music I was making. That’s like Michael Jackson, the Black Eyed Peas, Bruno Mars, and Outkast. When I moved to LA and became friends with Omer [Fedi], he was putting me onto a lot of rock, punk, and pop-punk. I got like three different generations of music education so far: all the early stuff my parents put me on to, all the stuff that I found on my own, and then after moving to LA being exposed to different genres than I typically listen to.

When did you first walk into the streetwear boutique DreamTeamSF and meet Paypa Boy? What did he do for your career?
It was my 13th birthday. For me, 13 is a really special number—that’s my number. And I was thinking, “13 is going to be a crazy birthday, something is probably going to happen.” All I ended up doing was going to the store and meeting Paypa Boy. At the moment, I didn’t realize how significant that was. But that was literally the day that shifted the entire course of my life. After I started going to the shop to buy sneakers, I started to help him at the shop. Then I started helping out at events, and then we built up this relationship to where he was like my big brother, my mentor. So, I felt comfortable enough to [tell him that I wanted to make music], and he had a studio above the store. Paypa Boy saw something in me before anybody else could. He was the first one to believe in me. He was putting hundreds and thousands of dollars into my career before it was even a career. That’s my brother.

“Paypa Boy saw something in me before anybody else could. He was the first one to believe in me.”

You recorded “Ballin Like Shareef” around that time. Is it fair to say that was the first song of yours to take off?
That became my biggest song until “Valentino.” That was the first one to ever do over 100,000 plays on Soundcloud and started getting me some buzz in the city. That was also my first decent quality music video. It got me discovered by D.A. [Doman] and got the label to listen to “Valentino,” which got me signed.

What was it like to be in high school and have a popular song both in and outside school?
It felt like what I was supposed to be doing. Every time something good happens to me—unless it was really unexpected—it doesn’t feel like a surprise. It feels like my life finally caught up to where I knew was going. Back then, when “Ballin Like Shareef” was starting to pop, I was already like 12 songs deep and nothing had gone that big before. I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to see the numbers. I was doing it because I loved doing it. To get that recognition, it was like, “Yes, the world is catching on! We just gotta keep going.”

You were passionate about music and had a fair amount of success at 18. Why did you decide to go to college?
I had a full scholarship. My thinking was, “There are no deals on the table. There’s no money here. Shit isn’t solid yet.” I got a full scholarship to USC, so I was like, “I get to live and eat for free in the best city in the world to break out as an artist. I’d have to be an idiot to say no to that.”

Was there a specific moment when you decided to drop out of college? Were you nervous?
No, I wasn’t nervous. After I signed [with RECORDS/Columbia] and finished the first semester, I reached a boiling point. I was like, “I know what my passion is, I know what my direction is: music. Anything else I’m doing here is kind of just a waste of my time.” And I was able to make it work so I could still live and eat on campus for free. I just took one class. After that semester was over, I was like, “Alright, I’m going 113% with this music shit.”

“Valentino” is one of your most popular songs to date, but it’s actually much older than people think. How old is it, and why did you wait so long to release it?
“Valentino” blew up almost two years after I’d written it. I wrote it as a senior in high school. I just knew that it was that special. I kept teasing it and teasing it on Instagram. I released it in December on Soundcloud and then in January on all platforms. It did alright. It got a couple million streams. But the label thought this was going to be the biggest song ever. I remember even having a funeral dinner for the song like, “Alright, guys, we tried. Let’s see what’s next. I guess we don’t have as good taste as we think.” A couple months later, because of TikTok, it randomly blows up… because this girl Aviva Sofia made a dance. And she kept doing it in these cute anime outfits. From there, it was over.

“City of Angels” is sonically much different than other music you’ve released. It’s not really a rap song. What inspired you to create it? How did you convince the label to release it?
Everything I made before I came to LA and started working with Omer was strictly in the hip-hop sphere, but you see new and experience new things and that affects what you put out. Since working with Omer, I’ve been a lot more experimental and done a lot more singing. When I made that song, I was like, “yo, let me get an Elvis-type beat.” That does not sound like an Elvis song at all, but Omer knew what I meant. We made that in one day, literally, from start to finish. It was one of the easiest songs I was able to make. When I played it for my label, they were like, “I don’t know about this one,” because it was so different from “Valentino,” which was my most successful song. There was a lot of back and forth. They agreed to release it, but they weren’t going to push it as a single or do a video. When the [Dropped Outta College] EP came out, nothing was really taking off. I still felt in my heart that “City of Angels” was the hit. Whenever I played it for anybody, they were like, “This is a hit right here.” So, I took my own money and did the TikTok thing. I learned from “Valentino,” if this shit can happen on accident, I can make it happen on purpose. I started reaching out to people and meeting up with people and doing what I do. And then “City of Angels” blew up. I’m so happy that it happened the way it did because for me to go from “Valentino” to “City of Angels”— two opposite ends of the spectrum — I feel like now I have the freedom to kind of do whatever I want. People know that they don’t know what to expect when they’re dealing with me.

How long ago was it that your tour bus crashed? Did you have any epiphanies after the crash?
It was the first time I toured with Landon Cube. We had this family roadtrip-looking RV. It was such a surreal moment. We were listening to the mix of “Been Here Before,” trying to approve it for the EP, and I was looking out the window. I saw the road and then everything started shaking. Then I see grass in front of us and this big ass pole. We smack right through it. Landon was in the back of the bus, but he’s in the front of the bus now. Luckily, everyone was cool. But when we went through that telephone pole, it fucked up the wiring and there was fire all around it. All we could smell was fire. We got hit off the road by this 18-wheeler that was trying to merge with not enough space. We got off the bus and chilled at this Firestone tire factory for three hours while we figured out how we were going to finish the rest of the tour. We ended up getting like two Suburbans and we’re just mobbing across the US with one equipment van, one rental truck, and two Suburbans.

“All we could smell was fire”

Because I didn’t have any “Oh my god, I need to change my entire life” moments, I feel like that’s a sign [that I’m living my life right.] If I were to pass before I expected it, I really don’t have many regrets. I feel like everything I’ve done has been a learning experience, and I’ve lived my life fully so far. Hopefully, we go a lot longer. I want to live a life where I can be happy because, if there’s one thing that 2020 has shown us, you don’t know what the fuck is going to happen.

How has the coronavirus impacted you personally and professionally?
It’s been a great period of reflection for me. When you live such a fast-paced life, you don’t really have time to stop and take it all in. I’ve just got to be like, “Damn, look at all this shit that I’ve done over the past two years.” I think it’s made me really grateful for the things that we don’t always appreciate, like being able to travel freely or being able to go to the stores that you want whenever, being able to see your friends and family without worrying that you may have this invisible virus that could hurt someone you love. Whenever we come back out of this, hopefully the world is in a better place. On a professional level, this fucked my shit up. I was supposed to go to Europe and do my first headlining tour this summer. But I think it’s a blessing in disguise. I haven’t done a headline tour before. I haven’t gone to Europe. When I do go, it’s going to be like going from 0 to 100 real quick. I might be on tour for like two years going all across the world. But it’s been great to work on my album, too.

Did you record “Mood” during the pandemic?
Yeah. I think it was late March or early April. Me, Omer, and Keegan [Bach] went to kick it at Iann [Dior’s] house. We were just chillin playing video games. Omer and [Keegan] were just messing around on Ableton or something. Omer was playing the guitar riff, and I just started singing the hook, “Why you always in a mood?” He was like, “That’s fire! Stop everything and record this.” I recorded my part, Iann did his part and then I did my verse. We were like, “This shit is fire. We got to put the song out.” I think the cool thing about this one is just how organic and natural it came. I didn’t have to do my own TikTok campaign. I didn’t have to push the song crazy hard. It came out strong and it just kept going and going.

Your new album is called El Dorado. What was the inspiration behind the title?
Growing up, my mom’s coworkers would call me El Dorado because Golden is my real name. El Dorado means “the golden one” or “the golden city” in Spanish. It has personal meaning to me in that sense, but also like the Golden City, which is San Francisco, the place I grew up. There’s also this component from South American mythology about this emperor that built the City of Gold. Visually and story-wise, I want to combine elements from my past, the place I grew up, and this mythological story world. Music-wise, it’s really all the different sounds that I showed that I could do when I dropped out of college: trap, pop, hip-hop, rock. It’s me, taking the elements of those that I like the most, and putting them all together.

The music you’ve made in the past has been fairly universal. Will this record be more personal?
This is some of my most personal music. The album has the fun, upbeat bangers that are going to be hits, but it’s also got songs that are more reflective and a little more vulnerable. I feel like the fans deserve that. If you’re a fan of me, I want you to be a fan of me for real. I know not everyone is going to love me — that’s part of having so many eyes on you — but I feel like I might as well show y’all who I am and let you decide. I like who I am, so that’s alright.

When will it be out? What are your hopes for it?
I plan on releasing it early 2021 to start things off fresh. Hope-fully, we’re in a better state of the world and people can go outside and make memories to my music. That’s the biggest thing for me. I want my music to be part of people’s lives.   

Check out our behind the scenes video of the 24kGoldn MARVIN photoshoot up in the Hollywood Hills…

Glasses by Walter Van Beirendonck, Sweater and Pants by NEEDLES, Tee by Deadhead
Sweater by Greg Lauren, Tee by Deadhead, Pants by Gallery Dept., Jordan 1s by Nike
Poncho by UNDERCOVER, Jacket by TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist, Sweatpants by KAPITAL, Sandals by Visvim
Scarf, vintage by Hermès, Jacket by Supreme, Jeans by Gallery Dept., Jordan 1s by Nike
Top by Martine Rose, Pants by La Ropa, Boots by Raf Simons