Dylan Golden on Using His Voice
Dylan Golden on Using His Voice
On Friday, April 5, the short film Half Dead—which chronicles the journey of a young man of color exasperated with social injustices—will be screened at the David Rubenstein Atrium, alongside interludes of live hip-hop performance featuring filmmaker and rapper Dylan Golden.
This event is presented in collaboration with Lincoln Center's Student Advisory Council. Three members of the council, Debora HaeJin Bang, Dominique Moreno, and Selin Sahbazoglu, asked Dylan Golden about his art, inspirations, and the film's presenter, GSM Creative, a collective of artists who aspire to share the stories of marginalized people through film.
Selin Sahbazoglu: Could you tell us a bit about GSM Creative, and about the process that led to Half Dead?
Dylan Golden: GSM began when I moved to New York, around 2012. It started off as my sister and me trying to create an outlet for ourselves to express our creativity. She was trying to figure out what she wanted to do as far as dance, and I was trying to make a name for myself as a new artist in New York City, so we decided maybe it would be best if we collaborated and created something that nobody else had done, in an authentic way. Obviously there were dance and rap videos, but we wanted to create something true to who we were as artists, and our backgrounds. From there we started creating little pieces. We would have concerts, and GSM grew from there and became an art collective that wanted to stand up to injustice, wanted to give people voice who had no voice, wanted to be able to spread a message through dance, music, film, dialogue.
Half Dead began around 2016. We had a show at Webster Hall and were trying to create a finale that would be impactful and show people what we were capable of and what we wanted to transcend through our creativity, and the song "Half Dead" was created. The injustices that Americans were facing, specifically Black and Brown Americans, as well as immigrants—this was the response to that. I created the song with my producer Kris Kars and singer Katrine Tandy, and we decided that maybe we should turn this into something more and started formulating ideas for a short film. How could we create something that has an impact, make something that groundbreaking, that artistically pushed us to our limits? That's when we came up with this idea of creating an entire film based around the music that would go beyond the next album Revolution of the Heart.
"I want to do something that changes people's way of thought, encourages questions about what's going on in our society and who's in power."
Dominique Moreno: Why are you writing music and creating art that touches upon racial divisions, social injustices, and corruption in government? What would you like the upcoming generations to improve in our society?
Dylan Golden: I want to be able to respond to what's going on in the world. I think today's hip-hop music is oversaturated and it doesn't feel like there's much meaning behind it. I want to do something that changes people's way of thought, encourages questions about what's going on in our society and who's in power. That's why this content is so powerful and meaningful, because this generation could be lost. If there's no one trying to stand up and speak the truth, we will all be immersed in social media. We need to inspire more people to fight for equal rights, social change, and make sure our voice is heard.
Debora HaeJin Bang: What parts of your identity are most salient in terms of your creative processes?
Dylan Golden: I think all of my identities play a role: my heritage, the history of who I am, where my family comes from, who my people are. These are all stories I'm intrigued by and really want to explore. As I've grown older, I've become more aware of my surroundings and who I am as a person—who I am as a person of color and what that means. I want to start developing a platform where I can really explore voices that have never really been heard, like immigrants' stories. Where my family came from, their struggles, who they were, what it meant to grow up in a time where they weren't necessarily accepted—these stories have been really inspiring to me. That's really the core of where my ideas come from: having conversations with people, gathering information from elders and people I look up to. I'm a storyteller: When I'm engaging with someone, I really want to get to know who they are as a person, and how I can relate that to my own life.
Selin Sahbazoglu: What else has inspired or influenced you?
Dylan Golden: Growing up, one of my biggest influences was J. Cole because he has such an honest voice. Nas was another inspiration for me. My mentor Daisaku Ikeda, who is the president of the Buddhist Organization called the SGI (Soka Gakkai International), has inspired me to find peace and create happiness no matter the circumstances. I grew up Buddhist, and that definitely had an impact on how I see the world and how GSM sees the world. Other influences: my family, my heritage, being Colombian and Puerto Rican. Great artists like Héctor Lavoe. Nina Simone has inspired me—how she presented herself, the way she stood up to injustice.
Selin Sahbazoglu: What is the most essential thing for you as an artist? What role do you think an artist has in society?
Dylan Golden: To be able to use my voice for a greater cause and to be able to tell the stories that are important, to tell the stories people are not listening to or don't understand because they didn't grow up in those circumstances. My main thing as an artist is to be able to fully express myself and to fully engage in storytelling. My ultimate goal as an artist is to make art and music that is going have an impact on someone's life whether it's five, ten, twenty years from now. Ultimately I want my legacy to have moved somebody's life in a positive direction.
Debora HaeJin Bang: What would like audiences to take away from your work?
Dylan Golden: If I could give my audience one thing, it would be hope. I feel like the younger generation and this generation are suffering and that they really need a voice of hope, to feel like they belong in this society, that no matter what they're going through, they can overcome it and combat discrimination. That they can go out in society and win. At the end of the day, my music is powerful, but I’m not trying to preach anything in particular, just to instill hope. I want people to walk away from my shows, albums, and films with a sense of pride, especially if they haven't been represented in media. There's so much rich culture, so many incredible things that we've done and that a lot of people don't know about. I just want to be able to share those stories.
Dominique Moreno: What's next? Do you have any upcoming projects?
Dylan Golden: I'm working on a bunch of upcoming projects! I'm really focused on promoting Half Dead, which was released this past July. I really want this album to be heard. I'm also currently working on a film called La Lucha de la Mujer which is about my grandmother Carmen Melendez Golden's journey in the 1940s that involved injustices she faced while coming to America. It's about how love, hope, and positivity can change hardships, injustices, and obstacles. The preview will be shared during the performance at the Atrium on April 5!