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Chartbreaker: 24kGoldn is ‘Post Malone Meets Will Smith,’ With a Smash Single To His Name

How the 19-year-old rapper scored an accidental hit with the alternative-leaning rap song.

One day during his freshman year of college, 24KGoldn decided that he had had enough.

While attending the University of Southern California on an academic scholarship, he interrupted his professor to make a startling announcement. “The teacher kept calling on me, and I wasn’t feeling it that day,” he recalls. “We were supposed to have a presentation next week. I was like, ‘Man. I’m not gonna do all that s–t.’ So I packed my things and went to the front of the class and was like, ‘I gotta go. It’s an emergency. By the way, I won’t be here next week.’ Then I never went to any classes again.”

A year later, 24kGoldn has no regrets — especially after his breakout summer hit “Mood,” featuring Iann Dior, has become an unequivocal smash. The laid-back, riff-driven alternative-rap song recently hit the Billboard Hot 100‘s top five, having reached No. 5 so far, while also becoming an alternative radio hit.

Born in San Francisco, the rapper born Golden Landis Von Jones said he always liked entertaining people, and had an early introduction to the entertainment industry working as a child model in commercials for Honda, Lunchables and Blue Diamond Almonds. “That’s what made me more comfortable on-camera and getting used to having to do s–t over and over,” he says. “When I pull up to music videos, I’m like, ‘I’ve been doing 11-hour days since I was eight-years-old, so I’m not tripping.’”

Meanwhile, 24kGoldn’s parents were instrumental in developing his love for music. With a palette that expanded beyond hip-hop (he cites Miles Davis and Michael Jackson as some of his influences), he recalls filling his middle school playlists with everything from Bruno Mars to Chief Keef — “and my playlist looks like that today, too,” he says.

His drive to entertain pushed him to boldly and blindly pitch himself online. After reading a May 2018 story about how SoundCloud rappers are unfairly dismissed by the critics, he reached out to a DJ Booth writer on Twitter offering to send his own music for consideration. The writer, Hershal Pandya, soon after praised the tracks, one of which was “Ballin’ Like Shareff,” and wrote an article on 24kGoldn. It caught the eye of hip-hop Chicago producer D.A. Doman, who reached out to the rapper asking to hear more.

24kGoldn photographed on Sept. 25, 2020 in Los Angeles. Sami Drasin

24kGoldn sent him “Valentino,” which Doman immediately played for veteran music executive and RECORDS CEO Barry Weiss, who became eager to sign the young rapper. “Barry called me on a Saturday and was trying to have me signed by Sunday,” 24kGoldn remembers. “I took my time and I said, ‘I want to meet the team. Fly me out to New York to meet the people that’s going to be working for me, to get a real feel for it.’”

By the end of the year, 24kGolden had signed a recording contract with RECORDS/Columbia Records and released “Valentino” — a trap-laden track that highlighted the rapper’s taste in designer clothes and playful demeanor — as his major-label debut. He followed it up with “City of Angels,” a 180 from its predecessor that flirted with rock production. “Creatively, he does so many different things that you don’t have to push him to [try different types of music],” says co-manager Chioke “Stretch” McCoy. “It comes down to, ‘Do you listen to these other genres? Do you appreciate this music?’ And he does.” Adds Weiss: “He’s a great writer, plus a great personality: Post Malone meets Will Smith. He can do it all.”

24kGoldn’s versatility is most evident on “Mood,” a track that came together unintentionally while he was playing Call of Duty at Iann Dior’s house with producers Omer and KBeaZy. Though the rappers weren’t looking to collaborate, the two producers were more interested in making a beat than playing video games. 24kGoldn couldn’t help but rhyme along, coming up with what became the chorus of “Mood.” Amazed by the hook’s catchiness, Omer paused their video game session to work on the song while Dior scurried to the studio, wrote his verse, and had 24kGoldn follow suit. They completed the track that day.

“I knew [“Mood”] was a hit, but I didn’t think it was going to be this big to keep it 100,” exclaims 24kGoldn. “I put my kid out into the world, and this n—a got a college degree and a job at 14. He’s exceeding my expectations.”

From left: Chioke “Stretch” McCoy, 24kGoldn and Austin Rosen photographed by Sami Drasin on Sept. 25 in Los Angeles. Sami Drasin

“Mood” started heating up as soon as the rapper teased the record on Instagram less than a week before its July release. And after, he and his team watched the song evolve into a TikTok behemoth, thanks to the rapper’s 2.9 million followers on the app. By August, “Mood” had raked in 15.1 million U.S. streams, 2.2 million radio audience impressions, and 4,000 downloads, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data, eventually crowning the Hot Rock Songs and Alternative Songs charts.

“The song is hitting on all cylinders,” says 24kGoldn’s co-manager Austin Rosen. “It’s streaming, it’s TikTok-ing, and the radio is working. Everything is kind of checking the box as a smash.” Adds McCoy: “When he previewed it, it had such a strong response. So when it did come out, playlisting was great, but also, the skip rate was very low and the sharing rate… everybody loved the song. It was spreading.”

With “Mood” solidifying 24kGoldn’s status as a promising hitmaker, he’s now turning his attention to his forthcoming debut album, El Dorado. “It’s the most surreal experience of my life, being 19 and just starting to grow up and having all this success,” he says. “But we’re also doing this during a global pandemic. After this, when everyone is outside, I won’t be able to go out.”

A version of this article will appear in the Oct. 17 issue of Billboard.