24KGoldn, the 20-year-old San Francisco rapper-singer born Golden Von Jones, has big Gen Z tween-idol energy. Maybe the biggest: What other cherubic, shortie-courting rising star can claim a TikTok-powered Billboard Hot 100 Number One? That would be “Mood,” featuring gloomy hip-popper Iann Dior (also adorable), which inspired a dance challenge on the video app last summer, crossed over to the top-hits charts on Spotify and Apple, and culminated in a November remix featuring J Balvin and Justin Bieber, riding 24KGoldn’s TikTok wave nearly 15 years after his own breakthrough on YouTube.
The defining tween idol of 2021 is, of course, Olivia Rodrigo, whose “Drivers License” also captured Number One thanks in part to TikTok. Rodrigo jumped out in part because, as a crack singer-songwriter with a catch in her throat and real-life relationship drama behind the music, she’s the closest thing Gen Z has to Taylor Swift. A rapper-singer with his own catch in his throat, 24KGoldn entered a much more crowded content scene, one in which Drake still runs the board whenever he decides to drop a batch of singles, there’s an endlessly replenishing supply of emo rappers, and even the bros of TikTok are rebranding as latter-day rap rockers (most notably, Jaden Hossler/jxdn).
But among the self-styled scrubs in his orbit, the face-tat-free 24KGoldn is the one most likely to pass muster with the girls in the group text. On El Dorado, his debut full length, he can be as sunny as he can be sad, and his romantic preoccupations are more about making relationships work than resenting the ones he lost. Like any outwardly nice young man, he veers from charming to anodyne to horny, sometimes in the same verse, and he’s more eager than he is self-assured or sharply defined. Alongside DaBaby on “Coco,” he inevitably comes off like the harmless young brother; spitting smoothly over a church-y groove on “The Top,” he sounds like Chance the Rapper if Chance never went full wife-guy.
Of course, the bars aren’t the point. Two of the standout tracks, “3 2 1” and “Empty,” sound more like Post Malone than any new rapper your dad is repping, and they’re all the better for it. (“Empty” features the silken Swae Lee, who made the minor 2018 classic, “Sunflower,” with Posty.) El Dorado is pop engineered to sound good in the supermarket, social-media snippets, and played from a phone during bedroom hangs: big melodies in the foreground, beats that bounce, and guitar deployed as needed to juice up the tunes. Crucially — and emo rap fans and people in committed relationships alike can appreciate this — 24KGoldn never mutters or mumbles when he expresses himself. He sings like he wants everyone to hear. Which, of course, he does.