Being a golden child isn’t all about being a teacher’s pet. In fact, just as you find Ash Olsen seated in class, feet on desk, on the cover of her debut album, holding such a title is more about being a rebel, as those around you sheepishly follow convention – symbolised in this instance wearing paper bags over their heads.
The origins of the rising Norwegian rapper’s second album (or at least its title), came after a reading from a “spiritual guide”, who explained her golden child credentials – how she had a clear vision to enact on the world. Born and raised on a farm in rural Fredrikstad, just south of Oslo, music wasn’t always the path Olsen thought she’d be enacting this “bigger purpose” in life; but after listening to Tupac’s ‘Only God Can Judge Me’ as a youngster and being inspired to go home and conjure her own rhymes, it’s the one she ultimately opted for.
Her recent collaborative track with Copenhagen’s Wiinston and South London’s Che Lingo is testament to a rapper who’s largely veered away from the music scene of her native country, rapping in English instead.
Golden Child doesn’t add anything immensely innovative, sonically, to the world of rap, but it does give greater reason to keep track of this ascending talent. It certainly adds perspective: a white, female rapper, relaying her feelings on same-sex relationships. Yet much of its substance borrows from the cliches of a lot that’s already been told.
Its brief opener ‘Dirty’ offers an unexpectedly laid-back acoustic intro, at odds with its lyrical brags of having a “bitch in my DM and she moving like a dancer” and its pointed barb to whoever screwed Olsen over – even if its sweet parting message “I’ll call you in the morning” offers some reconciliation.
The album’s highlights are its more mellow, RnB-leaning offerings, which subsequent track ‘Low’ and later lovelorn tune ‘someone else’ provides. It’s here you feel Olsen is at her most true, rather than relying on pastiche. That’s not to say Olsen only shines when she gets all in her feels – but it certainly helps. Final track ‘remedy’, with its steady, head-bopping beat and Rick Rubin reference, depicts the act of falling love as a cure to life’s ills, as well as having its own side-effects; it also points to the more unique space Olsen can occupy as an artist.
Elsewhere, tracks like howling ‘Lone Wolf!’ and salacious ‘Body Rock!’ both sound like they’ve been delivered in numerous forms before, with the latter having a beat that’s still stuck in the decade prior and an “all up in da club, feelin’ myself” refrain to match.
Granted, much of that wouldn’t have previously been delivered by someone of Olsen’s gender, background or sexual orientation, and this to some degree is worthy of celebration. But judged purely on merit, these are anodyne additions; when Olsen could have coupled her different perspective with a novel idea, it’s a shame she opts for mimicry.
Nevertheless, there are still some bright sparks. 070 Shake is an obvious reference point for Olsen on her debut. The molly-poppin’, rageful ‘Crazy Bitch!’ and minimal production on ‘The Juice’ is where this best shines through, the latter’s hi-hats and intermittent piano giving space for Olsen’s subtly auto-tuned vocals.
In many ways, then, the classroom setting of Golden Child’s album cover is even more apt. She might be the standout in the class, but she’s still ultimately in a period of learning; on her second album we hear bouts of her evidently significant potential, amidst some commonplace rap tropes and imitations.