Early last month, rapper Post Malone released his third album in four years. As has been the case with each of his records, Hollywood’s Bleeding teleported to the top of the charts. His latest full-length boasts a roster of guest artists, including Halsey, Meek Mill, Future, Ozzy Osbourne, DaBaby, and Travis Scott. Today the record sits at number two on Billboard’s Top Hip-Hop Albums. But because of Posty's penchant for collaborating with classic rockers and his catchall pop approach to making music, can his sound be considered hip-hop? Moreover, does it even matter?
The short answer to both of those questions is yes, but there are some complicating factors.
Since he broke through with 2015‘s self-aware “White Iverson,” doubts and questions regarding his authenticity and place within hip-hop — a genre founded and defined by the voices of African-Americans — have dogged the Jewish kid born Austin Malone.
As evidenced by his first hit single, filled with basketball metaphors and an allusion to the legendary Mailman of the NBA who only retired in 2013, Malone is a product of his time. From his SoundCloud origins to the fact that his stage name resulted from an internet rap-name generator, everything about Post Malone is peak 21st Century and Gen Z.
To assert his spot in hip-hop, one must consider this context. Yes, he is a hip-hop artist, but not in the traditional sense — mostly because hip-hop is largely no longer traditional.
Whereas in the past it might have taken a group of rappers and vocalists and a few producers to craft a hip-hop record, Malone has internalized most of those roles and talents into a one-man music machine. He’s like those old-time multi-instrumentalists who played the accordion and blew the harmonica while beating a drum with their foot, except, for Malone, none of it goes hilariously wrong. Yes, he leans on producers (particularly his longtime collaborator Louis Bell) and enlists plenty of features on his records. But for the most part, Malone has condensed the roles needed to make a hit song by providing a large part of the rapped verses, sung vocals, and instrumentals himself.
So, given his popular take on the genre, why are Post Malone's efforts discounted in the hip-hop world?
First of all, he's white. It would be absurd to minimize the degree to which that trait can hurt an artist in the hip-hop community, even in 2019. But it's for a good reason: Though the genre was created and advanced by African-Americans, white hip-hop artists historically have been afforded the luxury of being seen as pop artists with mass appeal. That has led to expanded marketing prospects and a level of recognition their African-American counterparts rarely see. And that history goes back even further than hip-hop. White artists throughout time — from Elvis to Led Zeppelin to Justin Timberlake — have made millions off appropriating music created by black artists. But while this pop appeal can make white rappers such as Macklemore and Logic more palatable to soccer moms, it can also hurt their credibility in the hip-hop world.
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It would be easy to plop Post Malone into the pop category. After all, he regularly appears on the charts alongside names such as Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber. However, Post Malone's company on the pop charts doesn't differ much from that of Travis Scott, Drake, or Lil Nas X. That says more about hip-hop's status as the dominant musical force of the moment than it does about Post Malone.
But it's not just Malone's pop appeal that makes people question his hip-hop bona fides. In 2017, he caught plenty of heat for an interview with the Fader in which he said, "If you're looking for lyrics, if you're looking to cry, if you're looking to think about life, don't listen to hip-hop." He added that for “a nice cry” he listens to his hero, Bob Dylan. Later he clarified that he was talking about only his music and that his opinion should have no bearing on anyone else’s opinion on the power of hip-hop. He also casually mentioned he was tipsy when he made his controversial comments.
Though Post Malone has a long way to go before approaching the poetry of Dylan (to say the least), the dreamy and dramatic atmospheres he creates in many songs still deliver hefty emotional punches despite lyrical content revolving around boobs and Bud Lights. Ultimately, whether his music is good or bad is purely based on personal taste. But the fact of the matter is that hip-hop isn't what it used to be — for better or worse — and Post Malone's approach is just the latest interpretation of a genre that has evolved from the underground to the dominant pop-cultural force in the span of a few decades.
Post Malone. 8 p.m. Sunday, October 20, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; 786-777-1000; aaarena.com. Tickets cost $49.50 to $399.99 via ticketmaster.com. 8 p.m. Monday, October 21, at BB&T Center, 1 Panther Pkwy., Sunrise; 954-835-7000; thebbtcenter.com. Tickets cost $39.25 to $399.25 via ticketmaster.com.