Near my house, there used to be a discount movie theater, a big strip-mall monstrosity that never drew any crowds. I took my son to see Brave there when he was maybe three days old — not, in retrospect, a great idea. The theater shut down a few years ago, and now that big concrete bunker is an indoor trampoline park. It’s an upgrade: a vast room full of trampolines — panels all over the floor, panels on the wall, a couple of basketball hoops to dunk on, a tub full of foam cubes to dive into. There are arcade games. There’s an American Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course. It smells like wet rubber and feet. I love it. It’s one of my favorite places. At any given moment, there are dozens of small kids bouncing around in there, while a tinny overhead speaker blasts “Bad Blood” or “Sorry.” The last time I was there, something unexpected crept into the playlist: a cusses-intact version of “White Iverson,” the one true hit from the Dallas sing-rapper Post Malone. So: There I am, lifting my daughter up to a plastic basketball hoop — she started balling when she was yoooooouuung — while some falsetto-voiced dirtbag coos nothings about needing that money like the ring he never won. It’s the most I’ve ever enjoyed Post Malone. It’s the most I can imagine enjoying Post Malone.
“White Iverson” isn’t a weird song, exactly, but it’s a weird hit: a wispy barely-there sigh that sounds like what might’ve happened if Justin Vernon got all gassed up after the first time he sang on a Kanye song, if he tried to launch his own gleefully clueless rap career. (The New York Times critic Jon Caramanica has referred to Post Malone as “Bon Iverson,” and I am so jealous that I didn’t think of it first.) “White Iverson” doesn’t grab your ear; it dissipates into the air like low-concentration gas. The video has Post Malone striking dramatic poses in a desert while expensive cars do donuts around him. It’s at 167 million YouTube views and counting.
The success of “White Iverson” is a strange triumph, and the challenge for Post Malone will be to come up with another song that lands the way “White Iverson” did, or to come up with any music whatsoever that’s enjoyable in a non-indoor trampoline park setting. He’s a long way away from it. On Friday, Post Malone released his mixtape August 26th, which is named after his album’s projected release date. (That release date is one day after my dad turns 70, so now I know what to get him.) August 26th is full of barely-there song-wisps that recall “White Iverson,” if “White Iverson” was somehow less memorable than it already is. Post Malone did himself no favors when he put it out into the world on the same day as Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book, probably the best mixtape anyone has released in the last few years. If anything, it serves to highlight how powerful Coloring Book is. As in: Enjoy this Chance masterpiece, then consider that this is what else is out there.
Post Malone exists in some permanent state of in-between. He reps Texas, but he spent much of his childhood in the godless frozen wasteland of Syracuse, New York, so there’s an odd regionlessness to him. He’s not really a rapper and not really a singer. Instead, he’s a maker of miasmic haze — standard-issue trap tough-talk rendered in vulnerable melodies that disappear into his synth-fantasia tracks. He’s a protege of the border-busting Atlanta production team FKi, but his success mostly makes me wish it went to some other FKi project — specifically Zuse, the splenetic dancehall growler who’s basically the opposite of Post Malone in every important way. Post Malone comes off like an affable lug in interviews, but there’s no way of articulating what he does, exactly. He’s a grinning peach-fuzz specter staring out of your Twitter feed, not an actual personality. He’s a shadow, a ghost.
There are things about Post Malone that could, in time, turn out to be distinctive. He’s spoken convincingly of his love of country and metal. And in a few of his songs, there’s an acoustic-guitar-slinging drifter persona that’s only beginning to emerge. You can hear a bit of that on “Go Flex,” his most recent single. You can hear more of it on “Oh God,” the bluesy ramble that ends the August 26th tape. But even if Post Malone effectively builds on that side of what he’s doing, what’s his best-case scenario? A trap version of Whitey Ford-era Everlast? Do we need that in our lives? I’d like to submit to you that we do not.
Post Malone has been granted every chance at success. He sings on “Fade,” Kanye West’s Life Of Pablo bonus track. His mixtape has contributions from 2 Chainz and Jeremih and Jaden Smith. He’s clearly being groomed to be something. But thus far, he’s shown no signs that he has anything to offer. He’s an avatar of blankness, and if he’s ever going to become anything more than that, it’ll take real work.
1. Schoolboy Q – “THat Part” (Feat. Kanye West)
The next Schoolboy Q album is going to be something special, isn’t it? On everything he’s done lately, he’s kept his old paranoid fury but made it scale. A song with a Kanye verse on it shouldn’t give you that knife-edge something-bad-is-about-to-happen feeling. This one does.
2. Boosie Badazz – “Kill The Beef”
Boosie is the cold in Detroit. He’s the Chi-Town wind. He’s the music in Ferguson. He’s the voice of the pen.
3. Payroll Giovanni – “Real Plug” (Feat. Cashout Calhoun)
Payroll Giovanni is a quintessentially Midwestern rapper, a member of the ur-Detroit Doughboys Cashout crew. But on his new solo tape Big Bossin, Vol. 1, he teams up with the West Coast producer Cardo to make something breezy and propulsive. And it reaches its peak when they build a drug-dealing anthem out of Mary J. Blige’s ’90s New York classic “Real Love.” Rap music: It’s cosmopolitan!
4. AD – “Thug” (Feat. YG)
You cannot possibly expect subtlety from two rappers who, between them, have four letters in their names. YG’s album cannot come soon enough.
5. The Underachievers – “Play That Way”
These guys have more or less gotten off of their whole space-pyramids trip and become just another Brooklyn rap group. But they’re a really good Brooklyn rap group, and there aren’t too many others who would be brave enough to take on a beat like this. The new It Happened In Flatbush tape is well worth your time.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
WHOEVER MADE THIS SO WOKE THEY NEVER SLEPT pic.twitter.com/WZvJIsXrMA
— WORLDSTARHIPHOP (@WORLDSTAR) May 14, 2016