It was the Steve Austin podcast that did it. Once upon a time, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was the greatest star that professional wrestling had ever known. These days, he hosts a rambling, perversely enjoyable podcast. Most of the time, it consists of Stone Cold having long conversations with old wrestling buddies about their road-trip stories and tut-tutting the wrestlers of today for doing too many moves too quickly. But one day a few months ago, Stone Cold’s guest was Post Malone, the perma-grinning sing-rapper who currently has the #1 song in America. A couple of months before that, Post Malone had worn a Stone Cold-style leather vest to the BET Awards, thus blowing up Austin’s Twitter mentions. Stone Cold, who’d never heard of Post Malone before, started following the rapper on Twitter, and a DM conversation led to Post Malone visiting the Texas Rattlesnake’s home studio and sitting down with the man. And if you can listen to Post Malone’s episode of the Stone Cold podcast and remain uncharmed, then you are a tougher person than I.
“He’s an avatar of blankness, and if he’s ever going to become anything more than that, it’ll take real work.” That was something I wrote about Post Malone in a column last year. It’s still true. Stoney, the album that Post Malone released last year, is a hazy, miasmic work that pretty much dissipates whenever I put it on. It has moments of stickiness, like the single “Congratulations,” but you have to be listening close to discern anything like a personality or a point of view from it. But I did get both of those things from Post Malone’s conversation with Stone Cold. I got to hear Post Malone attempting to explain to the Bionic Redneck what an 808 is. I got to hear Post and Stone Cold bonding over listening to Hank Williams and George Strait. I got to hear Stone Cold’s slightly incredulous intonation of the term “trap folk.” I got to hear Stone Cold sincerely cautioning Post over partying too hard while on the road, and I got to hear Post sincerely receiving that advice. More than anything, I got to hear these two guys clearly enjoying being in the presence of one another. Every time Stone Cold would mention anything from his wrestling career, Post would just giggle with delight. “We love it,” he’d exult. I came out of that conversation thinking something like: “Fuck. I like this guy.” Soon afterward, “Rockstar” confirmed it.
“Rockstar,” the single that Post Malone released about a month ago, is a dumb song, but it’s the good kind of dumb. It’s a song about partying so hard that you feel like a rock star, and on its hook, Post rhymes “rock star” with “Rasta,” “shottas,” and “grrrra-ta-ta-ta-ta.” The two actual rock stars that Post mentions in the song, Bon Scott and Jim Morrison, both died long before Post himself was born. The beat, from producers Louis Bell and Tank God, is a dizzy synthetic stagger, and once the rapping ends, it takes its time dissolving into gooey nothingness. Guest 21 Savage, who gets more non-hook time than Post does on the song, talks unimpressed deadpan greasy shit. And since talking unimpressed deadpan greasy shit over pretty music is exactly what 21 Savage does best, this turns out to be a canny use of the man. As for Post himself, he howls passionately about how your girl is saying “I’m with the baaaaaaand” and how the girls in his trailer all brought a frieeeeeeeend; it’s been decades since any real rock stars have cared this much about being rock stars. “Rockstar” is a meaningless trifle of a song, but it is a perfectly realized meaningless trifle.
I am, admittedly, an absolute mark for any rap songs about wanting to be like rock stars. For way longer than I’d care to admit, my ringtone was “Party Like A Rock Star,” the one hit from Atlanta one-hit wonders Da Shop Boyz; anyone who worked in the Village Voice newsroom in 2007 can tell you how annoying that was. That was a good-kind-of-dumb song, too, but it was good and dumb in different ways. The lyrics of “Party Like A Rock Star” evinced a much more fun image of rock stardom than rock stardom itself could ever be: “I’m on a yacht with Marilyn Manson, getting a tan, man,” “I make it rain from the center of my guitar.” And like N.E.R.D.’s “Rock Star,” or Kevin Rudolf and Lil Wayne’s “Let It Rock,” “Party Like A Rockstar” was built on a big, processed, looped-up version of a rock guitar riff. Neither of those things is the case with Post Malone’s “Rockstar.” Post Malone has listened to enough rock music that he can talk about Pantera and sound like he has some idea about what he’s discussing, but he doesn’t try to force “Rockstar” to sound like a rock song. There are no guitars to be heard on Post’s “Rockstar.” Instead, it’s a blissed-out and self-assured ode to the no-consequences party-life, a song about numb hedonism that sounds more numb than hedonistic. I like it. I don’t love the fact that I like it, but there it is.
Somehow, that song, as of Monday, is the #1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100. When the song came out a month ago, it instantly went to #2, and it pulled that off with no video. Just this week, it inched past Cardi B and into the top spot, marking the first #1 single for both Post and 21 Savage. (Post’s previous peak was #8 with “Congratulations”; Savage’s was #12 with “Bank Account.”) This wasn’t a case of a months-long build in popularity like the one “Bodak Yellow” had. Instead, the release of “Rockstar” was an event. If streaming numbers are any indication — and I think they are, even if they’re an imperfect measuring stick — then Post Malone is one of our biggest rap stars, right up there with Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Stoney, the album that he released last year, hasn’t fallen out of the top 25 in the past nine months. If anything, it’s more popular than ever. Just this week, “I Fall Apart,” a deep cut from that album, is up to a new Hot 100 peak of #31, and it hasn’t even been a single or anything. It’s mostly a hit because of a live video of Post singing it that went viral. Stoney itself just climbed to a new peak, too. After months of hanging around the top 10, it’s at #4, and it only debuted at #6. Post Malone’s staying power is just remarkable. Somehow, in the streaming era, this guy is what people want.
There’s a lot that goes into that. Like every popular white rapper ever, Post benefits from white kids identifying with someone who looks like them. And Post, with his bad tattoos and his long hair and his tendency to do live acoustic covers of entry-level ’90s alt-rock songs, really is a recognizable white-kid type; I’ve known countless dudes just like him. His music is pleasant and low-impact, and it fades into the background when you’re doing other stuff, which is something I can’t say of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., the other rap album that’s been kicking around the Billboard top 10 for months. Post synthesizes genres in a way that feels unforced, like he’s fully internalized his rock and country influences, like he’s not trying to force them into his music. In a streaming era, that’s a boon; it means he can wind up on a bunch of different kinds of playlists.
But I also think some of his staggering success comes from him just being a pleasant human being, a fun guy to have around. That’s what I heard in that Steve Austin podcast, and that’s at least some kind of contributing factor in him suddenly becoming this enormous star. I can’t say Post Malone deserves all he’s gotten in the past few months, but I’m happy for him anyway.
1. WESTSIDEDOOM – “2Stings”
DOOM is nowhere near what he once was, but the pure husky grain of his voice still sounds amazing. And Westside Gunn over a diamond-hard stagger of an Alchemist beat is the sort of thing you need in your life.
2. YBN Nahmir – “Change”
I like this kid. He’s got a good ear for crispy, melodic, bouncy beats, and he’s got the clearest elocution of any Alabama rapper I’ve ever heard. “Rubbin Off The Paint” is the obvious hit, but every track I’ve heard has been solid.
3. Meyhem Lauren & DJ Muggs – “Street Religion” (Feat. Roc Marciano)
It’s a bit weird that Meyhem Lauren’s making a full album with Cypress Hill’s legendary producer and that the first single is pretty much just the repurposed beat from OutKast’s “2 Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac),” but it’s still fun to hear these two quintessentially New York rappers on top of a beat like that.
4. Nacho Picasso – “Temperature” (Feat. ManMan Savage)
This beat is pure, glorious evilness. We need more Halloween rap music.
5. Moneybagg Yo – “Silverware”
“All-white futon in the trap, you can’t even sit in there. All bluetip bullets in the glock, they don’t even ‘posed to be in there.”
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
Y’all keep bringing up money & shit man I will be at subway so fast making the fuck out of a sandwich before I stop this Black & Proud shit.
— Vince Staples (@vincestaples) October 14, 2017