Post Malone: The complicated appeal of the US singer breaking chart records around the world
It’s been a huge few weeks for hip hop and urban music.
All the while, though, the New York-via-Texas 22-year-old Post Malone was setting fire to chart records everywhere, including one held by The Beatles since 1964.
This week, all 18 songs from Post’s new album beerbongs & bentleys were in the US Hot 100 chart, including nine in the top 20. (The album is number 1 in Australia, too.)
What makes this equation interesting is not just why Post Malone — real name Austin Post — is so popular, or even if he is actually a hip hop artist.
It’s that he’s white, setting off much discussion about cultural appropriation and who gets to pursue which styles of music.
People call him a rapper. Is he?
“It’s definitely urban music,” Hau Latukefu, the host of triple j’s Hip Hop Show, said.
“Rapper? I don’t know.”
Anand Krishnaswamy, a tour promoter behind the festival FOMO who has booked Post in Australia, is not convinced.
“I don’t think Post is out there trying to be a rapper at all,” he said.
Yes, there are strong urban influences, Mr Krishnaswamy said, but there’s also Post’s love of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.
“I’ve heard country songs of his,” he said.
Why does genre matter?
Well, it’s cultural.
Post has been accused of being a “culture vulture” — of taking some parts of black identity, like the music, while ignoring the struggles and the history of oppression.
The influential radio host Charlamagne Tha God called him “privileged Postie” and accused him of “disrespecting the culture” after Post suggested hip hop lacked lyrical depth.
“I love hip hop. I make hip hop,” he said.
“I wanna take this genre and stretch it so far that people who may not listen to it, listen to it.”
Latukefu said: “A lot of people are upset because they feel there is a lot of cultural appropriation happening.”
“They feel that he has a certain privilege where he can dip into the culture, make a lot of money, and not deal with any kind of real issues that a lot of his black peers are facing.”
Is hip hop off limits to white people?
No — even Charlamagne Tha God says so. And many white artists have found success and respect in the genre.
But, Latukefu said, “it’s the way you go about it,” drawing a distinction between two white hip hop artists: Eminem and the Australian Iggy Azalea.
“[Eminem] came up through the [rap] battle circuit — he had a name in the underground. It’s obviously in his skill, too — he will be one of the greatest rappers ever.
“It feels with Iggy, she came from Mullumbimby, and then adopted this almost, like, caricature of hip hop … this generic, stereotypical Atlanta persona. A lot of people feel like Post is doing a similar thing.”
But Mr Krishnaswamy said the idea Post is a white guy “jacking cultures” is completely unfair.
“There’s no shortage of incredibly talented urban artists who want to work with Post Malone, and if there was any shred of truth to that, I just don’t think people would work with him,” he said.
“All music is taking influences from other forms of music from beforehand and creating something of your own. And I think that’s what Post Malone has done really well.”
In any case, he’s exceedingly popular. Why?
A few reasons — some technological, some musical.
Firstly, in 1964, The Beatles had to push each single on its own merits.
In the world of streaming, if people just thrash an album — beerbongs & bentleys had 78 million Spotify streams in one day, a record — all those songs have an equal chance of charting.
Then, there’s just the good-time appeal of Post’s genre-defying work.
“It is very simplistic, but a lot of the beauty is in the simplicity,” Latukefu said.
For Mr Krishnaswamy, it’s because Post can’t be pigeonholed.
“His music can connect to so many generations because his music is not one specific thing,” he said.