"Everybody says, 'Hey, I didn't know you were white,' when they meet me, and then they say, 'I didn't know you were so tall.' I guess I look short on the internet," Post Malone said in a Noisey interview earlier this year. Indeed, at a pop-up shop for his Stoney Tour merchandise in a small studio on the Lower East Side one rain-soaked September afternoon, Malone and his entourage of managers, security and friends tower over the hoards of fans that have lined up around the block to see him. After saying a few hellos and posing for photos, Malone and his crew amble to the studio's back room to smoke cigarettes and drink a few of the Budweisers stacked up as decoration (a Malone-Budweiser collaboration seems pre-destined, but at 22 years-old Malone is actually too young to rep the brand).
The pop-up hums along even with Malone posted up in the back. A kid who looks about ten years-old runs t-shirts from the back to the register, and boys with beanies and skateboards hold up Stoney t-shirts for size. A few teenage girls in streetwear linger near the back door, trying to get a glimpse of Malone. Then, just as quick as he came, he's gone, posing for selfies as he makes his way outside through the growing crowd and ducking into the calm quiet of a tinted Escalade.
Like any good star, Malone says he's grateful for his mobbing fans. And why shouldn't he be? In addition to selling out his shows and pop-ups and making him into viral memes, they also stream his music, putting his most recent 21 Savage-assisted single "Rockstar" at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. He's been compared to white guy rap-rockers of decades past like Kid Rock and Everlast, but Malone's sound is far less hard - and traditional - than the acts that came before him. Trap beats, sing-song rapping, features from artists like Migos' Quavo and a heavy use of hip-hop slang belie his singer songwriter melodies with an almost pop country influence. This merging of genres apparently comes naturally to Malone, who like many of his fans grew up with the internet and the music cross-pollination it makes possible. "I still find it easy to write songs and make beats, to come up with melodies and stuff," he tells me.
Though it's sometimes said that there's no such thing as an overnight success, from the outside Malone's career appears to be an exception to the rule. He credits his father, who runs concessions for the Dallas Cowboys, with introducing him to the wide range of musical styles reflected in his own sound. Born Austin Post in Syracuse, New York, the Malone's family moved to the city of Grapevine, Texas when he was nine years old. After playing in a metal band and putting out a mixtape that he's called "pretty shitty" in high school, Malone moved to Los Angeles, adopted the moniker Post Malone ("I just made it up," he told a reporter) and began making music with friends and producers from FKi, an Atlanta production team that's worked with artists including T.I., Iggy Azalea and Tyga.
He hadn't been in LA long when he recorded a song called "White Iverson" and uploaded it to Soundcloud. It took off immediately, racking up millions of streams in a matter of weeks. (As of writing, the track's video, which shows Malone singing and dabbing in the desert next to a Rolls Royce, had over 420 million views). Opportunities began popping up. After performing at Kylie Jenner's birthday party with Fetty Wap, Malone was asked by Kanye West to collaborate. The result was the VMA show-stopper "Fade" off West's Life of Pablo album. Suddenly, a white guy with cornrows, a mouth full of gold fronts and an autotuned voice was working with some of the top names in hip hop. And people were pissed.
"I understand that I kind of came out of nowhere," Malone says as he lights a cigarette in the backseat of the SUV. "There's a lot of people that are upset about that. But I put in a lot of work."
It wasn't just Malone's overnight success that troubled the gatekeepers of hip-hop. It was also the optics of a white guy with braids profiting off an industry built on the black American experience, which is inherently one of resistance from oppression. Even the title of the song – a reference to iconic black NBA player Allen Iverson – drew ire. (Malone would later pose for a photo with Iverson, who reportedly liked the song). Malone's music was also taking off by way of streaming, and not radio - meaning in some ways he was bypassing the gatekeepers altogether.
As he put out more hits, including moody party anthem "Go Flex," the celebratory "Congratulations" featuring Quavo and a collab with his new tour mate and friend Justin Bieber, "Déjà Vu," Malone started making the media rounds. It didn't always go well. An infamously disastrous interview with The Breakfast Club shows Malone looking utterly flustered when asked what he was doing to support Black Lives Matter, and it seemed for a moment that he might not only fail to meet hip-hop's standards of authenticity, but unlike others before him, wouldn't be forgiven for that.
Some time out of the media spotlight has been good for Malone. The issues facing the nation are more gripping than they were when he was being roasted on radio shows in 2015. The cycle has moved on, and it helps that he took out his braids. Malone has a reputation for being good-natured and genuine, and our chat is as natural as catching up with an old friend. After an hour riding through Manhattan to his show in Times Square, it's easy to see why Malone's fans love the goofy dude who recently made headlines for stage diving into a crowd that wasn't ready to catch his six-foot-frame. Video of the moment shows Malone, ever-positive, grinning as he continues to sing from the floor like he hadn't just taken a hit, and at some point a female fan bends down to make out with him. If anyone can dust themselves off after a fall, it's Post.
Read our full chat below:
What can you tell us about the new album?
It's almost done.
I got Savage, Ty Dolla $ign - I put a snippet out with him. There might be some super special curveballs that not a lot of people would've imagined. I think it's gonna be better than Stoney, which is pretty easy 'cause Stoney sucked. I'm just joking. It was mediocre.
What do you feel like was different this time around in the album-making process?
Stoney took forever and I pushed it back a lot of times, just 'cause you know it's growing pains, it's making your first album and not knowing what the hell you're doing. I was also dealing with some legal shit last time, and now I don't have that. Everything is just smooth sailing. I still find it easy to write songs and make beats, to come up with melodies and stuff. So I just think it went way smoother this time and it should be out before the end of the year.
Legal shit as far as like, samples?
No, just stuff that I signed when I was a dumbass little kid. Stupid shit.
What's your songwriting process like?
More or less I write lyrics in my head all the time. I get in the studio and I just bullshit a melody, a bunch of melodies, like a twenty minute long scratch, and then we go and see which lyrics fit in, and then write new lyrics and figure shit out there.
I heard them playing Bob Dylan back at the pop-up shop. Are you a fan?
I'm a big Bob Dylan fan. I have a nice Bob Dylan tat. [lifts his sleeve to show a tattoo of Dylan's face]
Yeah, it's fire. That's my guy. I love him, he's super cool. He's a genius, and I heard that his grandson played my music for him and he liked the music, but he said I need help with lyrics. I don't care, he can say whatever he wants. He's had a long sordid career and life and he's a god and he can say whatever he wants.
He also melded genres in a way that hadn't really been done before.
"Subterranean Homesick Blues" was the first rap song. Everybody was pissed off when he put down the acoustic and picked up the electric, but he just pioneered a lot of different shit. A lot of shit that he doesn't really get credit for, but he's there and kicks ass.
Did you grow up listening to him?
Not really, you have to have very mature taste to appreciate Bob Dylan. My brother would always do the voice but I didn't know who he was talking about until about fourteen, fifteen. Then I started getting more into folk and country and all that stuff. That's when I got really deep into Bobby.
Is there more of that sound on this album?
There's a little bit on it. I played a lot more guitar on this album. I wanted to push boundaries and change the standard of what I guess music is, and it's a genre-less style of music instead of hip hop or folk or anything.
You get a lot of push back on that, but more and more people have been moving toward breaking down genre lines.
Yeah, and it's like how everybody was pissed off when [Dylan] picked up an electric guitar. But you don't want to alienate people so it's important to take baby steps, unless you're trying to piss people off, which is sometimes awesome. But my career is still in its infancy period, so I want to take it easy, and slowly but surely show what I'm about and love and maybe people will feel the same way. I hope that they do.
Do you ever feel censored or held back by criticism like that?
Not really. I don't really give a shit. There's always gonna be people that hate, but there's people that love everything too at the same time. So you've just got to focus on the positive. It doesn't really matter.
How do you stay so positive and where do you think that comes from?
Beer. That's really it. I mean, you can't worry. A lot of people pay a lot of attention to all the hate and the bullshit that goes on, but people are gonna talk shit. They do it for fun now. So, I might meme somebody, I like to meme back and forth with the haters and shit, but I'm never really upset or let it bother me.
Have you always been that way?
No, I used to let it get to me. But now, you know we got an almost two times platinum album so nobody can really tell me shit. I must be doing something okay.
It must get harder and harder to care.
Yeah I mean it's very hard to care, we're turning up to sold out tours, so you know the people still like me.
What's this tour been like compared to opening for Bieber's Purpose Tour? Must be pretty different.
Very different, very different. You never know what you're gonna get with Bieber. There's a whole range of different types of people. You got your parents and your grandparents and your infants and your four-year-olds, but then you got the kids that are actually hip to the music scene and knew the words, which made me super happy.
I was scared I was just gonna come out before and everybody was gonna be like, 'Who's this fucking homeless dude?' But you know it ended up being a good run and it was a lot of fun. There's a lot of people at a Justin Bieber concert, so I kind of got that out of the way early. There's still butterflies, but it's easier.
I heard you're playing guitar on this tour.
I've done a lot of shows where I didn't play any guitar because I was scared of the transition I guess. I just didn't wanna look awkward on stage, but I figured it out to where it feels natural and it just feels like a friend singing at a party or something.
Let's talk about some of the pushback you've gotten about being a white artist in hip hop. How do you feel about that now?
That was towards the beginning of my career. It was tough. Not a lot of people wanted to see me succeed in anything, and a lot of people wanted to shut me down and tried to end things very early. But I think the music speaks for itself. You could be any race as long you're passionate about what you do and you make good music. I think that people are gonna respond to it and I just hope to change some minds. If anybody's still living in the mindset that only one race can make one certain type of music and that another race can only make another, that's a very outdated way of thinking.
As an artist in hip hop, do you feel a responsibility to be able to speak to issues that affect the black community?
There's a lot of bullshit going on with the world nowadays and I think more as opposed to the black community or any community, I think it's just important that we speak on issues because they affect everybody. There's so much bullshit going on that needs to be addressed, and I think we need to come together as people instead of cultures or races of subcultures or anything. I think we just need to be altogether and kick the shit out of the problems that we face.
There's a lot of pressure on artists to speak out about injustice.
And I think that's part of the job. You have a very strong voice as an artist, so I think you could go about it a couple ways. You can either say nothing, or say some things, or say everything, but just as long as something is being said. You have the biggest platform. It's just a whole different scenario whenever you have millions of people looking at you.
Did you understand where people were coming from with their hesitation towards your style and your place in hip hop? Or do you feel like you were being picked on?
Of course I was picked on. I'm still picked on. But I understand, I understand that I kind of came out of nowhere. There's a lot of people that are upset about that. But I put in a lot of work, I'm still putting in work everyday. So I understand, but I think it's an outdated, ignorant way of thinking.
What was it like to have quite literally overnight success with 'White Iverson?'
It was too fast. It was incredible. I don't even understand how, you know, I got where I am and how I did. It doesn't make any sense to me.
Do you feel a little more grounded in this life now?
It took a minute. I'm 22, I'm supposed to be in college. But I've grown up a lot. There's stuff that happened that I learned from and I took it all in stride and we're still here.
Was music something you always wanted to do, did you think you would stick with it?
I always knew that I wanted to do music. Did I ever think that I was gonna do music professionally? No. Never. When I was twelve I started making my own shit and I never dreamed in a million years that I would be where I am today. I don't think anyone does. It's a lot. It's crazy how life works.
Where do you see yourself in thirty years?
Hopefully alive and not dying in the nuclear winter. I would love to be out in either Montana or somewhere with a lot of trees and some snow and a nice big baller ass cabin, shooting guns and riding motorcycles or four wheelers and shit. It's gonna be very chill. I'm gonna eat my own food that I killed.
Would you ever go off the grid?
Yeah, I think I would. I think everything's going to shit. So I mean it's important to do it sooner rather than later, before it's too late.
Yeah it definitely puts pressure on things. Or puts things in perspective.
Yeah, I'm trying to get all the money I can, not so I can stop making music, but so if I needed to I'd be good. This world is fucked in every aspect, but you gotta make it work.
Image via Timothy Saccenti