Post Malone caused a minor firestorm with his comments that “nobody talks about real sh*t in rap,” and rightfully so; he made his bones in the music business being billed ostensibly as a rap artist with tracks like “White Iverson” and “Congratulations.”
“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,” Post said in a recent interview with Poland outlet NewOnce. “There’s great hip-hop songs where they talk about life and they spit that real sh*t, but right now, there’s not a lot of people talking about real sh*t. Whenever I want to cry, whenever I want to sit down and have a nice cry, I’ll listen to some Bob Dylan.”
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While he’s always blended a singsong style and varied musical genres and influences into his creative output and his live performances, he’s been primarily identified, however inaccurately, as a rapper.
Which is why it’s so disturbing to see him toss away the genre that gave him his purpose and kickstarted his career — but not unexpected. We’ve seen this movie before. It’s happened so many times that the beats have become almost rote to those who have followed hip-hop with even cursory interest.
What is disappointing is seeing just how little regard Post Malone holds for the music that gave him his place, and how little experience he has with hip-hop — as a genre and as a culture. Historically and currently, rap has always talked about “real sh*t,” from interpersonal issues to social justice. If Post Malone doesn’t recognize this he’s only been listening with half an ear.
Rap is seen as a genre with a low barrier to entry and has always fought to be recognized as a legitimate art form, even from its earliest days. The incipient subculture was seen by many as a fad that would eventually burn itself out as its practitioners grew up and got bored. Yet, the early experiments with poetry and rhythm that constituted the genre’s nascent canon only inspired future generations to expand on the skills needed to be considered a “good” rapper. Anyone can rap — not everyone can rap well.
Almost as soon as this second generation of hip-hop loyalists proved that genre could be as lucrative (and considerably more in many cases) than any other, the vultures started circling. Vanilla Ice built a career on being the “white MC Hammer,” at least until it was revealed that Rob Van Winkle had largely fabricated the more narratively appealing aspects of his rap persona. And then, he moved on, first to an attempt at a hardcore rock career, then to a second life as a reality TV star.
Rap for Vanilla Ice was merely a vehicle to stardom and the perceived riches that come with it. No doubt, he enjoyed the music, but it was clear from the inanity of his rhymes and ease with which he discarded skins, trading in one persona for another, that hip-hop wasn’t really in him from the start.
Which brings us to Post Malone, whose affable facade and goofball, good-dude sensibility gave him plenty of leeway to continue performing in a variety of genres while still calling himself a rapper and enjoying the air of down-to-earth cool that came with the label. However, as his comments show, he was merely playing the role in order to enjoy the cultural cachet and probably only really embraced “rap” as a skill because it’s easier than proving guitar virtuoso or belting out stadium-rocking anthems.
Hip-hop gave voice to the voiceless. It is a form of expression for a group of people who have been historically systematically oppressed right up to the current day. As such, it’s ingrained in Black culture, as much as chitterlings on Thanksgiving and strawberry soda on Juneteenth. Yet, it’s still seen primarily by the mainstream as a tool to leverage a perception of Black cool into the window to an untapped but powerful buying demographic. The instant it becomes inconvenient, it’s dropped.
Truthfully, rap is the one genre so inclusive that all one really needs to have a chance to succeed is a halfway decent sense of rhythm and enough charm to convince crowds that the personal narrative underlying the performer’s rhymes are, if not 100% factual, then at least authentic-seeming. Post Malone took advantage of that fact early on because it meant he wouldn’t have to prove any additional musical chops or secure any elaborate musical backing. All he needed were beats and rhymes.
But for him to say that rap doesn’t address real problems ignores a mountain of evidence otherwise and a cavalier attitude toward just what constitutes “real” in the first place. Rappers like Future detail the dark side of depression and addiction, while rappers like Kendrick Lamar dispense revolutionary wisdom and Black solidarity in the face of an oppressive system of government. J. Cole talks about abortion and its effects on all parties involved. Logic just hit the Billboard Top 10 with a suicide prevention anthem, and the rolls of hip-hop luminaries who’ve tackled every issue from domestic violence to the negative effects of poverty on communities to US foreign policy are so long, I could hit the same word count on this essay just listing their names and song titles.
The only way Post can dismiss any of this as not being about real sh*t is if he doesn’t see it as reality or doesn’t think that these problems are real. It’s the exact attitude that Chance The Rapper addresses in the still-unreleased anthem he debuted on The Late Show, “First World Problems.” Chance details the “first world problems that n—-s make up,” reflecting the skepticism of mainstream or “white” America in the face of overwhelming evidence — on video, in first-person narratives, in statistical analyses — that Black people still suffer tremendously at the hands of an indifferent, and sometimes outright malicious government.
To dismiss the “real sh*t” that hip-hop has been addressing for over four decades, from its earliest recordings to its most popular contemporaries just demonstrates Post’s ignorance of the genre he is using to get rich and famous, and while I wouldn’t say it disqualifies him from participating in rap and hip-hop culture, I would say it diminishes his credibility and should prompt some long, hard introspection about what kind of an artist he really is and what kind of artist he wants to be.
If he is unwilling to embrace hip-hop in all that it is, he doesn’t deserve a place in it or the support of rap fans. Nor does any other artist who only sees rap acceptance as a costume or accessory to put on or take off as long as it can be exploited. Hip-hop gave voice to the voiceless; let anyone who only wants to listen to half of what it has to say find their own.