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It’s easy to imagine where Post Malone would be if he’d stuck to his strained rapper gimmick past that first album. That suit never really fit him and its seams were stressed to the breaking point even before his first hit, “White Iverson,” had run its course. Fortunately for Post, he always had broader ambitions: He wanted to be an honest-to-goodness, dyed-in-the-wool pop star. On his new album, Hollywood’s Bleeding, he finally takes the last step toward becoming one, without leaving behind his hip-hop roots.
To his credit, Post always seemed like he was in on the joke. The cornrows, the gold teeth, his whole thing on “White Iverson,” and later on Stoney, appeared to be poking as much fun at himself as it was the accoutrements of hip-hop. Broken down to their respective elements and freed of cultural context, we can admit that grills, chains, and the fascination with showing off one’s wealth are kind of ridiculous. Bestowed upon this sleepy, sleazy-looking, but generally likable character — who was so clearly from outside the culture, whatever that means these days — just freed us all to point and wonder.
But Post was always more than the gimmick, and by the time “White Iverson” had worn out its welcome, there was “Congratulations,” which featured bonafide rap star Quavo lending his co-sign, there was the versatile and comfortably enjoyable Stoney, and Post was already showing signs of those broader ambitions, whipping out his guitar at shows like a ragamuffin co-ed to perform covers of all the favored mainstays of the archetype, from Bob Dylan to Green Day to Nirvana.
He nearly kicked over the house of cards in 2017 when he seemingly undercut his own schtick by admonishing an interviewer not to listen to hip-hop “if you’re looking for lyrics, if you’re looking to cry, if you’re looking to think about life.” He’d become something of a star by lampshading his outsider status; by whipping of that lampshade and putting the spotlight on it, it seemed he lit the fuse that would detonate his nascent career right before our eyes. Instead, though, he released Beerbongs & Bentleys, proving that even if he wasn’t all the way in on hip-hop, hip-hop was at least invested enough in him to allow him to reach beyond it while keeping one foot firmly planted in the genre.
Hollywood’s Bleeding is the culmination of that effort to extend Post’s musical boundaries. While he continues to craft hip-hop flavored pop hits in the vein of the 21 Savage-featuring “Rockstar” with tracks like “Enemies,” “Die For Me” with Future and Halsey, and “On The Road” with Meek Mill and Lil Baby, he further branches out into straight-up pop with the fizzy “Staring At The Sun,” which sounds as much like a SZA song featuring Post as it does a Post song featuring SZA. There’s also the savvy inclusion of Spider-Verse soundtrack favorite “Sunflower” with Swae Lee to not only help boost those streaming numbers but to also remind listeners that Post’s musical evolution has been ongoing for some time.
The places that his evolution takes him are the truly surprising aspects of the album. On the centerpiece “Take What You Want,” Post doesn’t just dabble in heavy metal; he distills it, then blends it with smoky goth trap, with Ozzy Osbourne and Travis Scott adding to the song’s authenticity. Here, Post performs alchemy instead of chemistry. On previous efforts to combine genres, his attempts felt as algebraic as they were catchy, but on “Take What You Want,” Post conjures harmony from the contrast.
In fact, the only time the album truly stumbles is at the very end, with the inclusion of the lukewarm, more straightforward rap single “Wow.” It’s become clear that Post is at his best when absorbing his musical influences and exuding them through his own, unique point-of-view. When he tries to be a rapper, he comes up short. His straightforward hip-hop stylings work best in short bursts, as on “Internet,” his pointed reflection on the negative receptions his music has received online, even as he proves he hasn’t been making music for capital-C Critics for a long time.
And when he indulges his alt-rock proclivities as he does on “Circles,” it helps that he still has pop at the forefront of his consciousness. Those omnivorous sensibilities are what allow him to synthesize all these conflicting and contrasting styles into a unified sound that for once sounds like Post Malone doing Post Malone rather than Post trying out personas. Hollywood may be bleeding, but Post has finally found the role that suits him; the one that doesn’t require him to do any acting at all.
Hollwood’s Bleeding is out now via Republic Records. Get it here.