How Did Post Malone Go From ‘One-Hit Wonder’ To Record-Breaking Sensation?

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Post Malone has the No. 1 song in the country.

Putting those words together may sound crazy to you. Because once upon a time, Post Malone’s popularity felt accidental. He discussed in interviews how it was a love of Guitar Hero and his dad that propelled him to make music and even labeled himself both a “one-hit wonder” and “industry plant.”

When he appeared on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club to promote “White Iverson,” his 2015 breakout hit, Charlamange Tha God grilled him over using the “N-word” in a Vine clip way before “Post Malone” became a thing. That should have been a death blow, but instead, it’s been mostly forgotten. Post Malone has somehow elevated beyond all of the jittery issues that would doom any other artist because he’s likable, talented, and relatable. Those three quantities are the currency in modern day music appeal. At one point in their respective career, every artist wanted to be the dorm room king in regards to music. Post Malone actually grew up and became just that.

Rockstar,” the 21 Savage collaboration that Post Malone released in mid-September recently became the fifth rap song of 2017 to land at No. 1 on Billboard. It replaced “Bodak Yellow,” Cardi B’s anthemic and self-affirming boast of a debut single. Whereas “Bodak Yellow” picks up energy around the time Cardi tells you about getting her teeth fixed, “Rockstar” hums along, steady the whole way. Despite its paint-by-numbers, “fast life and drugs” zeal, Malone’s yearbook-quote-ready hook and 21 Savage make the track worthwhile.

It’s the type of beat that is tailor-made for 21: Knocky, with enough pop to make his declarations sound bigger than usual, as Savage sarcastically mentions his 12-car garage that only has six cars. 21 makes the song snake in a different direction because it feels less like a Post Malone song and more like a rusty, grave 21 Savage take on nihilism. But, frankly, the two together are what make it sound perfect. And despite breaking all kinds of streaming records on Apple Music, the song registers with a particular crowd as it only sits at No. 20 on the Urban Radio charts. It’s the famous rap song that hasn’t caught on with rap radio but is beloved everywhere else. This suits Post Malone just fine.

The fascination with Post Malone, “Rockstar” and hip-hop’s insistence on channeling the “live fast, die young” approach of rock music’s glory years prompts some questions. Is Post Malone an actual rapper with discernible technical skill? Not quite. I’d argue, instead, that he falls more into the camp of singer — like Young Thug (minus the revved-up yip of a voice that tries to create a new sound every time out) — and that’s part of what makes him all the more of a perplexing case study.