When Post Malone dropped Rockstar back in September, I never really considered that it might become an unstoppable UK chart topper. Unlike some of the other columnists to have reviewed this track, I actually quite enjoy it. Sure, it’s not exactly a veritable bar fest in hip-hop terms, nor does it inspire any great energy or feeling like some of my favourite rap songs of the past few years. But, to my ears, it’s solid, and it’s had pride of place in my house party and pre-drinks playlist since before it even made a mark on the national public consciousness.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit bemused by just why and how this particular track by the Texan pseudo-rapper has become his British crossover hit. Surely some of the cuts from his debut album Stoney would have made better earworms? His track Congratulations with Quavo is, in my mind, far superior, far more melodic, and with far more pop appeal. It reached the number 8 position on the US Billboard Hot 100, but couldn’t even break the top 20 on the UK charts. In fact, I’ve long since felt that British listeners have turned a bit of a blind eye to the happenings of mainstream American rap music. Post’s companion on Rockstar, 21 Savage, is essentially still an unknown name over here, but in the States he was not so long ago topping the Spotify most played list with his own track Bank Account. Even Kendrick Lamar, a contender for the most popular and critically acclaimed rapper in the USA right now, could only make it to the number 2 spot with his album DAMN here in Britain, while in his motherland it has been tearing up sales figures for most of the year. The statistics seem to point towards hip hop still playing second fiddle to pop and dance music in the UK, so just how is it that Post Malone – not exactly a household name until recently – has managed to pull off chart domination with a song that is so very American?
The answer could well be in the song itself. Post Malone would have us believe that he is part of a new generation of rockstars that are ready and willing to become the most famous artists in the entire world. These new rappers, emerging out of Soundcloud and derogatively referred to as “mumble rap”, produce a style of music that, while bearing no real resemblance to “rock”, claims to be inspired by its mood and attitude. Post Malone grew up on a diet of heavy metal, while someone like Lil Uzi Vert points to Paramore’s Hayley Williams as his foremost musical influence. This is a marked contrast to rappers of days gone by, who probably would have been mocked on the public stage if they came out admitting that pop punk played a major role in their life. But this is the 21st century era of the internet, streaming and playlists. And so it’s hardly surprising to see that the next generation of hip hop stars are less insular and more influenced by a wider range of genres than those rappers who grew up in the analogue era.
For young Posty, as his fans affectionately refer to him, Rockstar’s success is likely an element of being in the right place at the right time. It’s obvious that the track was crafted primarily to shift units rather than to redefine the art form. But Post Malone has had a lot to prove, with his rapid rise to fame over the past couple of years leading many to label him a “poser”, a “culture vulture”, or worse, a “one hit wonder”. Another smash hit, this time reaching the top of charts across the entire world, was exactly what he needed to prove that he is here to stay. Although I would say that, even as an admirer of Post, Rockstar is very far from being one of his best tracks, it is at least a promising cut from his mysterious sophomore album. And if this new wave of success provides him with the freedom to create more adventurous, genre-bending music akin to what we saw on his first full-length project, then I would say that it’s a job very well done.