It takes less than 30 seconds for Post Malone to bring up the cops on his new album, Beerbongs & Bentleys. “In the whip I pray to God I don’t see flashing lights,” he sings on album opener “Paranoid,” “God damn they’re right behind me.” It’s a bold move for a white artist whose career has been examined since its inception for indicators of appropriation. It’s unclear what he expects to happen when he gets pulled over, but it’s unlikely that he’s rapping about a fear of being killed.
For Post, an artist who is steadfastly unapologetic about his entry into black music, this could be an expert-level piece of baiting. As a white rapper, bringing up one of the fundamental fears of life as a black American as your opening salvo seems significant—it reads on paper as a barbed piece of trolling, a deft insult packaged to be put into the mouths of white teens across the country.
Post’s publicly expressed beliefs bear that reading out, to some extent. He’s pushed back on the idea that he’s a rapper since his arrival on the scene with 2015’s “White Iverson,” preferring you call him pretty much anything else. (A quick note: Post Malone is a rapper). He doesn't think rap is particularly capable of expressing serious emotions. He’s said the N-word on camera. He’s purportedly apolitical—“Politicians and the lies/What’s the point in picking sides?” is another line from the album—but loves to cross the DMZ between conservatives and liberals and has a fondness for dog whistles. He loves guns in a Second Amendment-y way; he talked to Genius about “our right to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government.”
“Paranoid,” the song that opens with the cop line, is concerned with a vague home invader that Post will kill with one of the guns he keeps in or around his bed. He’s obsessed with a coming apocalypse, and in interviews has talked about his prepper plans, describing his approach as “putting the ‘fun’ in functional.” He took that belief to its logical endpoint by driving a tank through Las Vegas in the wake of the worst mass shooting in American history.
It seems like he’s fucking with us with that cop line, but he’s not. There’s nothing there. It’s just a regurgitated cliché.
Throughout the album, Post relies on lines like this one. They’re immediately recognizable to anyone who’s listened to the radio before, just a jumble of platitudes about money, the trouble that comes with money, easy sex, lost loves. Every line sounds like one you've heard before, including ones about the cops. The album is so nakedly vacant the idea that Post would even have the forethought to pull off something winking is laughable.
The thing is, though, is Beerbongs and Bentleys is a great listen, despite the void at its center. Post Malone may have the self-awareness of the recently concussed, but he’s a melodic savant with a chameleon's eye for the reigning trends in pop music. Nearly every song has a hook that grips, at least one idea that's compelling. "Rockstar" wasn't a hit by accident, and Post makes it clear that he can currently reproduce it (to some extent), seemingly at will. Beerbongs & Bentleys is a long, as most releases attempting to game the peculiarities of the streaming economy are, and very nearly every song on this record is exceedingly listenable—that is, if you don't tire of Post Malone, your narrator, in the course of an hour.
“Rich and Sad,” even with a title that veers towards the self-parodic, is a legitimate jam. It’s not about anything—he wishes all his money would go away in this song, then boasts about being a multi-millionaire in the one that follows it—but it is fun, the quality Post seems to prize above all others. It’s immediately clear why he’s so popular, it's a compelling soundtrack for the drunk and incurious. Post is not alone—there's plenty of music that's not about anything in particular—but few make music as bluntly effective as this.
The album drags as it goes on, if only because there are so many ways to express melancholy and self-pity for the extreme good fortune your life has yielded. Songs like “Over Now” are apocalyptic, swinging with all its might to express titanic emotions and achieve the pathos of something to party to that feels deep. Of course, under any scrutiny, it’s revealed to be substanceless, a simulacra of sadness, but that’s besides the point for Post.
The formula, or whatever kind of alchemy Post is deploying on this album, is working. Streaming has begun to render chart-topping feats irrelevant—a new record is broken seemingly every week—but what Post has done in the past week has been impressive none the less. All 18 songs on beerbongs & bentleys are currently charting on Billboard's Hot 100. 9 of them are in the top 20, besting a record previously held by The Beatles. The album was streamed over 431 million times last week, another new record. It's reasonable to argue that Post is, commercially speaking, currently the second most popular rapper in the world after Drake.
The most troubling thing about Post's outsized popularity isn't that it's happening, or that it's a surprise—the album is supremely catchy, after all. It's that outlets like The Drudge Report—not a place typically engaged in covering the Billboard charts—are celebrating Post's success. He is striking a chord with a politicized audience without saying anything outwardly political. That's as successful a marker as any that we're witnessing something that's bigger than "the man writes a hummable tune," and it helps, for the people that want to tell you to just enjoy the damn songs, that the songs are enjoyable.
The thoughtlessness on display here, and in Post Malone's career writ large, is central to his appeal. Don’t think too hard has always been an attractive stance, and Post takes it a step further, arguing for ignorance as an inalienable right. It’s clear, in his interviews, that he’s never reckoned with why he’s so popular, discounting the impact race may have played in his rise. A direct predecessor (in cultural imagination, not stylistically) is Eminem, but Em was always respectful to the point of deference to his stylistic forebears, taking pains to earn his place. Post, on the other hand, is by turns indignant and dismissive when confronted with his participation in black culture. Everyone wants to be black, and Post refuses to apologize for it. It's working out for him.