When Post Malone first emerged with “White Iverson” in early 2015, the odds were stacked against him having long-term, sustainable success.
He was a goofy kid from Texas who started making music because he loved Guitar Hero. And the only way he made it out to Los Angeles in the first place was by sleeping in a closet at a house rented by his friends who ran a popular Minecraft YouTube channel.
“White Iverson” became an undeniable hit after catching fire on SoundCloud, but many were ready to label him a one-hit-wonder—even Post himself. At the time, the safe bet was that "White Iverson" was a fluke.
Less than three years later, his 4x platinum debut album Stoney has been streamed over a billion times, spending 40+ consecutive weeks in the top 25 of the Billboard album charts, and generating four platinum singles. Building on that momentum, his new single “Rockstar” shattered Apple Music’s one week streaming record, and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
A consistent powerhouse on the charts, Post is currently listed as the second most popular artist in the world based on streaming numbers and digital sales.
So, how did he do it?
“I don't even understand how I got where I am and how I did it,” Post admitted to Paper Magazine in early October. “It doesn't make any sense to me.”
In some ways, his success is proof that major labels still have plenty of star-making power. Signed with Republic Records, he has a team around him that has been able to secure radio promotion, help organize important career moments like an opening slot on Justin Bieber’s 2016 world tour, and set up big name guest features from industry heavyweights like Bieber, Quavo, 2 Chainz, Future, and 21 Savage.
This isn’t a case of a major label finding a pretty face and sculpting them into a pop star who appeals to the lowest common denominator, however. Rocking a mullet and making music that unpredictably jumps from one genre to another, Post doesn't fit the mold of a traditional major label pop star. His career has taken a more organic path than many of his chart-topping peers.
In late September, his song “Fall Apart” unexpectedly jumped into the Billboard charts nearly a year after its release, thanks to a viral video. This wasn’t another label-facilitated #manequinchallenge moment, though. It's a remarkably simple 40-second cell phone clip of Post singing into a microphone on stage. Really, that’s all there is to it.
A gimmick wasn't necessary. Fans connected with Post's raw, emotional delivery and the video has already racked up 200,000+ likes on Twitter and over eight million views on Facebook. A similar clip of Post performing the song at a festival has accumulated an additional seven millions views.
Talk of cultural appropriation has been following him since "White Iverson," and he's an easy target for ridicule.
People think I'm just taking advantage of everything, but I love this shit... I love the music.
Whenever a white artist makes a lot of money making rap-influenced music, it's understandable that their motivations will be questioned—and Post has wisely faced the criticism directly, explaining his motives.
He grew up in a time when hip-hop was on its way to becoming the most popular genre in America and he explains that rap music has always been a love of his—like most kids who came of age in the early 2000s.
"People think I'm just taking advantage of everything, but I love this shit," he recently told Noisey, addressing cultural appropriation concerns. He stressed, "This is the shit that I love. This is what I want to do. I love the music."
Sitting down with Paper Magazine, he added, "If anybody's still living in the mindset that only one race can make one certain type of music and that another race can only make another, that's a very outdated way of thinking."
Post Malone's personal style evolved in unusual directions since introducing himself to the world with gold teeth and braids. Sometimes he looks like a cowboy. Other times he has bangs. Currently, he has a mullet.
Honestly, he might have the least trendy style in all of pop music or rap. But, like the rest of his persona, he's been able to pull it off through confidence and a willingness to poke fun at himself. It's difficult to make fun of someone who has the confidence to post photos like this to his own Instagram page.
By being comfortable in his own skin, Post has avoided making enemies and developed a reputation as a likeable, down-to-earth artist, endearing himself to a HUGE audience.
When a potentially damaging video of a young Post dancing in booty shorts surfaced early in his career, he immediately embraced it and laughed at himself before anyone else could. Since then, he's only become more comfortable with himself—to the point that he's willing to do things like go on a ghost hunting expedition with a popular YouTuber.
Post has been careful about avoiding controversies in general. After a photo surfaced that appeared to show him choking Justin Bieber, he quickly got ahead of it and explained that it was a misunderstanding. Then, the two of them shared a second photo that diffused the whole situation. Later, it became clear that him and Bieber do have a genuine friendship when a candid conversation between the two was caught on camera during a break in a live podcast.
Just this weekend, Lil B went on a bizarre twitter rant, putting down Post as an artist. Instead of getting caught up in a beef, Post told his fans to chill and dismissed the comments, saying that "Lil B don't say no hateful shit." To this, Lil B responded, "Ok now post Malone made me feel like an asshole," and deleted his tweets.
By being comfortable in his own skin, Post has avoided making enemies and developed a valuable reputation as a likeable down-to-earth artist—endearing himself to a huge audience. Even simple exchanges like his back-and-forth Postmates surprises with Rich Chigga turned into viral moments and hinted at his approachable, charming personality. It's getting really difficult to root against this guy.
On paper, Post is an unlikely star. But he's been able to deflect controversies and navigate backlash by being honest and up-front about his intentions. By laughing at himself before anyone else can and addressing concerns before they spiral out of control, he's taken ammunition away from skeptics and managed to stayed ahead of criticism.
In 2017, he finds himself in the enviable position of being an artist whose natural sound is aligning with current trends at the perfect time—and he's done everything he can to avoid distractions. I never would have guessed it the first time I heard "White Iverson," but Post Malone is one of the biggest artists in the world, and it doesn't look like he's going anywhere soon.