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POST MALONE: A Case Study in Breakthrough and Reinvention.

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Fact: Post Malone holds the record for the most diamond-certified songs (above Bruno Mars, Drake, Weeknd, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, etc.). He now has eight to his name: Congratulations, Rockstar, Sunflower, White Iverson, Psycho, Better Now, I Fall Apart and Circles.

There’s a famous saying about individuality: “Be yourself… everyone else is already taken”. You can be sure there was no pre-existing template for a Freddie Mercury or a Lady Gaga. No record industry A&R ’dialled up’ an Eminem. No one imagined in advance, or reserved a star on the walk of fame, for a Jimi Hendrix or a Pink. They all created their musical identity, their unique space and then indelibly made it their own in the public’s affections.

It would be hard to find a more vivid, current example of that than Post Malone, that crazy guy with the tattoos across his face and cornrows and/or cowboy hat, who pushes songwriting to the limit with the help of his smoke-damaged vocals. His image is a messy mixture of bad taste and excess. One of his fans put it so well: “Its crazy how Post Malone can look homeless and rich at the same time”. His transformation from Dallas teenager with a rock guitar style that failed to impress local bands, to global superstar is a case study in making it.

But first, the breaking news… ‘Posty’ has just dropped the brand new third single from his upcoming album ‘Austin’, and it may surprise people who know him from his rap and hip-hop hits, but it’s a straight-ahead indie rock ballad called ‘Overdrive’ and you can check it out here:

It’s Bob’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door via Guns n Roses, Chemical Romance, Foreigner, ELO and yeah, Nickelback, with Post crashing round a vintage bachelor pad like some reincarnation of the great Joe Cocker, ripping his throat and heart out at the same time with those gritty vocal lines. What’s going on here? Isn’t this the guy who brought us hip-hop smashes like ‘Sunflower’ with Swae Lee, which sold a record 18x Platinum and featured in ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse’:

For the answer, let’s roll Post Malone’s biopic back to the day he quit Dallas for LA, along with a close local buddy, having been voted ‘most likely to succeed’ by his classmates. Post left with his innate love of rock, plus the dance and hip-hop influences he had picked up from his part-time DJ father and music fan stepmother.

Once in LA, he started networking and formed alliances with hip-hop producers. Born Austin Richard Post, he found the name Malone on an online "rap name generator" (same place where Childish Gambino found his).

Soon he had created a song called White Iverson, a tribute to black NBA basketball player Allen Iverson. Post Malone’s auto-tuned sing-rap style is akin to songs like Fetty Wap’s ‘Trap Queen’, with influences like T-Pain’s ‘Buy You A Drank’. The production speaks to a Trap-House inclination, while sustaining the laid back, minimal sound common to Drake tracks like ‘Know Yourself’.

‘White Iverson’ was uploaded to SoundCloud in 2015 and started picking up listens. It became Post Malone’s definitive breakthrough song. The single received praise from Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa, and hit a million streams. At that point, Republic Records signed Post up, and his career really got underway, with White Iverson alone being certified 5x Platinum. What the track proved was that Post Malone had an extraordinary talent for improvising, not only lyrical flow, but beautiful and memorable melodies. That pure talent is at the core of all his success. He once said in an interview that he has ad-libbed over hundreds of beats and he and his team pick out the most striking for the finishing process. Take the number one ‘Psycho’ with its Damon Runyon-style slang lyric:

Btw, the rattling sound on the high notes sounds like the autotune’s working overtime, but Post makes a very similar sound live and it seems to be a distinctive characteristic of his voice. Above all, it’s the nursery rhyme melody that makes the track irresistible and however you dress it up… throw a tank into the video, add some more tattoos, cowboy hats, whatever, the tunes are always there.

What lessons can be drawn from this stellar career? Always surround yourself with good people has to be the number one tip. From when Post first met record producers FKi 1st and Sauce Lord Rich early on in LA, as well as Rex Kudo, who helped produce White Iverson, through meeting Kanye West while performing at a Kardashian wedding, and then his duets with Justin Bieber, Doja Cat, Nicki Minaj, the Weeknd, Young Thug and DaBaby, Post has freely shared his talents. And his production and song credits show constant collaboration.

Most importantly of all, he has expanded his reach beyond that first SoundCloud breakthrough by constant reinvention and innovation, even including rock legend Ozzy Osbourne on his remarkable musical journey:

Malone has gained acclaim for blending genres and subgenres of hip-hop, rap, R&B, trap and now rock. He declares himself free of categorisation, and has gained way more fans than many who feel locked in a particular style. He strikes an eccentric figure and has experimented with his presentational skills. But all the way through, there’s his flair for melody and timing, which once again brings all artists and songwriters back to the central demands of our craft:

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