Post Malone, White Privilege & Why We Need to Stop Racial Tourism in Rap
White privilege permeates everything. Whether it’s the music we hear on the radio, the millennial job market, or the artists we give accolades to, our existence is built on the fact that people of color are statistically hindered on account of their race in almost every professional field. We live in a world where this privilege is systemic; ingrained into our livelihoods. So when white artists want to run in a circle that’s been founded and owned by people of color – hip-hop, for example – there are codes, boundaries and alliances they should respect.
Post Malone, the 22-year-old musician who’s currently ruling the Billboard 100 with “rockstar,” is the latest white rapper to discard the vital nature of hip-hop because its power doesn’t apply to him. Speaking to the Polish music outlet NewOnce, Post claimed: “If you’re looking for lyrics, if you’re looking to cry, if you’re looking to think about life, don’t listen to hip-hop. There’s great hip-hop songs where they talk about life and they spit that real shit, but right now, there’s not a lot of people talking about real shit.”
These comments seem to point towards the idea of Post Malone being a racial tourist: an artist fascinated by the aesthetics of rap music, but ignorant towards its worth. To say that modern hip-hop doesn’t carry the same emotional or vital substance that it used to back in the day is to do a monumental disservice to the work of the genre’s true pioneers of both past and present: the ones who use the medium as a way of making sure black voices are still heard and respected in 2017. Where was this guy four years ago, when Kanye dropped his politically-fuelled masterpiece Yeezus? Where was he a mere seven months ago when Kendrick made everyone sit up and listen with DAMN. – a record that tackled the woeful nature of the Trump administration to glorious effect?
This isn’t the first time Post has come under fire for his lax understanding of black history. After his SoundCloud breakout song “White Iverson” grabbed the attention of labels and artists alike practically two years ago now, he was interviewed by the presenters of The Breakfast Club, who were quick to pick up on his race and the way he, in future, might be asked to address it. When he was asked by Charlamagne Tha God about what he was doing for the Black Lives Matter movement – a fair question considering a) Post’s genre of choice and b) his upbringing in the South, where the movement is fervent – Post fumbled, responding that his alliance with the movement would be defined by the fact that he’ll “just keep making music.”
For someone who’s making music that’s at the very least inspired by hip-hop, it could be said that Post is willing to bite from the culture but doesn’t want to be held accountable for the racial and cultural oversights he makes. To avoid the hard questions, he asks to be referred to as an artist rather than a rapper. In a recent Rolling Stone profile, in response to said Breakfast Club interview, Post ignored the opportunity to rectify his disposable comment instead saying that there’s a need to “[push] for equality – in both directions.” Needless to say, those are not remarks one claiming to be a white ally in hip-hop can make.
Take Macklemore, for example: an artist who uses the genre to create affable pop-rap, but is well aware of his whiteness and his responsibilities in that space. At the 2014 Grammys, Mack and Ryan Lewis’ album The Heist infamously beat out the expected winner, Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, as well as a collection of modern day hip-hop icons: Yeezy, Drake and Jay. After the ceremony, amidst a whole load of controversy and backlash from the rap community, Mack revealed he had texted Kendrick explaining how he felt: “You got robbed,” he said in the message. “I wanted you to win. You should have.”
In fact, that sweep of the rap categories by Macklemore was indicative of the race problem that sits of the heart of the Grammys. We’ve seen that in the pop realm too, when Adele’s 25 beat out the revolutionary Lemonade by Beyoncé for Album of the Year. But awards ceremonies are but the tip of the iceberg; back in 2013, Miley Cyrus chose the genre as her escape route from pop music, adopting a sudden passion for twerking and donning grills – much to the public’s somewhat twisted fascination. But just as quick as she slid into the skin of hip-hop culture on Bangerz, so too had she departed it: Miley ‘grew up’, and reverted back to her American roots on her follow-up Younger Now.
Speaking to Billboard earlier this year, she claimed she decided to abandon hip-hop because she was bored of the obscenity of the lyrics. “I can’t listen to that anymore,” she told the magazine. “That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock’ – I am so not that.” Her white girl vision of quintessential rap lyrics is, frankly, embarrassing. Again, she’s an artist who is more than willing to adopt black culture as an aesthetic, but is unwilling to discuss it on an intellectual level. To Miley Cyrus and Post Malone, hip-hop seems like gold teeth, fast cars and girls in booty shorts – nothing more.
Thankfully, if musical legacies were built on the length of time artists spend on top of the Billboard Hot 100, you’d still give a shit about Luis Fonsi. Post Malone’s nine-week reign with “rockstar” might look like the beginning of an illustrious hip-hop career, but beneath the surface-level party music he’s making, there’s barely anything to make worthy of a space in the rap hall of fame.
In short, hip-hop has been a creative safe space for people of color for decades, allowing these artists to form and take ownership of their own cultural pedestal in an industry dominated by the white men who occupy the vast majority of our positions of power. Their voices are valuable, and society benefits greatly from hearing them. Thankfully, 2017 will be remembered as the year that gave us DAMN. and Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy. He might be on top right now, but Post Malone will need to “think about life” with his lyrics if he wants to wind up anything more than a footnote for racial tourism.