Post Malone: post-racial or problematic?

From Kid Rock to Bubba Sparxxx: why white rappers walk the thin line between friend and fraud

The white rapper narrative within hip-hop is a clunky one at best, leaving room for ambiguity with someone like Post Malone. Dubbed “the most streamed artist in the world”, the Texas-raised Malone is currently at No 1 in both the US and the UK with Rockstar. His success begs the question of where Malone’s race fits into his success story: his sound is an amalgam – southern trap meets classic rock – a theoretical black-meets-white hybrid that has allowed him to surpass the latest iteration of black rappers with a similar musical slant (Uzi Vert, XXXTentacion), often dismissed for not being true to hip-hop.

So how problematic is Post Malone? “He’s really no different than white rappers – or white musicians in general – who have preceded him,” says writer and pop culture expert Sowmya Krishnamurthy. “As a white male artist, the rules are very different insofar as behaviour on and off-wax.” In 2015, Malone publicly apologised after a video surfaced of him using the N-word. “There’s definitely more leeway in making mistakes or being ‘problematic’,” Krishnamurthy adds.

From the moment Vanilla Ice chanted “Ice Ice Baby” in 1990, the line between friend or fraud with white rappers has been paper thin. However, in a post-racial world, the microscope has zoomed in. Previously, artists such as Bubba Sparxxx and Kid Rock were deemed rap allies through their humble rural beginnings, portrayed as disenfranchised to draw parallels to impoverished black communities. Now, that fun-loving twang is connected to Trump supporters, Kid Rock included (“I’m digging Trump” he told Rolling Stone in 2016). Eminem drove that point home with his recent anti-Trump freestyle, The Storm, punctuating his rhymes with a thick country accent.

“In a time of racial tension in our country, white rappers who speak out are commended because they speak directly to white America on injustices that don’t affect them,” Krishnamurthy explains. Malone hasn’t yet used his platform for racial change, but profits from the music. An extra factor is that Malone’s identifiers are more blatantly appropriated, both aesthetically and linguistically (using Jamaican slang like “shottas” on Rockstar).

Perhaps Post Malone is simply doing what many white artists have done for years: taking on the attributes of black music with none of the burden. Vulture called it “Auto-Tune discoloration” before that, the palatable phrase was “blue-eyed soul”. It’s an all too familiar tune.

Kathy Iandoli

The GuardianTramp

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