Album Review: Post Malone—“Stoney”

By Emma Kelly, Feature Photo via Bluntiq

Riding on the December release of Post Malone’s long-awaited debut studio album, Stoney, was one pertinent question: did he have the musical chops to rise above his novelty status as the millennial equivalent of Vanilla Ice (or, unkinder still, a less self-aware Redfoo from LMFAO) and actually make a serious name for himself as a rapper?

The answer is a resounding “eh, kind of.”

Stoney contains some pretty solid bops in its bloated, sixty-eight-minute entirety. Songs I would put on when I’m studying and I need something upbeat but mellow in the background, like a sonic dose of Prozac. The prestigious lineup of producers involved in the making of this album pretty much ensure that it is, at bare minimum, listenable. Malone enlists some of the most accomplished hit-makers in hip hop: Frank Dukes, who won a Grammy for producing Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, Vinylz, a Grammy nominee who regularly collaborates with Drake, Nicki Minaj, and Jay-Z, Metro Boomin, the executive producer for Future’s Purple Reign and winner of BET’s Hip Hop Award for Best Producer of the Year, as well as Pharrell “Inoffensive Jam Master” Williams himself.

The album is strongest near the beginning. “Big Lie,” which boasts a dynamic, rolling beat crafted by DJ Mustard, recreates the same hazy pleasure of Malone’s breakthrough single, “White Iverson.” Next up is “Déjà vu” featuring Justin Bieber. The hook starts out as an almost blatant imitation of “Hotline Bling” – a sound I have identified as “The 8-Bit Caribbean Cruise Ship Robot Samba” – but swerves into pop territory as Bieber and Malone croon with as much charm as they can muster. It worked, I was charmed.

Furthermore, “Congratulations,” with guest Quavo, was the song that inspired this very belated review and my interest in covering Malone. My sister played it for me during reading week and it has been playing on repeat in my head for roughly 336 hours. It’s so catchy. Like, insanely catchy. With its perfectly placed digital snares, lackadaisical to-and-fro rhyme scheme, and dreamy backing synths, it’s basically engineered to lull the listener into a sense of complacency. Yes, this is your standard started-from-the-bottom anthem. But at no point does the song ever take itself too seriously and the result is a sunny club staple.

 

 

Buried in the middle are the weakest of Malone’s offerings: “I Fall Apart” and “Go Flex.” On these, he deploys that special blend of foot-stomping and “oooh OOOh ooooh” choruses pioneered by the Lumineers and their suspender-adorned ilk, with a cloud rap twist. It goes just as well as you’d expect.

Malone relies heavily on vague rap clichés to get him through track after track. Lean, weed, pills, hoes possessing varying degrees of loyalty, and gold chains are all thematic recurrences. Damningly, Malone has no new observations on these topics. Take away the lush enhancement of the studio, and you’re left with some pretty uninspired songwriting. It forces the disappointing realization that Stoney is based more on gimmick than authenticity.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, an executive at Malone’s label, Republic Records, described him as “the Donald Trump of hip-hop.” If that phrase didn’t already make you want to shove your face in a wood chipper, it was meant in praise of his success in the face of adversity. That adversity? Being a white kid from a suburb in Texas who also happened to like rap music (although these days Malone describes his sound as “trap folk” – another cause for the face-in-wood-chipper-scenario).  Public opinion remains staunchly divided regarding whether Malone is an industry outsider, finding success despite his atypical racial and socioeconomic status, or an industry plant, groomed to increase the marketability of a previously marginalized genre to tweens with rich parents (think Justin Timberlake and R&B).

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Stoney album cover

Whether you believe Malone, who is only 21, benefitted from inherent privilege or not, the rapid upward trajectory of his career path is nothing short of an astonishment to witness. In the same year, he secured a platinum single, a gig touring with Bieber, and a verse on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo.

There is nothing wrong with Stoney itself. The main problem arises when it is put in context with the other hip hop albums released by large labels during the same time. Consider that Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, Rhianna’s Anti, A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here … Thank You 4 Your Service, Beyonce’s Lemonade, Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, and Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love! all came out in 2016 alongside Stoney. Hip hop has as a genre has always been defined by innovation, an abundance of unique and compelling narratives, and political relevance. The lack of these qualities in Malone’s work is what hinders him as an artist in this medium, not his skin color or his place of origin. By the looks of it, he’s managing just fine. Republic Records

 

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