“Zack and Codeine”, the fourth track on Post Malone’s much-anticipated sophomore album beerbongs & bentleys, contains the following line: “All these rappers, all sound the same now/Sayin’ I’m to blame, now y’all see me on the TV.” While obviously self-aggrandizing, the statement could be seen as Malone taking a veiled shot at himself, recognizing that his laconic, slurred genre of hip-hop has reached peak saturation, perhaps with this very album. Of everything Malone spouts on beerbongs & bentleys, this is the line that rings the most true – and illustrates exactly why he’s one of the most polarizing, and ultimately frustrating, figures in hip-hop today. Throughout his short career, it’s never been 100 percent clear if Malone is himself in on the joke, and that self-awareness (or lack thereof) inevitably colors the way you perceive his musical output.
“Zack and Codeine” is a reference to The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, the mid-’00s Disney Channel TV show that hits a cultural sweet-spot for Malone’s Gen-Z audience. beerbongs is full of similar nods to questionable moments in pop culture, like the album’s closer “Sugar Wraith”, in which Malone interpolates jock-rockers Sugar Ray’s 1997 hit ”Fly”. These little in-jokes seem more inline with the Post Malone of “White Iverson”, his 2015 breakout hit that introduced us to a white kid with cornrows and a scruffy beard, flexing in front a Mercedes in the desert. There’s a certain level of irony needed to maintain that persona, and beerbongs’ inability to find balance between humor and self-anointed pathos, coupled with its bloated runtime, sees what little there was to find charming about Malone in the first place slipping further into the distance.
Streaming has made album lengths seemingly obsolete – listeners no longer sit by their turntables to experience a finite collection of songs, but rather use albums as playlists, endlessly looping on Spotify or Soundcloud. In this respect, beerbongs is a very contemporary album, as its 18 tracks weave in and out of each other nearly indiscriminately, and it does manage to achieve the woozy, ambient effect that’s reflected constantly both in its psychedelic lyrics and Malone’s own character as a heartbroken, high-as-fuck, relatable burnout.
Unfortunately, this is also what makes beerbongs such a tough and weary listen. Its tracks are so homogenous, so repetitive, that you’re almost given the impression of being trapped in some claustrophobic, M. C. Escher-like landscape of stairwells and hallways, but without any of the tension or excitement that that situation would elicit. When one song ends, another begins – same chords, same tone, same melody, same Autotune – and the cycle begins again, like a slightly nauseating merry-go-round. Judged on their individual merits, certain tracks on beerbongs carry their own weight, but as a whole, it is woefully devoid of any quality that would conceivably merit over an hour of music.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the album is anchored by “rockstar”, Malone’s inescapable smash record from last year, featuring 21 Savage. The track was so ubiquitous it feels a bit strange to hear it in a the context of a new album, even though it was only released last September (still managing to rack up over 300 million YouTube views in that timeframe). “rockstar” holds up; dark and ominous, it uses Malone’s penchant for dank, understated production and almost mantra-like lyrics to convey the trappings of fame and fortune. Not the most original material, sure, but “I’ve been fuckin’ hoes and poppin’ pillies/Man, I feel just like a rockstar,” sounds pretty real when coming from Malone’s smoke-laced grill.
New single “Psycho”, a collaboration with Ty Dolla $ign, also finds Malone’s trademark sound tightened and edited, condensed into a catchy, chilled-out pop song that putters through the middle of beerbongs like kush on a summer breeze. Both tracks support the theory that in fact, Malone is most enjoyable when he is being supported by another rapper: on both “rockstar” and “Psycho”, 21 Savage and Ty Dolla Sign respectively box in Malone’s unhurried flow, bringing much-needed structure to both tracks, breaking up the monotony with a fresh voice and attitude.
Similarly, on “Spoil My Night”, Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd (who have perfected the fun-loving-but-emotionally-compromised bad boy routine that beerbongs strives for) lends his swagger to great effect, and Nicki Minaj effortlessly slays her verse on the otherwise unremarkable “Ball For Me”. The fact that Malone was able to secure all of these high-profile features speaks to his star-power – but when he is constantly and systematically outshined on his own record, it sort of begs the question, is this a sustainable model for lasting popularity?
Without question, with the release of beerbongs & bentleys, Post Malone is sitting pretty on top of the hip-hop game. He has the stats, fans, streams and views to back up his claims to rap superstardom. And if he continues to evolve his sound and utilize the resources he’s made for himself, he may one day put out the iconic ode to modern lovelorn slackers he keeps hinting at. But in the meantime, beerbongs isn’t it – and it’s still unclear if Malone amounts to a flash-in-the-pan, or will one day reveal himself to be an artist who truly has something to say.
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