One of 2015’s most bewitching songs arrived early this year with little fanfare. It didn’t appear on a world-stopping release like Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp a Butterfly. It wasn’t announced with pyrotechnics like the ones accompanying Kanye West‘s “All Day” performance at the 2015 Brit Awards. Instead, a little-known artist named Post Malone put a track called “White Iverson” on SoundCloud in February. Then he stepped away to let the Internet work its magic.
Approximately three months and 2.7 million plays later, Malone took the stage at Manhattan club the Westway for his first show in New York City. He’s done one interview at this point (earlier this week). His SoundCloud page now displays a total of five songs.
This is the new normal: In the last 18 months, swift ascents like Malone’s have become commonplace, though that doesn’t necessarily make them less startling. Malone was the main event at one of Electric Circus’ Players Ball parties, which have hosted New York debuts for other fast-risers like Migos, iLoveMakonnen, and OG Maco. An artist with talent — and plenty of luck, and maybe some prominent supporters — can amass clicks and co-signs; before long, the Internet can create a powerful bubble capable of carrying an unknown quantity all the way to a record deal.
“White Iverson,” the track that vaulted Malone into the public eye, can be loosely linked to group of songs from last year that includes PARTYNEXTDOOR‘s “Persian Rugs,” Erik Hassle‘s “Ready for You,” and Spooky Black‘s “Without You.” Though these songs exist at the intersection of hip-hop and R&B, there’s a warped lineage here that reaches back to cool vocal jazz from the late ’50s and early ’60s. The defining characteristics: pronounced moodiness, a drifting sensation suggesting pleasure and ease, but also a longing, melancholy tone.
There’s fierceness to this music too, in “White Iverson” especially. “I’m swaggin'” is the triumphant phrase that forms the basis for the track’s hook; the flurries of trap percussion and warm surges of bass encourage movement. And there’s humor, an underrated element in pop which sets Malone apart from some of his contemporaries. “White Iverson” is filled with amusing references to the career of former NBA player Allen Iverson, a star who never won the championship he coveted.
What does Iverson think of the song? In his lone interview, Malone said his hooping idol hasn’t acknowledged the track (yet). But Iverson surely would have appreciated the show at the Westway. The venue used to be a strip club, and the stage is an island in the middle of the crowd — just like the court at an NBA game, except oval-shaped and miniature-sized. That worked well for an event like this: a young artist experiencing success for the first time gets to perform surrounded by a protective blanket of adoring fans.
Malone played all his songs — and “White Iverson” twice — but the music was almost a secondary concern: the point was to see the Internet sensation, to feel that energy, and maybe to capture a little bit of it. Happily ensconced on his island, Malone swigged beer, danced, smoked cigarettes, changed the angle of his hat, and grinned a lot.
Before playing “Too Young” — a song contemplating hedonism and death, which he dedicated to the recently-deceased A$AP Yams — Malone had a question for the crowd: “Y’all been f—ing with the new shit?” The question was clearly rhetorical — the audience had answered in the affirmative just by showing up — but everyone cheered anyway.