Sandwiched at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 this week (on the chart to be dated Oct. 7) — between one of the biggest feel-good stories in pop and hip-hop this year in Cardi B (whose “Bodak Yellow [Money Moves]” hits No. 1) and one of the biggest artists in recent Top 40 history in Taylor Swift — appears a name that few pop-watchers could have expected to see in that region a couple weeks ago: Post Malone, debuting at No. 2 with the 21 Savage-assisted “Rockstar.”
Not that the man born Austin Richard Post has really been a stranger to the Hot 100’s upper echelon. His breakthrough single, 2015’s “White Iverson,” peaked at No. 14 in early 2016, though its success was potentially written off as a novelty hit — a sung-rapped hip-hop hybrid with a gimmicky title and an enigmatic, how-serious-is-he-really artist behind it. But that song’s success was bested by last year’s even slower-burning “Congratulations,” featuring Quavo, which climbed all the way to No. 8 this July, hitting its peak in its 26th week on the chart.
Two may be a fluke, but three is unquestionably a trend. Post Malone’s No. 2 debut with “Rockstar” — one of just four songs so far this year to debut in the chart’s top two, following Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.,” and DJ Khaled’s star-studded “I’m the One” — establishes Post as a legitimate commercial force, one as impactful as any rising star in hip-hop right now. The song’s top-tier chart bow also puts him in a class with Kendrick, Drake and The Weeknd as the only core hip-hop artists to notch multiple top 10 hits on the Hot 100 as a lead artist this year.
Of course, those artists have had sustained success — on the albums side of the charts as well as with songs — that Post has yet to achieve. But even on the Billboard 200 albums chart, the singer/rapper is already showing some impressive longevity: Stoney, the artist’s 2016 official debut LP, has been on the chart for 41 weeks since its late December debut, and just this week jumped back into the chart’s top 10, thanks in part to the buzz around “Rockstar.” The album has earned 1.5 million equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music, and of that sum, just 107,000 is in traditional album sales. Most of the album’s unit total has been generated by streaming — the set’s tracks have spurred 1.67 billion on-demand audio streams. Four of the album’s songs have earned more than 100 million on-demand audio streams: “Congratulations,” featuring Quavo (421 million), “White Iverson” (339 million), “Go Flex” (166 million) and “Deja Vu,” featuring Justin Bieber (125 million).
With streaming now firmly established as the primary gravitational force of the music industry, Post Malone appears poised to stay at his new commercial level for some time to come. He’s a major player on Spotify, where “Congratulations” has racked up more than 400 million plays, and where “Rockstar” is currently the No. 1 song on the service’s United States Top 50 chart, with a nearly 2:1 lead in daily plays over the No. 2 song, Logic’s “1-800-273-8255,” featuring Khalid and Alessia Cara. The YouTube numbers are similarly impressive — over 400 million plays for both “Congratulations” and “White Iverson” — and over at Apple Music, “Rockstar” shattered the single-week streaming record. (As previously reported, “Rockstar” launches at No. 1 on Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart, with 46.4 million overall U.S. clicks.)
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And it’s not just streaming Post is dominating now: “Rockstar” tops Billboard‘s Digital Song Sales chart in its first week, with 80,000 downloads sold. (His previous best was a No. 10 peak on the chart with “Congratulations.”) Radio has been a little slower to come around to the viral artist — on the airplay-based Radio Songs chart, Post’s best showing to date has been at No. 24 with “White Iverson” — but “Rockstar” seems poised to make waves there, too, with 5 million in first-week all-format audio impressions.
How is he doing it? Well, it helps that he’s come along in a moment where mainstream rap is both less bars-based than it has been in possibly the genre’s entire history, and more amenable to rock influences than it’s been since Rick Rubin’s late-’80s peak. (Post’s atmospheric hip-hop-n-B bears frequently carries an indie undercurrent, and he’s covered both Bob Dylan and Nirvana and cited Fleet Foxes as an all-time favorite band.) His stylistic goofiness and apparent lack of self-seriousness — evidenced by last weekend’s unsuccessful stage dive in St. Louis, which he rolled with by rapping from the floor and laughing at himself on Twitter afterwards — also makes him a natural contemporary fit alongside freewheeling hip-hop iconoclasts like D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty.
Which isn’t to say that the success of “Rockstar” is to Post Malone’s credit alone. A blistering guest verse from the similarly ascendant 21 Savage, himself a streaming hip-hop dynamo getting increasingly familiar with the Hot 100’s upper ranks (thanks to the No. 12-peaking “Bank Account”), no doubt plays a large part, as did the cameo from a red-hot Quavo of Migos on “Congratulations.” But write off Post’s central role in these successes at your own peril: He’s racking ’em up like few others in the game right now, and his consistently upward career trajectory would suggest he may not have even hit his apex yet.