On Post Malone being a "rapper," and why genres still matter to music

Da’Shan Smith

 // Oct 30, 2018

Adam Degross (@adamdegross) // Instagram

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

Last week, music industry source HITS Daily Double interviewed Post Malone and discussed the upcoming Grammy season. Post seems like a guaranteed frontrunner considering his massively successful run with beerbongs & bentleys on streaming, radio, and the Billboard charts. However, rumors have since leaked that the hitmaker would not be submitting his music in R&B or hip hop categories, but instead pop.

When acknowledged on his various styles of music before being asked, “Do [these music genre] categories even mean anything anymore,” Post responded, “I like everything—metal, old country, hip hop, funk and R&B. What I’m not into is boxes. I don’t put people in boxes. There are no genres anymore. If a song makes you feel nice or it makes you feel sad or if it makes you feel anything, what does it really matter what category it is?”

And while there’s an agreeance that today’s music has transformed into a collective mash-up of genres that still manages to make audiences “feel,” we can’t eliminate the construct of categorizing a sound. When DJ Booth originally reported on Post’s HDD interview, their Senior Writer, Donna Claire-Chesman, mentioned previous instances in 2015 and 2017 in which the artist claimed “I’m not a rapper” and even suggested music listeners avoid current hip hop if they want “real shit.” Claire-Chesman also cleverly recalled how Post mentioned a list of genres before completing his answer.

First off, there are a few ways to address the “I’m not a rapper” statement before tackling why genres still exist today (and why that history should never be erased). A few weeks ago, on the sixth episode of REVOLT TV’s State of the Culture (entitled “The State of Disrespect”), the panel discussed Post Malone’s relationship to rap music, as well as genre-labeling within the industry and at award shows. Remy Ma pointed out how race plays into these categorizations—particularly on who owns them and who tries to reject them. Scottie Beam mentioned how artists tend to flip-flop on what they identify as musically and how that can turn into a problem.

There is an element of truth in what both Remy and Scottie argued. Since hip hop’s conception and its dominate takeover of the mainstream, there’s always been a negative stigma attached to “he/she’s a rapper.” There are many ways to interpret “I’m not a rapper,” and the intentions behind the artist saying that. If we’re examining this quote from the context of race, it does act as a dismissal to black culture and one of its proudest artforms. If we’re examining it in regards to an artist’s body of work, the term “rapper” can be limiting for those who do jump around and flow through other genres effortlessly.

There’s also the possibility of examining that quote from a generational perspective. Rap, in itself, is a difficult style of music. First and foremost, rappers should be known as those with lyrical chops, expansive wordplay, flow and delivery. Many millennial artists who deliver hip hop-influenced music that’s not as engaged with lyrical content (but rather, vibes ), such as Post Malone, may feel uncomfortable acknowledging themselves as a “rapper”—a title that used to have much more esteem and clout behind it.

However, what disowning the title of “rapper” can do is diminish the current state and evolution of hip hop. In today’s industry, rappers are no longer focused on just their words in song, but expanding their appeal globally. Rappers of today are not necessarily wordsmiths (there are still a few who respect and deliver on that component of the craft); instead, they have become synonymous with businessmen and women whose priority is to create hits that drive other endeavors. As Joe Budden mentioned in that same State of the Culture discussion, regardless on if Post wants to not be identified as a rapper, due to the way he’s functioning in today’s scene he still will be labelled as one.

As far as music not having genres today, this claim is highly inaccurate. It can’t be ignored that genres have been used as a way to segregate on radio or at award shows. There’s still a major problem with this reality as it defeats the actual purpose of these categorizations. When artists say “there are no genres,” it erases the history that came before them. Sometimes, statements like that can make them seem uninformed about the music they’re creating or the market they’re working in. Part of that has to do with a lack of qualified individuals preserving the history and research of this niche topic in music.

Statements like Post Malone’s are the reason why the REVOLT Master Class column series exists. Thought of as a way to suggest music from black artists have more context than just being hip hop and R&B, the Master Class has brought about other important lessons when documenting the history. Genres exist because they can acknowledge a geographical region’s influence on a sound, programming segments of radio, or the legacy of a songwriting and production duo’s distinct sound which eventually revolutionized an entire decade of music.

My first Master Class was on trap&B. And, ironically enough, Post Malone is the first artist mentioned in that article. Why? At the time of the article’s publication, I had been elated that trap&B was dominating the charts, and that out of all the songs in the summit position, the one aptly-titled “Rockstar” was at the top. That music moment had basically proven a belief that hip hop music is rock music and vice versa. It didn’t matter about race: Post Malone reaching No.1 was a victory for everyone involved in the trap&B scene: the pioneers, its present contemporaries, the fans, and the critics who championed it.

Genres are not meant to place artists in boxes. So it’s understandable when a genre debate does reach that point, where an artist can be frustrated. However, artists should be more proud of recognizing what forms their music take in relation to hip hop (and all its subgenres), rock (and all its subgenres), R&B, or pop—just to name a few.

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