At home with the chart-topping rapper as he sounds off on race, guns, his buddy Justin Bieber, and the pleasures of Olive Garden
At home with the chart-topping rapper as he sounds off on race, guns, his buddy Justin Bieber, and the pleasures of Olive Garden
Last night, the new Call of Duty came out, and Post Malone was so stoked about it that he parked himself in front of his Xbox until 6 a.m. Right now it's 4 p.m. and he's back at it. It's a sunny Friday in the affluent L.A. suburb of Tarzana, but the shades are drawn in Malone's den to block the light – his wall-size projecting screen is particularly susceptible, he says, to glare.
Malone is only 22, but he's one of the most popular musicians in the country. His single "Rockstar" has been America's Number One hit for five weeks and counting. The track, which features 21 Savage, celebrates a raw brand of hedonism – "I've been fucking ho's and popping pillies, man/I feel just like a rock star-ar-ar" – that smudges into fatalism. The music is sparse and chilly; the two actual rock stars Malone likens himself to in the lyrics, Bon Scott and Jim Morrison, both died young.
Markers of Malone's success are everywhere in the house. In the living room, platinum plaques commemorating previous releases lay stacked on his white marble floor opposite a pool table with shiny chrome legs. It is the second-most-outrageous thing in sight, after the enormous framed portrait of Malone as a centaur holding an American flag amid a landscape strewn with crushed beer cans.
Malone is sitting on a white leather couch, barefoot in black Italian fashion sweatpants, wearing an oversize T-shirt with food stains on it. He's fresh off a two-month tour he describes as "exhausting, but it's always cool to meet fans." He adds, "On Halloween, they came dressed up like me, which is easy: Just look homeless."
Behind him, in the kitchen, members of Malone's entourage mill about. There's an almost-empty 1.75-liter jug of Grey Goose, and some lavender-scented Spic and Span, on hand because Malone's French bulldog, Branson, keeps "pissing and jizzing" all over the floor. "He's getting his balls cut off next week," Malone says, ruffling Branson's forehead. "You better jizz it up till then, because your days are numbered."
Also on the counter is the November issue of Guns & Ammo, which catches my eye because there's been talk of visiting a gun range later on – something Malone does often. "I love shooting," he says. "The feeling is pure . . . inebriation. It's like hitting a punching bag to let off steam."
Turns out that today he just wants to stay in, "but I can show you what I got here if you want," he says, at which point he leads me to a walk-in closet, which is where I learn that Malone owns a disconcerting amount of weaponry. "This is an M14 – the gun Navy SEALs use," he says, placing a chunky rifle in my hands. He takes it back, hands over a Walther PPK – "James Bond's gun" – with decorative engraving down the barrel. Next up are a .44 Desert Eagle hand cannon and an M1911 pistol, then two gold-plated Glocks – "I'd never actually shoot these." Finally, there's his Cobalt AR-15, an assault rifle, specially modified to pass California regulations, that he's particularly proud of. "Looks like something out of Halo, right?"
He ducks into a bathroom to ash the cigarette he's smoking, then makes for his master bedroom, which he shares with his longtime girlfriend, Ashlen. On the floor beside their bed is a pump-action Mossberg shotgun: "Great for home defense." He reaches behind a pillow, fishes out an FN Five-Seven pistol fitted with a laser sight and – to better disorient any home invaders, he explains – a strobe light. He goes behind another pillow, pulls out a Glock 19. "This is for Ashlen. It's supereasy to use."
I say "holy shit" a lot, and ask several variations on a question: Why does he have all these guns? "They're fun, they're practical, and bad shit happens," he says. "If you hurt me, I'm gonna hurt you back." Has anyone made threats against him? He shakes his head. "Just being in the public eye. I have a lot of valuable shit. I have a lot of friends I wanna protect."
Also: "The world is going to shit. They're taking away a lot of our rights. We have a shitty thing going on in the White House – I don't like Trump. But I don't think it's just him. Something's coming."
"The world is going to shit. They're taking away a lot of our rights."
It is mere weeks after America's worst mass shooting in modern history – a train of thought he anticipates: "A lot of people are sensitive about it these days, but it's an American right to own a gun. It kinda sucks that now we have to live in fear of going out to a concert, but there'll always be bad people, and if bad people want firearms, they'll get 'em no matter what."
I wasn't expecting to debate gun control with Post Malone, but I tell him that, when I learned that the Las Vegas shooter used a so-called "bump stock" to effectively turn his rifle fully automatic, I couldn't understand why anyone would need a weapon like that. Malone contemplates this. "I don't know. ... Get tighter groupings, show off your aim to your buddies at target practice?" He ruminates a bit more, then shrugs and smiles. "I don't know, man. I don't have all the answers – I'm just trying to get my money and get out."
Malone has cultivated a hard-partying image, but there's been a dark streak to his music since his 2015 single "White Iverson," which sounds mournful even though it's ostensibly about chasing success. When I mention this downbeat vibe, he nods. "I've always had a loneliness. I've always been anxious." He taps his skull and chuckles. "Big brain. Lot of thoughts."
Even sitting atop the pop charts, he says, "It's easy to feel numb." Not that he doesn't enjoy himself now and then. When "Rockstar" first went to Number One, he says, he celebrated with a blowout meal with Ashlen at Olive Garden: "I love Olive Garden." He has an extravagant loafer collection, including $1,700 Louboutins with embroidered crests that say "Loubi for ever" in gold. "Those are super-ignorant," he says, beaming.
Out in the driveway, there's a shiny white Rolls-Royce Wraith. "You wanna go for a ride?" He pads outside, still barefoot, turns on the ignition. He presses a button and hundreds of tiny fiber-optic lights in the ceiling flash on, like we're in a mobile planetarium. "I'm giving you the hot-chick treatment," he says of the light show. He bursts down his block and hangs a hard right. "This is not a good message, but this car is a great drunk-driver," he notes. "It's got human detection." He sticks his foot outside the driver's side window, lets the breeze blow through his toes.
He was born Austin Post in Syracuse, New York. When he was nine, his dad got a job managing concessions for the Dallas Cowboys, and they moved to Texas. As a kid, Austin turned a Guitar Hero habit into an actual guitar-playing hobby. His tastes were all over the map. In high school, he made a hip-hop mixtape called Young and After Them Riches, and played "in a metal band and in an indie band." He loves Hank Williams and A$AP Ferg, Biohazard and Father John Misty. His talent is broad: You can find videos of him covering Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" with convincing tenderness, Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name" with convincing ferocity.
Classmates of Malone's once voted him "Most Likely to Become Famous," but this testified less to his popularity than his eccentricity. For an art class, he made a jokey synth-pop track under the pseudonym Leon DeChino, complete with a video in which he danced in booty shorts and a leopard-print head scarf. At one point he saved up $800 from his job at a place called Chicken Express and blew it on a pair of Versace loafers: "I was weird."
At his home, the doorbell rings and Malone's Dallas buddy Jason Probst walks in. A few years ago, Probst became an unlikely online micro-celebrity by streaming video of himself and friends playing Minecraft while cracking jokes. In 2014, Probst moved west, renting a house in Encino with some other Minecraft players, and Malone left Dallas to tag along, "chilling and freeloading," he says, hoping that proximity to the music industry might lead to a big break. "I had to make it work," Malone says. "It was that or Chicken Express."
Within a year, he'd talked his way into free time at a studio, where he met the producer FKi 1st, who liked Malone enough to work on some tracks with him. One was "White Iverson," which Malone put on SoundCloud, where it took off – Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller tweeted endorsements, and Malone soon signed a major-label deal. Six more platinum-certified singles followed. Before long, Kanye West invited Malone to join him and Rick Rubin in the studio, and Justin Bieber picked him as an opening act and sang on his debut, 2016's Stoney.
When I ask Malone about Bieber, he calls him "a fucking awesome, great dude" and "a genuine friend." He adds, "He's gotten super-religious recently. Real culty." He's referring to Hillsong, a megachurch that Bieber belongs to. "It's not culty!" Ashlen interjects. "It's a total cult," Malone continues. "He's already given them, like, $10 million. Those are the worst kinds of people. I used to be super-religious. I believed in God. But now I see through it. It's nice to support something you believe in, I guess, but people are spending so much money, and God doesn't care that your church has a fucking gold roof." I ask if he's shared these thoughts with Bieber. "We don't talk about this stuff," he says. (A source close to Bieber denies that he's given $10 million.)
Malone believes that "genre is stupid," so to him there's no contradiction in making a song with Bieber one moment, 21 Savage the next. But some border crossings are more fraught than others, and as a white man who's become hugely successful in a black art form, he's aware of his status as an outsider. He's had to apologize for an old Vine in which he jokingly used the word "nigga"; more generally, he's had to answer to skeptics. The most prominent such encounter came in 2015, when the radio host Charlamagne tha God took Malone to task, asking him, among other things, what he was doing to support Black Lives Matter. Malone's answer, he admits, was insufficient: "I guess what I can do to help Black Lives Matter is keep making music. ... I don't know," he replied. Looking back, Malone tells me, "I wish I'd said, 'What are you doing for Black Lives Matter?' Some sassy shit to shut him up. Like, maybe my music's not the best, but I know I'm not a bad person, so you're just being a hater."
Malone shakes his head. "He's not a good person. He hates me because I'm white and I'm different. But we're still rocking and we're still successful, and he can't stop it." (Reached for a response, Charlamagne mentions his involvement with various social-justice organizations, and says, "I don't not like people because they're white – I just didn't like him because at the time I thought he was wack," adding that he loves "Rockstar" and encourages Malone to "keep growing, keep winning" and "give back to the black community in some form.")
I tell Malone that, to my ear, Charlamagne was raising the issues, however confrontationally, of white allyship and cultural appropriation. Malone nods but says that, in his view, he's been the target of so-called reverse racism. "People are gonna hate you for what they're not gonna understand you for," he says. He notes that he supports NFL players who kneel during the anthem. "It's all about pushing for equality – in both directions," he says. "Especially with the power of music, we can push past the world's flaws and make it a more beautiful place."
A few hours later, the sun has set, and Malone has switched from Call of Duty to Ghost Recon to the wrestling game WWE2K18. Besides gaming and gun ranges, Malone binges TV shows like Power and Designated Survivor. When I ask if he pays attention to the news, he says, "I'm more into alternate news. Shit not a lot of people read, like conspiracy shit. There's crazy shit that goes on that we can't explain. Chemtrails and shit." I ask if his interest in conspiracies is ironic or real. "It's real," he says. "Like, they have a gun that gives you a heart attack, and they can't tell the difference."
It's after 8 p.m. Probst and some of the other guys announce that they're headed out to see the new Thor. Malone sticks to his couch. He's enjoying the downtime, he says. When he hasn't been touring, he's been working on his second album. It's nearly finished and is set to feature collaborations with Nicki Minaj, Ty Dolla $ign, John Mayer and Tommy Lee. "I'm trying to push the genre," he says.
He has no home studio here, but there will be one, he vows, in his next house: a 13,000-square-foot home in northern Utah that he's about to buy for "like, $3 million." Set on nearly seven acres, it will serve as both a party palace for his homeys – "I'm gonna put in, like, 30 bunk beds" – and a secluded compound for him and Ashlen to hunker down at, playing Xbox together, riding motorbikes, firing off guns that no one else will be able to hear.
"It's free country out there," Malone says. "Like, you can buy suppressors in Utah. You can do open-carry. Walk into the grocery store with a handgun on your hip. Cowboy shit." He grins. "I can't wait."
Update: Carl Lentz of Hillsong NYC responds: I put no stock in comments made by people who know absolutely nothing about the subject they are speaking on. I do not know Post Malone and I have no idea why he would say reckless things about our church, which he has never visited. Justin has not given our church 10 million dollars and we do not have gold ceilings. We do not even own a church building. So that gives you a little insight about how serious you can take his observations about anything to do with us. With that said, I’m still a Post Malone fan; he is a very gifted artist and I wish him nothing but the best.