Last Sunday, Billboard made it official. Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys reached No. 1 on the U. S. album chart with a record-high first-week streaming total, scoring another victory for hip-hop (the genre is already responsible for eight of 2018’s chart-topping titles only four-and-a-half months into the year). Post Malone is expected to remain at the top again next week as well.
What’s more, the tracks from beerbongs make up nine of the top twenty and 14 of the top 40 songs on the Hot 100 singles chart, both of which are new high marks. The top-20 milestone eclipses the previous high of six established by the Beatles in 1964 and tied by rapper J Cole just last week (whose songs from KOD are all displaced from the top 40 this week).
He also has six of the top ten songs on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart – also a record – all from the new album.
But, aside from all these recent victories, beerbongs reignites a longstanding debate, one that’s been simmering in the hip-hop community for a while now, and one which Malone’s album – owner of 2018’s highest one-week consumption numbers yet – may have finally settled once and for all.
Ever since trap music – the much criticized, often depression-inducing, southern-rooted hip-hop hybrid (not the EDM-based variety) – began dominating the scene years ago and, by extension, with hip-hop’s recent takeover of the music world in general, rap heads have waxed heavily on a question about the genre that has some of hip-hop’s most avid fans and experts (and even its haters) weighing in with polar-opposite views.
The issue they’re debating is whether trap music is considered rap or even a form of the 40-year-old genre. Or should it stand alone as its own category, never to be confused with rap, let alone as being a part of it?
Interestingly, some music experts – mostly old-heads – at first automatically lumped trap and rap music together under hip-hop’s umbrella. This initial pairing was understandable since trap music evolved from rap around the turn of the 21st century and, arguably, without rap, there’d be no trap (rhyme not intended).
But some listeners more astutely viewed this tethering of rap and trap as convenient and simple, one that didn’t account for the subtle (and even not-so-subtle) differences between the two hip-hop music forms.
And now one of trap’s hottest new ambassadors, the 22-year-old “rapper” Post Malone, has unwittingly cast a vote for trap as a stand-alone with his latest release that just might end the trap vs trap-as-a-part-of-rap debate for good.
One listen to beerbongs & bentleys and you’ll likely be convinced that trap and rap are indeed distinct forms of hip-hop, neither one belonging to or being a form of the other.
To be clear, Post Malone has made no bones about being a trap artist. It’s about as close to rapping as he will likely ever come, given his professed reluctance as a rapper (he even croons a ballad or two on this album). In fact there’s hardly any rap to be found on beerbongs & bentleys, except by maybe a guest artist or two (and even they come closer to singing than rapping). Nearly all of Malone’s parts are sung (with a large technological assist from auto tune, of course).
Lyrically, the album lands squarely in trap territory as well, with very little deviation, especially in the uptempo tracks. They’re mostly about popping pills, passing p**sy, driving expensive cars and negotiating the paranoia that comes with instant fame and fortune (and from popping those pills).
Sure, many traditional rappers have tread that ground as well, but never to the level of exclusion of other relevant topics that trap music has. In other words, don’t expect a trap artist to wax eloquently about social ills or politics, lest it wouldn’t be trap. (Of course, I’d ask readers to prove me wrong and I’ll rescind this comment.)
There’s also a bit of symbolism in the fact that Malone’s album displaces one of today’s most respected rappers J Cole from the top of the chart (and wipes out his streaming record) just one week after the latter’s KOD release. Cole has made no bones about where he stands with trap music and some of its main players. Although he doesn’t target Malone specifically, he clearly mocks the genre and its younger generation of artists with KOD.
Another irony in all of this is that hip-hop fans on either side of the debate about the legitimacy of trap as a viable music genre often arrive at the same conclusion but via opposing paths.
That is, many of trap’s supporters and its haters alike have separated trap from rap, but for different reasons. Trappers feel like their music has evolved into its own genre, one that has abandoned older antiquated rap styles in favor of heavy 808 kick drums, crazily sub-divided hi-hats, altered vocals and the ever-ominous tone of its music and lyrics.
On the other hand, old-school rap or hip-hop enthusiasts agree with this separation, except they contend that trap music, particularly with its drug-slinging origins and narrowly focused lyrical themes, isn’t worthy of being lumped in with the 40-year-old, traditional rap genre that covers more ground both lyrically and musically (and has generated many legendary icons in the process).
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of trap vs. rap or trap vs. trap-as-part-of-rap, Post Malone makes it clear that it is trap music, not rap, topping the Billboard charts this week (and next).
So should rap and trap be considered completely separate genres?
Or maybe it doesn’t even matter, because in the scheme of things, it’s all still hip-hop, good or bad, rap or trap.
Here’s a Spotify link to beerbongs & bentleys. If you haven’t given up on rap or trap altogether by now, give it a listen and tell us your verdict.