The world was introduced to the singer, songwriter, rapper, and record producer known as Post Malone by his 2015 single “White Iverson.” Listeners streamed the song about a million times in the month after he independently put it up on SoundCloud, which immediately drew the attention of major record labels. Post Malone (real name Austin Richard Post) then signed with New York’s Republic Records and released his first album, the appropriately titled Stoney.
But “White Iverson” wasn’t just Post’s debut single; it went on to become an unlikely worldwide hit. Barely two and half years after its release, the song has been streamed more than 550 million times on YouTube alone. And that wasn’t all: He promptly released the smash-hit follow-up singles "Congratulations” and “Rockstar," the latter of which spent eight weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 last year. Having dropped sophomore album Beerbongs & Bentleys April 27, Post is fresh off a victorious debut set at Coachella. It’s become clear that despite his scruffy appearance and so-so singing chops, the 22-year-old has become a legitimate pop superstar.
Such out-of-nowhere success is worth examining purely as a rare phenomenon. So ahead of Post Malone’s show at Rolling Loud next Sunday, May 13, New Times is revisiting “White Iverson” and reflecting on why the slow jam captured so many listeners.
The song speaks a universal truth. At its core — beneath the atmospheric synthesizers, drum machine claps, and Auto-Tuned vocals — "Iverson" is a brilliant commentary on human decay, but not the process of decomposition that happens after we die. Rather, it’s about the sort of decay that happens while we’re alive. Cherished memories recede, beauty fades, and hard-earned skills deteriorate. Everything is fleeting, and harshly so.
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But how does “Iverson” get at all of that? Well, it’s about retired NBA superstar Allen Iverson, the idol of millions of middle- and high-school-aged boys in the early '00s. Now those kids are well into adulthood, but they probably remember asking their parents to buy them Iverson's jerseys, shoes, and trademark sleeves or even forcing their hair into horrid-looking white-boy cornrows in an attempt to match his hairstyle. (In fact, Post reportedly was inspired to write and record the song after getting his hair braided and observing that he looked like a “white Iverson.”)
Iverson was an unusually captivating sports idol. Part of the reason was his sheer athleticism. By the NBA’s standards, he was relatively short at an even six feet, but his seemingly spring-loaded calves allowed him to lay down nasty dunks night in and night out. Not only that, but he’d also overcome the legal troubles of his young manhood and made it to the pinnacle of his sport. He was an 11-time NBA All-Star and was voted league MVP in 2001, scoring huge merchandising and sponsorship deals along the way. Basically, he was an inspiration for anyone who dreamed of exceeding his or her own physical limitations and life circumstances.
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There was his image too. Wearing cornrows, tattoos, and gaudy chains, Iverson was the flashiest NBA superstar during the peak of commercialized hip-hop culture. He made more than $150 million in salary alone during his career, and he flaunted it.
But then he blew it all. Now, only five years into retirement, he is famously broken and his personal life is in shambles. Post hints at the tragedy of the story during the first verse of “Iverson.” “Spendin', I'm spendin' all my fuckin' pay,” he sings. But the wistful tone of the song is driven home by the chorus: “White Iverson/When I started ballin'/I was young/You gon' think about me when I'm gone/I need that money like the ring I never won.”
That last line hits surprisingly hard because it’s a reminder that we all fade — even superstars. Maybe it's especially true for superstars, for whom fame and wealth can appear overnight — as they have for Post — and then dissolve just as quickly. It’s a reminder that even the most fundamental aspects of our self-identity will, inevitably, crumble. And for those middle-schoolers who daydreamed about being a baller like Iverson, it’s a reminder they’re not so young anymore.
Post Malone. At Rolling Loud. Sunday, May 13, at Hard Rock Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens; 305-943-8000; hardrockstadium.com. Tickets cost $299 to $799 via rollingloud.frontgatetickets.com.