Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. Post Malone, Pygmalion.
Pygmalion found fame in an immaculate statue. The statue – his statue – was of a beauty only capable of being invented by imagination. It was so beautiful, in fact, that the gods answered Pygmalion’s prayers and blessed the statue with breath. The two lived happily ever after together in ancient Greece.
The Internet similarly blessed “White Iverson,” Post Malone’s breakout ode to Iversonian follicles, with life. It was those braids – his braids – that provided the conceit for the out-of-leftfield single and which are thusly entwined vitally with his own microwave mythology. Unfortunately, none of the abundant pixie dust surrounding the song graced its eponymous inspiration. Far removed from his days as the coolest goddam antihero in NBA history, Allen Iverson’s recent fall from grace has been comparable to the catastrophic crash preceding an economic recession. Spousal abuse. Absentee parenting. Alcoholism. It’s all detailed in Kent Babb’s biography of the ex-76er.
It wasn’t long before the complications of Iverson as a symbol – a maverick, a malcontent, an underdog, a “thug”– followed Malone. An old Vine showing Malone casually saying “n***a” surfaced, further aggravating the inherent complexities between hip hop and its white performers. There’s a tension, evident any time a sorority girl sings along to the explicit version of “My Hitta,” that’s not unlike the racially polarized perception of Iverson at the peak of his powers. And it is this interaction that Malone has neglected to acknowledge, let alone attempt to navigate.
Malone’s apology in response to the Vine admitted culpability for the single incident, but nothing more. He failed to address his awkward appearance on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club. Before the Vine had even been discovered, Charlamagne Tha God, a personality on the radio show, presciently questioned Malone on his contributions to the Black Lives Matter movement. Malone’s answer: “I don’t know.” The three words explained why Malone positioned himself as Iverson’s white analogue in the first place. He didn’t know. Hip hop, as an establishment, is unusual in such perversion of the dominant white racial frame through which most everything is filtered. This perversion shows that white people are just as vulnerable to scrutiny as black people. What’s in the glove box matters less than whose glove box it is. Everybody has something in there. Not everybody has to worry about it being found.
And yet, Kanye West features Malone on the latest of his faux releases, “Fade,” which soundtracked the former’s New York Fashion Week show. Fittingly, West provides a prime example for Malone to study. It is West’s infinitely more controversial “Blood On The Leaves” that wholly achieves the ambition of “White Iverson,” utilizing a similar palette of NBA references to create a captivating artistic statement of hype. Whereas Malone borrows from Iverson to a frivolous end, West wields the racial stereotypes associated with black ballplayers as a weapon. “Blood On The Leaves” even has bitches, drugs and booming 808s to boot.
There is an articulate knowledge of African American history that enables West to turn the DNA of minstrelsy within American entertainment on its head in “Blood On The Leaves.” His use of the Nina Simone sample. The juxtaposition of that sample against talk of second string bitches. In this sense, an understanding of the history of white men depicting the image of black men in American entertainment would be more than long overdue awareness for Malone. It would heighten his art.
“Fade,” which was initially dubbed “I Feel Enslaved” for the sampled exclamation throughout, is yet another reminder that race is a fundamental element of hip hop. Impossible to duck. And for a moment in “White Iverson,” Malone nearly strikes a watershed nerve when he croons, “I need that money like the ring I never won.” Falling short, wasted fruit. Both far more poignant associations of Iverson as a symbol. The braids are there, sure, but beauty is only skin deep. The ivory didn’t define Pygmalion’s statue. What he made with it did.