“Rockstar,” Post Malone‘s biggest hit, is a song about partying that sounds like slow death. Much of Post’s new album Beerbongs & Bentleys proceeds in the same fashion: labored-over melodies; morose chord changes; smeared druggy synths; and lots of the harsh vocal vibrato that he uses to signify strong emotion, which felt perversely novel when paired with lyrics about women in his trailer who “all brought a friend” on “Rockstar,” but reveals itself as the cheap trick it is by the time he’s pleading with one such woman to “tell me that it’s all OK” on the weepy acoustic ballad “Stay.” Post is probably a lot of fun to party with IRL, but on record, it doesn’t matter whether he’s crying alone or surrounded by groupies and drugs—he always comes off as a bummer.
Which is why “Ball For Me,” which features Nicki Minaj and comes two thirds of the way through the album’s 18-track slog, is such a welcome change of pace. On an album that features the pop industry standard of multiple writers per track, this one is just Post, Nicki, and producer Louis Bell, and it feels the most like an honest-to-god rap record, rather than a narcotized pop song masquerading as one. Nicki raps circles around Post, naturally, losing none of her momentum when she shifts from rapid-fire syllables in her verse’s first half to a melodic style to match Post’s in its second. No one expects virtuoso bars from him, but he’s more awake than usual here, delivering a strong hook in a choked staccato cadence and dancing around the edges of the beat instead of drowsing in its pillowy pockets.
It’s hard not to be charmed or at least intrigued on some level by Post’s goofball dirtbag persona, but he’s always come off a little dead behind the eyes in his music, even on his breakout (and still best) song “White Iverson.” He seems like a guy who has a lot of fun, and with Nicki’s help on “Ball for Me,” he actually sounds like it.