Skip to content

The Professor Will Now Unpack — Post Malone’s ‘I’m Gonna Be’

Higher education meets lower taste
"I’m goin’ hard ’til I’m gone," raps Post Malone, adding to an ancient stream of sometimes boozified existential musings. (Credit: Greg Doherty via Getty Images for Amazon MGM Studios)

Tom Zoellner is a tenured Professor of English at Chapman University, the author of numerous distinguished works of non-fiction, and an editor-at-large of the Los Angeles Review of Books. Professor Zoellner has graciously consented to briefly withdraw his critical gaze from high art and cast an eye for SPIN at pop and rock lyrics.

Let’s take a closer look at some key lyrics from Post Malone, the white rapper from Syracuse with approximately 73 tattoos in various places of his body, a significant number on his face.

In “I’m Gonna Be,” a celebration of self, he makes an assertive statement of individual agency. But this is Post Malone, so it’s going to involve lots of alcohol and wearing clothes that cost more than a year’s tuition at a selective liberal arts college.

Pop the top, fill my cup up, yeah
Keep ’em pourin’ ’til I’m fucked up, oh yeah
Diamond Simon with my shirt tucked, yeah
Mink was 80K that’s fucked up, oh yeah

But because we’re talking about Post Malone, we’re also going to get significant notes of self-doubt and regret. He acknowledges the voices of those who worry for him as he conspicuously binges in front of them, a comet aflame in the week immediately before the first rehab admission.

Some people think I’m livin’ wrong
We live this life but not for long

So I’m gonna be what I want, what I want, what I want

“I am condemned to be free,” says Jean Paul Sartre, happy-snapped here in 1970. (Photo by Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Malone is treading on familiar turf. The awareness of a short life combined with an imperative to be as authentic as possible can be traced to at least Marcus Aurelius, who reminded us in the Meditations that “everything: a horse, a vine, is created for some duty.” And he then asks: “For what task, then, were you yourself created? A man’s true delight is to do the things he was made for.” Jean Paul Sartre took the “gotta be me” philosophical school into the 20th Century, telling his readers they were condemned to be themselves.

But the real avatar for Malone may be Edward FitzGerald, the British poet famous for having translated the wine-soaked laments of a 11th century Persian astronomer named Omar Khayyam. Later critics complained that FitzGerald made extensive use of a translator’s liberties and put things to Omar’s name that a faithful Sufi never would have committed to writing. But the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, whatever its authenticity, has ever since stood as a monument to hard-drinking existentialists, including, presumably, Post Malone.

11th Century-style hip hoppery from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward FitzGerald and illustrated by Frank Chesworth. (Credit: Culture Club via Getty Images)

Consider these words from FitzGerald/Khayyam, which might easily have been delivered from the deck of Malone’s leased yacht bobbing off the coast of Saint-Tropez.

Yesterday This Day’s Madness did prepare;
To-morrow’s Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.

Wine as a metaphor for temporal joy has also been fermenting within global literature for centuries, though some of its abusers give hints now and then that they’re fully aware of its limits and dangers. Amy Winehouse was defiantly public about refusing treatment. Omar Khayyam would have been a lot of fun in the sunset café, but he also dreaded “the distant drum” of some kind of judgment. Don’t let the thousand-dollar Crocs fool you.

I’m gonna do what I want, when I want
When I want, yeah
I’m goin’ hard ’til I’m gone, ’til I’m gone

Pre-Post there was also Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from AD 161 – 180. (Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images)

Have we seen this guy before? Let’s go to one of the many disputed verses of Omar for a verdict.

Drink wine and look at the moon
and think of all the civilizations the moon has seen passing by.