The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix may be celebrating a decade of racing excellence this year, but when it comes to the talent performing at the after-race concerts eyes are kept firmly to the future.
Nothing encapsulates that more fittingly than Thursday’s performer Post Malone.
The fuzzy haired and face tattooed rapper hit the mainstream when his 2015 track White Iverson became an internet sensation. His mash up brand of hip-hop, pop and soul sounds more like an online playlist than a considered attempt to make a cohesive album (remember those?), and speaking of which - his latest album Beerbongs and Bentleys broke the online record at the time for the biggest first week streams.
The fact is, the 23-year-old Malone – real name Austin Post – is the sound of today. It was a realisation that caused panic among hip-hop elitists who shouted to anyone that would listen that he was an imposter – more a slick fast rhyming singer than an MC.
But that debate is fast becoming as outdated as last month’s sneakers. Music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music has allowed the playlist to emerge as the favoured choice for music consumption. The benefits of which is the slow erosion of musical boundaries: hip-hop can now sit beside pop, soul and rock. Hence, Malone’s startling success: a former rock singer with an appreciation of rap, he entered the fray without hip-hop’s cultural baggage and fashioned a sound that is respectful yet devoid of featly to any genre. Basically, it is cherry picking at its most effective.
A one-man show
This is why his debut Middle East concert performance at Abu Dhabi’s du Arena on Thursday was fascinating to watch.
Throughout his 70-minute show, Malone was a riot of contradictions: his trademark slacker attitude was represented in his pyjama stage costume. But he is still a hip-hop lover, so those expensive sneakers were there for all to see.
He sometimes claims to be a hip-hop artist, but he was not joined on stage by an accompanying DJ. Instead, he did it solo – literally.
With two dozen spot lights behind and a large screen, a solitary Malone carried the show himself as he sang-alone to instrumental version of his hits.
It was a risky move that ultimately paid off. It allowed us to move past the pointless musical debates and his penchant for face tattoos – he has “always” and “tired" inked under each of his eyes - and focus more on his talent instead.
There is no doubt that Malone is a strong vocalist. In songs such as the pensive Over Now, Malone's fluidly transitions from a melodic rap flow in the verse to full-throated rock roar in the chorus. While in the woozy haze of the ingeniously catchy Psycho, Malone's mellow croon is more owing to the country roots to his home State of Texas.
Speaking of which, Malone's stage persona had none of the boisterousness and braggadocio that is part and parcel of hip-hop shows. He was all southern charm; songs were prefaced with an almost shy request to the crowd to sing along before launching into tracks where he sings about throwing televisions out of hotels (Rock Star) and how his burgeoning diamond collection (Candy Paint).
That hospitality was extended to special guest Moroccan-American rapper French Montana, who took to the stage to perform the hits No Stylist and Unforgettable – Malone merely stood to the side and danced away like a fan.
Perhaps this also goes to show why Malone fans – which Abu Dhabi has a lot of – are loyal to their hero. Malone is the story of the slacker turned star. He is the rapper who appreciates some of the ridiculousness of the genre’s trappings and the pop star who pays no mind to styles and sings freely whatever he enjoys.
“Just be yourself,” he said before leaving the crowd. “Because no one is going to do it better than you.”
The Abu Dhabi after race concerts continue with The Weekend performing on November 23, UK crooner Sam Smith the following night and Guns’n’Roses on November 25.
Concert ticket is complimentary with an Abu Dhabi F1 ticket. For details go to www.yasmarinacircuit.com