Paul Thompson’s not talking about practice.
The city’s deepest image of itself is grinding through gridlock, two lanes from its off-ramp and twenty minutes late.
It’s a Thursday night in December, and I’m snaking through downtown Los Angeles, trying futilely to find a parking spot. I skirt through public lots, exasperated, one car to three cubicles, kids crowded around coolers and portable speakers. I haggle with an attendant–eleven dollars, no change for a twenty. We settle at ten.
I’ve been hired by one of those multi-million-dollar media companies to cover a “holiday party” thrown by a collective of local club kids, most of whom call themselves DJs, some of whom actually are. The woman in charge of the publicity firm sends me an email—”Please Do Not Share With the Public”—with a schedule of the night’s performers. (Of course, a quick Twitter search showed an hour-by-hour breakdown, including what I’m about to tell you.) Along with the usual masthead names are two unannounced guests: Vic Mensa, the young Chicago rapper who is widely suspected to have a hand in the nascent Kanye West record; and a white R&B singer from Dallas named Post Malone.
The Regent Theater is on the east side of Main Street, just north of 5th. The half-mile walk from Spring and 3rd is too short, so I dip into Bar Ama before I realize I’m not going to pay twenty-two dollars for a Moscow Mule.
The first time I heard a Post Malone song, I was on the third floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, one of the two libraries at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
It was late January; I was in the city for a week, as I am every year, visiting the school I dropped out of and an array of rain-soaked people who live in my Gchat. Every day I was carving out a few hours to work on a story about Mac, the rapper from New Orleans who was (and still is) hoping to be freed from prison after serving nearly 15 years on a manslaughter charge.
Max Bell, a writer and friend of mine from Los Angeles, had written about “White Iverson,” Malone’s airy, warbling first single. More accurately: Max had written about “White Iverson” because everyone had written about “White Iverson.” (For months after, Malone became a punchline of sorts, both for his braids and because some people believe he’s an industry plant—an artist signed to or backed by a major record label and/or a powerful management team, who is presented to the public in a way to suggest he or she isn’t.)
A rapper friend from Minneapolis emailed me, frustrated, because the single he’d been sitting on since the previous fall was also called “Iverson” (“I need Game 1, my city deserves it”). Another friend sent me a link to the video and a caption: “lol.”
The Regent Theater is a sparse, industrial space with almost nowhere to hide. When you walk past security and through the double-doors into the venue proper, there’s a bar to the right that can only be reached by parting a sea of tank tops. If you’re smart, you sneak upstairs and drink there; if you’re very smart, you do that immediately.
Everyone is midriff and molly. It’s disorienting at 8:45—nothing’s still yet, and you know the crash is coming before the headliner.
It’s strange to see 2011 play out in 2015. A mess of post-dubstep and Katy Perry remixes that the crowd couldn’t shake if it wanted to, and it doesn’t want to.
One of the DJs drops his USB drive in beer, shouts excitedly into the microphone that he’s dropped his USB drive in beer, yells “FUCK ISIS!,” everyone cheers, everyone won’t stop cheering.
Between sets, songs from Aesop Rock’s None Shall Pass. Not Labor Days, which was a definitive work for that turn-of-the-century underground scene, and probably a formative work for lots of the twentysomethings here tonight, but the one from six years later that isn’t bronzed and canonized. None Shall Pass and Drake, always lots of Drake.
I try to navigate the crowd, navigate the Drake. I stop taking notes because there’s nothing yet I’ll have to strain to remember—probably nothing that those who aren’t in attendance will have to strain to imagine. I stop at three drinks.
I watch a lot of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. It’s the perfect modern show—family feuds born entirely in the editing bay, paid club appearances, Scott Disick.
It’s also home to intermittent, frustratingly fractured Kanye West sightings. That’s about the only way anyone has seen West for the past year: “Only One,” the ballad for his daughter from last New Year’s Eve, and March’s grime-tinged “All Day” failed to yield any concrete news about a new album. So you see him trying to frame the E! producers’ shots while he visits an Armenian art show, and that’s all you get.
He’s said that his Adidas fashion line is his priority; he’s also apparently exercised good judgment in not rushing out a subpar record. (His last album, 2013’s Yeezus, was was carefully crafted behind the boards, but long stretches of its vocals felt rushed or even unfinished. Probably sensing this, Kanye said in interviews later that year that he had intended to give his audience the sense of listening in on an album in progress.)
Beyond “All Day” and “Only One,” the only peeks at his new album have been live and half-done. “Wolves” features Vic Mensa and the pop singer and songwriter Sia. It was debuted in February at the launch of the first fashion collection, then played live on SNL.
There’s one song that’s even more elusive: most often referred to as “Fade,” it’s been played off of the laptops of Kanye hangers-on in clubs a couple of times.
It’s a deep, driving house baseline and not a lot else at this point, but the credits have already made the rounds: those vocals buried in the mix are the renowned writer, singer, and producer Ty Dolla $ign and, well, Post Malone.
When Jeremih narrowly dodges a bra, I know something has gone wrong.
I’ve been perched at the top of the Regent for almost five hours now, politely turning down drugs and fighting sleep. The emailed schedule says that Post Malone was supposed to shock and awe the crowd nearly ninety minutes ago.
Instead, Jeremih, the Chicago-bred singer who loves lingerie and hates release dates, comes trotting out. To be real, I’m thrilled: I’d much prefer this to Malone, and Late Nights: The Album, which has just been dumped unceremoniously into the world and onto Def Jam’s tax ledger, is the perverse cocktail of slickness and sleaze that your three least respectable friends have been waiting for.
Jeremih runs through a handful of songs—the crowd inexplicably raps J. Cole’s verse on “Planez,” I ask the 16-year-old beside me for Xanax—and sidesteps the aforementioned undergarments.
This isn’t the ideal setting (too many glowsticks, not enough Bed Bath & Beyond candles), but it’s the only thing thus far that’s made my ears perk up, at least enough to quell the urge to forfeit the paycheck, go home and watch Veep.
So I keep waiting. You know the hypothetical from B-movies and dorm halls, where you’re the President, you know an asteroid is going to strike Earth, and you have to decide whether to tell people or not? That’s me, Jameson in hand, news of White Iverson weighing heavy on my soul.
RL Grime comes out. If I’m reading my phone properly, this is the end. I can see the light, by which I mean he’s playing Justin Timberlake’s “My Love” while Drake’s glowing, bearded, Uncanny Valley skeleton is in a perpetual loop of the “Hotline Bling” dance. I don’t panic, because the 16-year-old beside me hands me Xanax.
Vic Mensa ambles onto the stage, wearing leather and a half-scowl he learned from mainlining Travis Scott .gifs. He plays exactly one song: his other Kanye West collaboration, “U Mad.” It’s a brash, vaguely disingenuous cut that feigns at a drill scene Mensa could never hack it in and has a line about Ray Rice and elevators that’s offensive if only for how satisfied it is in its own cleverness. He gesticulates wildly, he stage dives, he leaves.
And then…nothing. Emptiness. (RL Grime plays The Weeknd’s “The Hills,” which is a #1 hit where Abel sings about “the friend zone.” So, emptiness.)
The house lights flicker to life. Everyone who graduated high school since Obama took office starts filing out. And I’m left standing on the balcony, wondering how I’m going to explain the hole in all of our hearts. Where are you, Post Malone? Where are you, Post Malone? Where are…