At 11 a.m., on a gray and drizzling morning in December, a line has already begun to form around the block outside Pier 36 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Doors won’t open at the NYC venue for at least seven hours, however, that hasn’t stopped fans from holding out for their favorite artist. I make my way toward the entrance, keeping an eye out for someone whose guise might disclose distinguished status. On the contrary, I find Bobby Greenleaf, Post Malone’s assistant manager, smoking a joint next to a solitary hot dog cart. We head to a white van, which takes us to Post’s penthouse suite at Central Park’s Viceroy Hotel.
Upon entering the hotel room, we are greeted by two six-foot-something bodyguards that could likely pulverize grown men with the force of silverback gorillas. I glance over at the sleeping figure on the fawn-colored suede couch, a chaotic clump of hair protruding from the top of a gray blanket. The suite is decorated with empty Coke bottles and ransacked pizza boxes, inklings of the 22-year-old rockstar napping just 10 feet away. I assume my position at the table, careful not to disturb his slumber.
Roughly an hour after settling in, I am startled by a door opening behind me and suddenly I am face to face with a sleepy, shirtless Post. The platinum recording artist extends his hand to me and I stare down at it, momentarily paralyzed. After an exceptionally awkward pause, I take his hand and introduce myself. Post then goes around to every person in the room, reacquainting himself with each member of his entourage and meeting El-e Mags, his tattoo artist for the day. Lastly, he rouses the person sleeping on the couch, who turns out to be his younger brother and tour manager.
While the tattooer sets up a make-do station, the Stoney singer takes a seat with the group. His long hair, which is usually tied back in cornrows or a top knot, hangs loose around his shoulders and he’s put on a Grateful Dead t-shirt over a pair of striped yellow Ralph Lauren boxers. “Do you want any pizza?” Post asks me, gesturing to the half-empty boxes on the table. I politely decline, explaining briefly that I don’t eat cheese. A look of bewilderment washes over his tattooed face, the cogs turning behind a furrowed brow. “Are you a witch?” For two seconds, I consider staying in character, playing it safe. But, at the same time, how many opportunities will I have to read Post Malone’s natal chart?
“When’s your birthday?” I ask, summoning Cafe Astrology from my recent browser history. “July 4th.” he says, taking a puff of a Camel Crush cigarette. “Your sun is in Cancer, which means that you’re on the sensitive side.” Post scrunches up his face and with a dramatic lift in pitch answers, “No, I’m not.” The room laughs and an unabashed grin creeps onto his face. “But you also care a lot about your friends and family.” He nods in agreement and makes his way toward the suede couch.
Mags presents a tablet, the words “Stay Away” copied over in slight variations of a graceful cursive font. For someone who has referred to himself as a porcupine in interviews, I’m surprised by the elegance of the typeface that Post has chosen to decorate his brow bone. However, the script’s likeness to Lil Peep’s own design fills in the blanks. Post selects the second largest design and Mags quickly whips up a stencil. I hold my camera at the ready, waiting for the cue to share this tattoo with the world. Once the stencil is affixed to his skull, Post lies down on the suede couch and Mags prepares his machines. The quiet whir of his rotary pen blends into the groove of Nirvana and I position my phone above Post’s face. His fans have already locked into the live, with over a million and counting waiting patiently for the needle to touch skin. Post holds his breath as Mags drags his first line, starting at the temple and working his way in.
“What was your first tattoo?” I ask, careful not to shine the flash directly in his eyes. He paused for a minute, scrolling through a Mental Rolodex of tattoo memories. “A lot of my tattoos are just spur of the moments. My first one was the Playboy Bunny which got fucked up while playing basketball with Justin Bieber.”
The live ignites with the ferocity of thousands of social media trolls, each one spewing venomous yet futile jabs toward the unkempt artist. Good luck getting a job. No one’s gonna hire you. Have fun being unemployed. However, as the comments continue to roll in and the needle curves into his brow, Post is unvexed by both, sinking deeper into the sleek sofa and hiding his slate blue eyes under tinted Gucci frames.
After 45 minutes of slow and unrelenting agony, Mags lifts his machine from Post’s brow and announces that the piece is complete. The two exchange gratitude and Post gets up to change for the show. “Can I take this, for the office?” I ask Mags, gesturing toward the smudged stencil paper on his station. He nods and I tuck the delicate souvenir into my pocket.
Post emerges from the bedroom, dressed in a navy crew neck and diamond hoop earrings. The fresh ink on his forehead is shiny with a thick coat of vaseline and his crew gathers to head out of the penthouse suite. Flanked by his bodyguards, we descend to the lobby and outside into the rain. We say our goodbyes, for now, with Post and his posse disappearing into the backseat of a 2018 Cadillac Escalade.
Five months after meeting Post at the Viceroy, I find myself in his presence once more. However, this time I am not alone. At 9 a.m. on May 23rd, I depart for Philadelphia from the Staten Island Ferry with the INKED mag office. Today, we are driving to Pennsylvania to shoot our August/September cover and are lucky to have Post Malone be a part of it. We arrive at the Warehouse on Watts, a gritty space that parallels Post’s grunge aesthetic. The first floor of W.o.W. is dimly lit by dirt-caked windows and the walls are covered with warped floor-to-ceiling mirrors—giving the impression of an abandoned funhouse. There are several arcade games nestled against thick polyester couches and a table already stocked with platters of chicken wings. The staircase leading to the second floor is covered in brightly colored murals and vibrant graffiti, a strong juxtaposition to the caliginous ground floor. The second floor is brightly illuminated by high noon, a cluster of potted ferns splaying their leaves to fat strips of light. Overstuffed velvet couches in muted sunset hues are scattered throughout the spacious ballroom and fraying cords suspend swings from the wood-beamed ceiling. The brick walls are a calico blend of flamingo pink and ivory anchored by incompleteness. The opposite wall hosts soiled Persian rugs, a fully stocked pool table, and a disharmonious white leather couch that would be better suited for the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
As the photo and video crew begins staging each shot of the layout, I return downstairs to assist the wardrobe team. Post Malone’s tour stylist, Catherine Hahn, has shipped in three racks of clothing from Los Angeles—including a half dozen silk suits, several spangled cowboy shirts, two mink coats and enough Gucci to go around. A pack of Camel Crush cigarettes hide in plain sight on the vanity and the fridge is fully stocked with frosty cans of Bud Light.
Several hours into production, Post and his crew arrives at the venue in North Philly. He’s immediately greeted at the door with a cold beer and he takes the time to meet everyone on staff before discussing concepts with the creative director. While guzzling down his signature drink, I approach Post with my own Bud Light in hand. “Do you have any tattoos for Bud Light?” I ask, half joking. He laughs and nods his head. “So we were on the bus on tour, I don’t remember what city we were in, but I was like, hey, let’s get tatted. So some guy came on the bus and I was drinking a Bud Light and he said “What do you want?” and I told him I wanted the Anheuser-Busch logo so he did. Now it’s on my body forever and I couldn’t be happier.”
Although it has only been a few months since I last met with him, Post is in a completely different league than he was back in December. On April 27th, Republic Records released his second studio album, beerbongs & bentleys, and it reached 80 million Spotify streams in the first 24 hours. By May 12th, the album shattered the record for the most simultaneous Top 20 hits on the Billboard charts, which had been previously shared by The Beatles and J. Cole. Speaking of Billboard, on May 20th Post and 21 Savage each walked away with their first award for their song “Rockstar.”
For his first look, Post is decked out in a gray snakeskin suit and a brown mink coat. He leans against a weathered brick wall, soft panels of light warming the planes of his tattooed face. He puffs at a cigarette, taking long drags between shots and pushing the smoke toward the lens. Every eye in the room is locked on the monitor, however, the shoot has only just begun.
After a couple dozen frames, we move on to the second concept, which happened to be the cover. The inspiration behind the shot comes from old America’s Most Wanted posters, with wardrobe paying homage to vintage gangsters and mob bosses. Post is decorated in a pair of houndstooth trousers held up by suspenders over a plain wife beater. In one hand, he’s got his tried-and-true smoke, but in the other he flaunts a mugshot board to the camera. Despite this being his first cover, he transitions confidently between poses while jamming along to a Megadeth riff.
Once we’ve wrapped up the cover, everyone makes their way to the second floor and gathers around an old ornate table. On the table, we’ve scattered at least 10 bands of hundred dollar bills next to a Gucci Mane-approved money counter. Post lounges next to the heaps of cash, playing a few chords on an acoustic guitar and lending the room a taste of his velvety pipes.
The final shot of the day is against the pool table, with Post wearing a yellow tulip shirt over a pair of black jeans. A rhinestone lucky die belt buckle gleams against the setting sun as he leans into the vulcanized rubber cushions. He’s ready to move on from shooting and is set to perform at Penn’s Landing’s Festival Pier. “What else do you have planned for your tour, besides performing?” I ask, trying to perk him up for the final stretch. “On this tour, outside of working on the new project, there’s been a lot of gaming, a lot of nice movies, you know, feature films.” he replies, rolling a fiberglass pool cue between his hands. “Music, drinking, singing, laughing—just kinda hanging out.” I nod and the photographer continues to capture the scene. “You know, I’m a normal guy and just like to hang out, get weird.”
Before we can wrap on set, there’s one more thing that has to happen. It wouldn’t be an INKED shoot without a few tattoos, but this time, instead of receiving the ink, Post is the one giving it. The god of modern American traditional, Myke Chambers, is his mentor for the day, guiding his first tattoo line by line. The client, or should we say victim, is Post’s manager Bobby Greenleaf, who has entrusted the artist with his skin. Chambers has already traced a drawing done by Greenleaf’s daughter on his skin; all Post has to do is color between the lines. He straps up in anticipation, snapping on a pair of black Nitrile gloves and dipping the machine into a small pot of ink. His hand hovers over Greenleaf’s untouched flesh, the needles bared like the fangs of a wolf. “Don’t worry about hurting him,” I encourage. “Tattoos are supposed to hurt.” Post makes his first mark on Greenleaf, slowly trailing his machine down the skin. With every stroke of ink, his movements become more confident and intentional. The final form begins to come together and by the end, the work isn’t half bad. Sure, I wouldn’t recommend that Post quit his day job, but, for a tattoo virgin he slides through with a passing grade. Today, Post achieved two huge firsts—shooting his first cover and inking his first tattoo. And while he will likely cover more magazines in the coming years and will certainly get behind a tattoo machine again, he’ll always remember INKED as the one and true OG.