3 core production elements in Post Malone’s “rockstar (feat. 21 Savage)” | Hits Decoded

Post Malone’s “rockstar (feat. 21 Savage)” was the lead single to his second studio album, beerbongs & bentleys.

The hit reached the number one spot on the US Billboard Hot 100, and at the time of this post, has nearly 1.5 billion streams on Spotify and two Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best Rap / Sung Performance. It’s obvious that Post Malone brings his incredible talent to the record, but what makes the track itself a hit? Let’s take a look at three core production elements that make “rockstar (feat. 21 Savage)” an instant classic.

To break down and shed light on each of these elements, I’ve produced a recreation of the instrumental below. Splice the Ableton project to experiment with the beat yourself – the song is at 160 BPM and in the key of G minor.

1. The drums

Producers Tank God and Louis Bell took a less-is-more approach on the drums, especially with the hi hats. There are only four main components in this beat: a kick, snare, closed hats, and an open hat.

hits-decoded-post-malone-21-savage-rockstar-MIDI

The most challenging part of recreating the drums was getting the panning for the closed hi hat right. There are some really nice panning choices that make the hats feel bigger without getting too complicated or busy.

hits-decoded-post-malone-21-savage-rockstar-panning-automation

While the kick and snare patterns are pretty standard, the sound design is what really gets the track bouncing. To recreate the drums, I used samples from these packs:

2. The 808

The 808 used in “rockstar” is pretty clean – I ended up chopping the first hit from this 808 loop by Capsun ProAudio. Next, I softened the attack and added an Overdrive device to add more texture. Finally, I added an EQ Eight to sculpt and attenuate the higher harmonics.

hits-decoded-post-malone-21-savage-rockstar-eq

The 808 moves from the tonic G up to Bb, then down to Eb. Although it’s pretty simple, this line is very effective at pushing the energy forward throughout the track.

hits-decoded-post-malone-21-savage-rockstar-MIDI-02

3. The melodic elements

The melodic elements of “rockstar” are what really take this track to the next level. There’s an undeniable sense of regality, and the slightest changes carry the energy forward throughout the entire track. There are two main melodies (plus several other textural layers) that fit together beautifully.

Recreating the melodic elements was the most difficult part of the entire process. For the intro lead sound (the blue clips below), I used an instance of Serum to create the brassy synth sound heard throughout. There’s also a counter-melody (the green clips below) in a lower range that sounded like a reversed synth piano – I used Wavetable to create the patch, and then bounced the audio and reversed it. This counter-melody is subtle but critical to achieving the regal vibe of “rockstar.”

hits-decoded-post-malone-21-savage-rockstar-serum

Are there any other key characteristics that you think make “rockstar” a hit? Let us know in the comments below.

February 8, 2019

Nick Chen CX Lead @ Splice. Nick Chen is a producer / performer and educator known under the aliases “Enix” and “nickthechen.”