"I'm having the time of my life," Malone says of Bieber's Purpose Tour, which kicked off in Seattle last month and visited Dallas on April 17 for a stop at American Airlines Center. "I play a lot of Xbox, I sleep a lot, I hang out with my friends ... It's just been a great experience."
Malone's opportunity to join Bieber on the Purpose Tour, arguably the biggest tour in the world right now, came barely a year after his song "White Iverson" first went viral. In a little over 12 months, he's gone from being an unknown artist uploading his own music to Soundcloud to having a record contract and playing arenas with 20,000 or more people.
It's happened so fast, in fact, that he still begins and ends each set with "White Iverson." He's barely released any other music.
"It's super, super, super surreal. It's something I never expected would happen this fast," Malone admits. Having already appeared on a track with Kanye West and gotten the endorsement of legends like Jay Z, he had to cut short his tour with "Trap Queen" rapper Fetty Wap to join Bieber. "It just jumped right on me. You got to take that opportunity when it's presented to you."
Malone and Bieber, both of whom live in Los Angeles, became friends before they went on tour together. "We got in the studio a couple months before tour and just kind of kicked it off and became friends," Malone says. They'd met through a mutual friend and "made a couple great jams together." "Then he said, 'Come on tour with me,' and ain't no way you're going to say 'no' to the Purpose Tour."
Being on tour with Bieber has exposed Malone to a whole new audience — many of whom are younger than his established fan base. The irony of singing about drinking alcohol and smoking weed each night to thousands of middle schoolers and their parents isn't lost on him.
"I was worried on the first shows coming out how they'd react," he says, laughing. "I was so nervous. But everything has been so positive. Even the younger kids have been into it; the parents have been into it; no one has been very upset with me."
Being on tour with Bieber has also exposed Malone to a whole new level of scrutiny from the media. In the days after the tour's Dallas stop, video emerged of Bieber putting out his cigarette on Malone's arm while Malone performed an after-party set in a Houston night club. Later, there was a photo of Malone appearing to choke Bieber, and speculation quickly mounted of trouble between the two.
The pair responded by posting a photo to social media of Bieber jokingly choking Malone.
"Bieber's like my brother at this point. We've been through a lot of stuff together already just being on this tour," Malone says of what it's been like to deal with all the attention. "He's always been so supportive and I'm there to support him. We like to horse around and burn each other with cigarettes and just have a good time." He gives another telltale cough. "It's nothing I can't handle."
More daunting has been the adjustment to the bigger venues that Malone must now be able to hold the attention of. "The stage is massive and so open," he says. "I'm used to more intimate-type shows where you got the stage very up front and the crowd is right in front of you. But on this tour, they got people on every side of you, people underneath you, people to your right, to your left."
Bieber, who's used to playing arenas and stadiums, has offered simple advice: "He always tells me posture," Malone says. "I have lumbar problems, though, so I'm working on that."
But Malone says he's focusing on doing his own thing, which he says has a big influence from country music. "Not a lot of hip-hop artists are really into old country, like Merle [Haggard] and Hank Williams and Johnny [Cash], and really give it a full listen," he says.
Malone grew up listening to rock and metal, but discovered country through YouTube videos, where he was attracted to the presentation as well as the music. "They had swag," he says. "Hip-hop and country aren't too far different: They got shiny suits and the boots and the guitars with their names on it. I was infatuated with that type of stuff."
Malone has proven to be eclectic in his tastes. Last year, video that predated "White Iverson" surfaced of him playing a straight-ahead cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe." Just last weekend, he made a surprise appearance at Coachella, where he performed a cover of Nirvana's "Lithium," even playing the guitar himself. "Man, it was the most fun ever," he says, drawling out his syllables. "I actually learned [the song] the day before."
"Go Flex" is the first of several new projects that Malone is slated to release this year. Aside from a mixtape that he says is ready to be mixed and mastered, he's also planning on dropping his first full-length towards the end of the year. "It's going to be super, super dope," he says. "People will get a taste of what I'm about." He mentions "cool features and producers," but won't give away any hints about who. "It's got a lot of cool stuff, that's all I can say."
One thing is for sure, though: While Malone is eager to branch out and crystallize the "Posty sound," he isn't likely to stray too far from what he's already done — or let the prospect of success change him.
"I'm a pretty happy guy. I'm just trying to make music everybody can get happy to and vibe to and turn up to," Malone says. "So long as I keep making good music, everything's going to be OK."