Over the past few years, there have been very few musical figures that have captivated the youth like Travis Scott. Born Jacques Webster in culture hotbed Houston, Texas, the 23 year old has seemingly finessed his way into stardom with his energetic concerts that might be Hip Hop’s version of Bad Brains, a supreme ear for beats and melodies, as well as having tastemakers like Kanye West and T.I. on speed dial. I first found out about Travis on the 2012 G.O.O.D. Music compilation, Cruel Summer. The name didn’t register again until I began hearing buzz about an upcoming mixtape by the name of Owl Pharoah and after seeing the video for Quintana, I was immediately sold. No one in Hip Hop had anything out that was even remotely as new and fresh as that, cinematography included. After listening to what some would call a prelude to Yeezus in Owl Pharoah, curiosity took over and I began listening to his back catalog which included various loose tracks such as Dust, 16 Chapels, Lights and other obscure works (thanks KanyeToThe). It was only a little while before I began to realize why so many people held him in high regard. Imagine if Kid Cudi and Kanye West had a trapped out love child; you’d get La Flame. Although his style might mimic both a little too much at times, the talent is clearly apparent and only time would tell whether or not he would find his own sound. Herein lies Rodeo, the full length debut from Travis Scott.
The album starts with narration from Grand Hustle boss man T.I. into Pornography, a fantastic menacing opener to say the least. The beat switch, which is a constant throughout this album, completely sets the tone for the time being.
“No monogamy, menage with me, pornography’s surrounding me
You get high with me, you come down with me, that’s all I need, in my fantasy”
Oh My Dis Side featuring Quavo follows and 90210, undoubtedly one of the better tracks on the album, features uncredited vocals from newest G.O.O.D. Music signee Kacy Hill and transitions into a superb College Dropout era Yeezy type of beat. Nightcrawler, featuring Chief Keef and Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd is a catchy party starter, but the mood suddenly switches up when we transition into the brash and obnoxious Piss on Your Grave feat. Kanye West, a track so mind-numbing and confusing that it’s actually pretty good for those same reasons. In the grand scheme of things, the song is so out of place compared to the rest of the album and in turn, ends up sounding like a mere Yeezus B-side, but that doesn’t really hamper the quality of the track itself. The track that has sure had all college parties going up is Antidote, produced by perhaps the new faces of Canadian hip hop, Eestbound and Wondagurl. A chill, feel good banger and one of the favorites. Maria I’m Drunk featuring Justin Bieber and Young Thug is another highlight as Travis channels his inner PARTYNEXTDOOR during the first part and Bieber, who at this point should honestly be referred to as Bugatti Biebervelli the GOAT comes through with a pretty crazy unexpected rap verse by his standards. Apple Pie, one of the very few tracks that features production from Scott himself is reminiscent of his The Classmates/pre-Owl Pharoah days. His ability to maneuver through different styles of trap and pop music is rampant throughout the project and is definitely displayed on this song. The final track is Never Catch Me, a cut that many heard performed live months ago and some believed would shape the overall sound of Rodeo was stripped down and changed, but still serves as a serviceable closer.
“She take a shot of Hennessey, I take a shot of Pimp C and slow up
I do this shit for him and me, I’m the next Lone Star to blow up
Picture being locked in a box sellin’ beats cause you need dollars
They say I can make it to the league mama, $500 is all we need mama
Then we gon’ be on”
Perhaps the most frustrating thing one might take away from Rodeo is that it is still not entirely clear who Travis Scott really is. For one, his cadence and flow on numerous tracks rival that of many of his contemporaries and the imitating is undeniable at points. Whether he’s doing his best Big Sean impersonation on Piss On Your Grave or rapping like PARTYNEXTDOOR on the second part of OK Alright, it’s tough to just sweep it under the rug. Secondly, the features tend to outshine him on his own project and as a result he tends to take a backseat, which is never a good thing. Third, Travis is not the best rapper, nor has he ever claimed to be, but the lyrics for the grand majority of the LP revolved around many of the same things said in the exact same way. Sex and drugs have been common themes in rap for as long as we can remember, but he went about it in such a blatant, uninspired way that you would think someone who is so adamant about being an artist and not just a rapper would be able to articulate himself a bit better and come up with something more clever. To add to this, the tracks are at times unbearably long. On 90210 and Maria I’m Drunk, the beat switches add to the auditory landscapes and actually gel well, but tracks such as 3500 and Nightcrawler could’ve benefited from being shorter to create a more fluid album. Ironically, the one track that probably should’ve been six minutes long, the previously jaw-dropping Never Catch Me was cut in length significantly and it’s outro, which would have been a phenomenal way to end the album, was apparently discarded.
In all, a big round of applause should be given to all of the producers involved, the legendary Mike Dean and Travis Scott himself for being the master curators behind the sounds on this album. At the core, great art is exemplified through soul and passion by default and although the album is filled with great soundscapes and killer beat switches, the content coming from someone who seemingly prides himself on being a true artist is hollow, a bit redundant and without a doubt, leaves more to be desired.