Over the past couple of years Travis Scott has been really blowing up in the hip-hop community. First, he caught an initial wave of hype off of the “Owl Pharoah” EP that he dropped in 2013, along with a Kanye cosign. And then, last year he dropped the “Days Before Rodeo” mixtape that absolutely blew up. So many hip-hop fans were scrambling to label this the “best project of 2014” and were also quick to label Travis Scott a visionary artistic genius. Travis quickly became one of the most hyped artists in the entire genre, but I just sat back completely perplexed. I hated “Days Before Rodeo” pretty passionately, and I was honestly confused as to why Travis was all of a sudden a “genius.” Now, on that tape you were going to find some dark, eerie trap inspired instrumentals and some generally vapid lyricism, things I normally like, but here it was all executed so poorly. Travis was an unimpressive MC, and the instrumentals didn’t really bang or provide any real darkness; they were just there, so what could have been a very good project ended up sounding like a failed “Yeezus” abortion. However, I saw some potential, given the effort that Travis admittedly does put forth into his music, along with the Kanye affiliation. But while “Rodeo” is improvement, it’s very slight.
What this album does improve on are a couple of things: building a dark atmosphere, and occasionally impressive songcraft. On “Days Before Rodeo” we saw a failed attempt at darkness, but “Rodeo” does consistently bring a dark atmosphere with some bite and edge, and the whole thing feels really nocturnal and almost like a nightmare, but not because it’s “spooky” music or anything like that. The production here is just dark and almost industrial, and keeps the record pretty sonically consistent. And like I said, on occasion there are some quality songs, like “3500”, the pre-released single featuring Future and 2 Chainz. This song isn’t perfect, as Travis and Future are pretty unimpressive, as well as the beat playing under their verses being way too low-key and boring, but the hook here absolutely steals the show and makes this song pretty replay-able, and 2 Chainz does his thing and proves to be way more entertaining on the mic than Travis. (That slowed down outro is killer too.) There is also “Maria I’m Drunk”, featuring Young Thug and Justin Bieber, and Bieber continues to impress me in 2015 on this track. He actually sounds convincing as a drugged out rap-crooner, and the drugged out rap-crooner blesses this track with his usual cooky personality, and it goes over really well. The beat here is also pretty good, offering an appropriately hazy and druggy atmosphere to match the lean/alcohol related lyrics. But the best song here has to be “Piss On Your Grave” with Kanye. The beat here is some sloozy, slinky, nasty rock instrumentation filtered through the dark “Rodeo” atmosphere, and it’s absolutely killer. Kanye comes through with a fantastic verse/hook, as he sounds completely out of his mind and is frantically yelling out his words and wheezing all over this track. It’s weird, but also enthralling and thoroughly entertaining. The mixing of his voice is noteworthy as well, as Ye is right in your ear, saying that he is going to “use your face as a urinal.” Again, weird, but props to Kanye about not having any regard as to where he pisses.
So there are some good tracks and some great moments here, but this is an hour long long, 14 track album. So that means a lot of boring, unimpressive moments. And notice how none of the great moments I described had anything to do with Travis Scott, which is fine if an album’s best moments are features (I mean, look at “Compton”), but on the tracks Travis is left to his own devices, he flounders, and the Travis-only tracks here are the absolute worst. On “Antidote” he just comes across as a bad Swae-Lee impression, because Yeezus knows we need another Swae Lee, and elsewhere, like on the opener “Pornography”, or on “Apple Pie”, or any other track here, he’s entirely forgettable. Travis offers up no unique personality to cover up for his empty lyrics, which is a bad combination. And he’s not a good auto-tuned crooner either, as he puts no emotion forth when he uses that tool, unlike Kanye, Young Thug, or Future, and ends up sounding completely like a robot. I don’t want to listen to a robot.
The album length atmosphere is impressive, which scores some points for the production, but the beats are hit-or-miss, and unfortunately mostly miss. The beat to “Wasted” is pretty good and actually sounds a little chopped and screwed-esque, but pretty much anywhere else I look the beats are forgettable, much like Travis’s mic skills.
On “Rodeo”, Travis Scott presents a bloated mess of an album that often just bores. While there are some great things I pull out of it, “Rodeo” does little more than inspire a half-hearted shrug. Travis clearly has potential, but 3 projects in and it’s still largely untapped.
Standout Tracks: “3500” “Piss On Your Grave” “Maria I’m Drunk”