[Image via Instagram]
I had just glossed over a rumored tracklist for Travi$ Scott's forthcoming debut album, Rodeo, when I jumped on a call with a few fellow DJBooth writers. We started tossing around story ideas and since it was still fresh in my mind, I asked who was excited for Travi$ Scott's album? The response was lukewarm, at best. I had an inkling I was the only Travi$ fan of the bunch, remembering this Yoh piece from only half a year ago where he detailed his confusion regarding the hip-hop community's admiration for Scott, so the revelation wasn't too surprising. What was surprising though was my loss for words when the question was posed back at me. I was asked by three lifelong hip-hop heads, who were admittedly not as familiar with an artist as I, why I was excited for "Rodeo."
I honestly didn't know.
The weird thing is, save for maybe TPAB, Surf and DS2, I haven't been this excited for an album in 2015, a year defined by monumental hip-hop albums. In those cases, however, I was able to easily communicate why I thought they were going to be special. I think Rodeo will be too, but I couldn't really communicate exactly why. Sure, I've been a fan of Travi$ for years, but never really to this extent. Am I caught up in the hype?
At times, when you’re dealing with something as subjective as music it’s hard to understand or communicate the feelings that emerge when you hear, see or truly feel something. I understand the logical arguments against Travi$. I am well aware that he’s not the sole producer on a majority of his songs, despite being signed to G.O.O.D. Music as a producer. I know he’s a sub-par lyricist, and that I myself have trouble recalling more than one or two of his lines that have produced an “oh shit” moment, and even then it was just because something he said sounded cool. Hell, I can barely remember his words from the songs I like and have listened to them countless times. Also, he's a unrepentant dickhead, or at least that's how he often comes across when we see stories of his onstage (or offstage) antics.
As an artist, he's come a long way. I remember when his name first started floating around the blogosphere, and listening to Owl Pharoah for the first time. I was disappointed, if not by the tape itself - because I liked his sound - because I thought it sounded unrefined. "Upper Echelon" and "Hell Of A Night" were two of my favorite songs of 2013, but for the most part the rest of his work felt mostly like throwaways. When Days Before Rodeo was released it got downloaded immidiately, but then it stayed unplayed in my iTunes before a friend gave me the, "Yoooo have you heard that new Travi$ tape???" treatment and I gave it a listen. Wow. It was leagues ahead of Owl Pharoah, a honing of the stylistic elements that made him unique. "Don't Play" was pure, haunting adrenaline, "Drugs You Should Try It" was blunted and disillusioned; as defining a love song for the millennial generation as we've seen. "Mamacita" is an all-timer, and maybe my favorite song of 2014. I wasn't enthused with every track ("Grey" and "Zombie" were underwhelming), but it was a clear step forward and found Travi$ cementing his sound.
That's the key here: the sound. As hard as it is to communicate a vibe, it is the defining aspect of Travi$ as an artist. Early on, it was clear that Scott's sonic preferences drew heavily from his two musical heroes: Kanye West and Kid Cudi. Lately, it's been increasingly difficult to determine whether it's Travi$ jacking their styles, or the other way around. He's been characterized as an amalgam of Ye and Cudi's dark sides, along with flecks of the prevailing rap trends of the moment, but he's become so synonymous with the sound that he now owns that lane. Every record he's on these days takes on a certain vibe, one that's characterized by mind-numbing bass, wailing futuristic synths and Auto-Tuned ad-libs. Pusha's "Blocka," Big Sean's "10 2 10" and French Montana's "5 Mo" all utilize different artists and producers, yet all three are immediately recognizable as "Travi$ Scott" songs.
Mostly, though, it's energy. Watch when Kanye brings the Houston native out for OVO Fest this year (with nice speakers), and tell me you don't get goosebumps when "Upper Echelon" drops (a little after :30 seconds in).
Travi$ Scott embodies energy. It's pure, unadulterated adrenaline that permeates every record and live performance. For many, this is his draw. Every show comes with the possibility that Travi$ might physically fight security, throw a tantrum on-stage or incite a full-scale crowd riot. I saw him live a few weeks ago, and the crowd's anticipation was palpable. True to form, he not only encouraged a crowd fight but had his audio cut before storming off stage... and it was awesome. Lucas wrote an excellent piece a couple months ago that recognized the hypocrisy so common among hip-hop fans, and how we need to examine our own personal lines of morality. Travi$ is my example; where I would usually consider such antics immature, I have a tendency to revel in his path of destruction. We all like to turn our brains off sometimes.
Perhaps the best and worst comparison I can make is that Travi$ reminds me of the Fat Jew, without the blatant theft. He aggregates the best of what he sees getting popular around music and adds his own touch, making sure the spotlight rests squarely on his name. The addition of Travi$ to the industry talent he's surrounded himself with is like adding a Fat Jew caption to a meme and collecting it on his Instagram page; it gives you one cohesive, well-branded package that’s greater than the sum of its parts. In the long run, who and what goes into a record matters less than the end product, as long as the quality is there. Travi$ makes music for the same generation of listeners that aren’t concerned with Drake using a ghostwriter. This is a class of younger fans more worried about eating something tasty than seeing the ingredients that go into the meal. Travi$ serves up a healthy dish of packaged and polished rage, and Rodeo is shaping up to be a 16-course meal.
So why am I excited? Because I'm a Travi$ Scott fan, despite his reliance on outside assistance. I've witnessed growth, and while the content may remain shallow as ever, he's managed to capture an emotion in his music that I can feel. Some artists can have all the skill in the world, yet fail to register because they just don't elicit an emotional response. Travi$ may still be working on finding those skills, but he's drawn me into his world. If you focus too far into the lyrics, the production credits or the persona, you may find things you don't like. It's when you zoom out, and take it all in together, that Travi$ Scott starts to make sense.
[By Brendan Varan. He's lowkey at the night show. Follow him on Twitter.]