"Scott's rise in popularity has been fostered through intense relationship-building with a crazed fan base over a series of years, the direct result of one-of-a-kind live shows and well-received singles." —"Mike Dean Explains Why Travis Scott’s Music Has Seen a Rise in Popularity"
In a genre built upon realness and authenticity, hip-hop brands are cultivated around identities and lifestyles. It's a simple marketing concept, one that allows fans to buy into a person who represents something easily relatable and romanticized. Kanye couldn’t enter into hip-hop as a deity named Yeezus; it’s far easier for people to attach themselves to a down-to-earth college dropout than a narcissistic god. Stoners love Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa because they’re fellow stoners, the coolest versions of Cheech and Chong or Harold and Kumar. You don’t have to be a hustler to admire JAY-Z, or survive a maad city as a good kid to see something relatable in Kendrick Lamar; what matters is being able to recognize, respect, and feel connected to the image they sell.
For the last few years, I’ve wondered what exactly it was about Travis Scott that people were buying into. What was Travis Scott's brand? He hails from Houston, but other than grandiose grills he didn’t carry many of Houston, Texas' common cultural identifiers. Sonically, his music doesn’t have a sole regional source; it's sprinkled with influences that were thrown into an artistic blender. He carried the aura of a misfit rebel archetype, but that didn’t resonate as the reason for such a strong gravitational pull drawing in hordes of fans and admirers.
Travis arrived into hip-hop’s mainstream consciousness as Kanye’s protégé, a hybrid rapper/producer who dabbled in the arts of Auto-Tune with an affinity for melodies. He didn’t have the lyrical prowess of a Cyhi the Prynce, his loner persona defined him but not like the magnetizing outcast Kid Cudi, and he didn't exude the natural cool of Big Sean. There was a pompous arrogance about him that made it difficult to see him as easily likable. In fact, even making headlines on numerous occasions for being an asshole hasn't stopped people from expressing undying love for the young artist.
Travis has found a voice and sound that can best be described as his own, even if it's a melting pot of sounds from elsewhere, and he has the creative foresight to surround himself with co-producers and artists in order to bring big records to life. But listening to his music, I just couldn't understand why so many people were so passionate about him. Travis is one of the leading artists in rap’s trap era, and after listening and listening I still couldn't understand what the hype was all about.
A while back, during a casual conversation with a friend, it hit me: I've never been to a Travis Scott show.
My friend put it simply: Travis Scott isn’t a rapper selling a particular lifestyle, but a rapper selling an experience through his concerts. Since the beginning of his rise, Travis’ name has been synonymous with outrageous live performances. I can recall the headline of Frazier Tharpe’s 2015 show review on Complex: "I Tried Not to Die at Travi$ Scott and Young Thug's Show Last Night." It may look like exaggerated hype, but it's eye-catching—as a reader you want to know exactly why this particular concert came with the potential fear of death.
In May 2017, Lawrence Neil penned an excellent review of Travis' Cleveland show during the Bird's Eye View Tour, writing that the show wasn't musically exceptional. You don’t leave a Travis show hoping to find ripped audio of the performance for safekeeping, it’s not that kind of party. Lawrence saw the bigger picture, though. He saw what makes a Travis show the epicenter of his artistry and brand, and why supporters continue to arrive in droves to see him night after night:
"The real art is the atmosphere he creates during the performance. You’re there for the ear-ringing, unbridled, moshpit-inducing chaos facilitated by Scott. His music primes a listener, but his performance itself stands as an independent entity, an experiential upshift into an activated energetic state that an tantalize thousands." ―"Rapper Travis Scott Rages During Hypnotizing Performance at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica"
Doesn’t such a description encourage curiosity? Lawrence and Frazier's reviews are just two examples from a host of press clippings that have assisted in creating a mythology around Travis' concerts, spreading the gospel that Scott’s shows are insanity unlocked, madness unleashed―an eruption of unfiltered energy and mayhem. More than just hearing his slew of popular songs, you live them in a burst of unforgettable exhilaration. It’s not just critics, either, but most everyone I've ever spoken with about Travis glorifies his live shows.
I know that once the bones begin to age this kind of setting no longer sounds desirable, but for the young and adventurous such an environment is treated with the same conquering passion as Indiana Jones in a cursed cave or a jewel-ridden jungle. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a majority of his fans are students in high school and college, and where they want to be is somewhere insanely lit—basically, a rodeo. Travis is the ringleader of a circus where everything is loud, pulsing, and unpredictable, and everyone wants a ticket to say they've experienced it. He’s been accused of starting riots; bodies have flung off stages and even balconies due to the rowdy reality he creates.
There isn’t much depth to Travis Scott, he's an artist that creates mostly one-dimensional music, but he’s able to take that dimension and create a world for it to live within and invite others to visit with friends and family. Performing upon the back of a floating bird is Travis upping the ante for his fantasy rodeo. Even when opening for an artist of Kendrick Lamar’s caliber, a man floating on a bird is hard to overshadow. That’s something you see and never forget, regardless of how you may feel about the music he’s performing.
Travis understands why it’s necessary to be unforgettable, to leave an impression that encourages a return visit. This is also why Travis isn’t an artist that can easily be discarded with the arrival of new acts, many of whom will borrow his sound and reap some success. They can take his musical blueprint, but to truly replicate the enthusiasm he engineers would require recreating his rodeo atmosphere, a much harder feat than Auto-Tuned melodies and chaotic basslines.
If you can’t be the best rapper, it pays immensely to have a worthwhile performance game. Travis isn't going to out-bar your favorite rapper, but he's guaranteed to set the stage ablaze, and depending on the day, he may literally burn down the venue. Not many artists can produce the thrill of pure mayhem. To do as Travis has done means to be the architect of an experience that must be lived amongst many. You can press play on a Travis album and hear the music, but until you breathe the air of chaos amongst brethren who arrived for madness, you're missing something.
I know, because I am still missing it.
Making attendance a requirement means curious concertgoers are more eager to see what is behind the veil. I’m not the only one who probably feels as if the next Travis show is one they must attend, and that’s a rare feeling to have for an artist you like but don’t love. Even if I hate his next album, the tour announcement will catch my eye and the thought of missing yet another show will be unbearably annoying. DJBooth's managing editor Brendan has seen Travis four times and I know he'll be there for a fifth. That is why his brand is strong: people are coming back for more and the ones who haven’t attended are right behind them.
We're in an era where an artist's performance is as important as the music, where festivals are annual summer rites of passage and where proving your attendance on social media is more valued than having listened to the album. If Travis Scott has mastered anything, it's the stage. And on that stage, in a room surrounded by heart-shaped eyes and sweat-drenched bodies, he is one of hip-hop's most fascinating figures.
The king of chaos has found his throne, built his kingdom, and is likely to rule for many moons. We all want to see what the rodeo is like.