Travis Scott is a star. Some will say, with strong statistical proof, he’s a superstar. As one of the youngest raging rock stars to tap into the pulse of the youth, it’s impossible to dispute how enormous the Houston-born rapper has become. The hits ("Portland," "Antidote," "Watch") are undeniable, his live performance has reached renowned stature, and his collection of mixtapes and albums is strong.
With that said, the heavy anticipation surrounding his third studio album, ASTROWORLD, is more firmly rooted in patience. The album's title was first announced in May 2016, four months before the release of Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. Those who found Birds lacking where Rodeo exceeded, the promise of ASTROWORLD was always on the horizon, but last year's tragically disappointing Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho collaborative album with Quavo didn’t help the anxiousness.
Hype is good for album sales, but when anticipation reaches the frantic red, an artist's work will inevitably suffer from unrealistic expectations. Remember Views? The popularity of “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling” couldn't erase the avalanche of criticism the would-be "Drake classic" faced. Does ASTROWORLD carry that same weight? In a way, yes. The people want an epic Travis Scott album, nothing more. Can he possibly deliver?
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Entering ASTROWORLD in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
Spooky. Travis always has production with the aura of a Scooby Doo monster. The drums just blew my eardrums out the window. It’s like atomic pop rocks are exploding. Travis came in with the saccharine melody. This is the song that played in the video game-esque album trailer that dropped. He just became completely inaudible; I’m not sure what noises he’s making but he could speak in tongues over this beat and I’d bump it. A good hook. “Psychedelic got me going crazy.” I think you’re doing the wrong drugs, kid. Got old pretty fast. The latter half slowed down. Almost a crawl. Sounds like a roller coaster.
BEAT CHANGE. I feel like I’m on drugs in the best possible way. Travis came back with confidence. This is GOOD. Travis sounds very focused. I like, I like. “It ain’t a mosh bit if it’s no injuries.” The Rage God is raging. Kylie reference, then a Moby Dick reference into a line about Kobe. I laughed. The second half is the winning half. Good start.
2. "CAROUSEL" ft. Frank Ocean
You all know I’m ready to stan for this Frank verse. There’s a man talking. [Editor's Note: That's Big Tuck.] Dang, I didn’t catch his name. Slow buildup. Exciting. Oh, this sounds like some '08 Odd Future. Travis is rapping way more straightforward. FRANK! This is marshmallows in your cereal perfect. This is pure honey mustard sauce mixed with gold. The beat has a weird tempo, but I’m not mad. Bass is heavier than the rain during fall in Seattle. Frank is back in. He really has one of the most interesting pens in all of rap and R&B. That was over so fast.
3. "SICKO MODE" ft. Drake
On to the next. This album is starting to move. Sounding triumphant. A big buildup. Andre The Giant big. Drake! “My dog would do it for a Louie belt.” A genius Instagram caption. THESE DRUMS! WAIT THE WHOLE SONG JUST SWITCHED UP. This is some of the most unorthodox production I’ve heard Travis rap over. Shoot, some of the craziest production I’ve heard all year. This is Gonzo music, the stranger the better. Everything is transforming. Vocals and beats. It’s definitely a funhouse of madness.
The bass is hitting my chest like I'm coughing up a lung. “She thought it was the ocean it’s just a pool.” More stunt raps, Mr. Scott. This beat has more forms than Drake has accents. Drake is back. TAY KEITH DROP! “SICKO MODE” is three songs in one. It’s a variety pack. Trap flow Drake. Tay Keith and Drake might be three for three. This album has lost its mind and I’m only three songs in. Travis' vision for these records has been wild. Travis pulled up with a solid close and a strong breakdown.
4. "R.I.P. SCREW" ft. Swae Lee
If this album is named after a theme park and, so far, it’s been a rush. Travis is slowing things down, word to DJ Screw. Nice to see Travis paying homage; Houston will be proud. I’m not the most knowledgeable when it comes to his tapes. Are those Swae Lee vocals? Or is he in the background? There’s so much color and textures being put into these songs.
Okay, that’s definitely Robot Swae Lee from the year SremmXXX. It’s so interesting hearing these two together. It’s the Spiderman pointing at himself meme in audio form. There hasn’t been a single beat that I wouldn’t admit into the insane asylum. “Rest in peace to Screw tonight we take it slow.” Really enjoyed the vibe. Travis is balancing the melodies and rapping well. I’m really into this album so far.
5. "STOP TRYING TO BE GOD" ft. James Blake, Kid Cudi & Stevie Wonder
I have to relisten to the album and catch all the clips playing before these songs. I’m pretty sure they're all references. Cudi is sounding like a starving Yogi Bear if he ate T-Pain’s Auto-Tune vocalizer. His hum has reached a new level. This is so good! Production has a strong knock but is also lucid. Travis sounds good, introspective. A rare introspection. Travis really is Kid Cudi's greatest child. I'd welcome these two trading melodies and positive reinforcement on a KIDS SEE GHOSTS 2. Everything Scott has done in his career has led to these kinds of spacey records. Bro. I’m crying. Stevie Wonder harmonica. It has the presence of a feature verse. Travis has such a unique artistic voice. He’s either leaning hard into influences or able to perfectly mold them into himself. He’s a shapeshifter but also has an original form.
James Blake is an emo angel. Stevie, James, and Cudi are really taking me to an entirely new dimension. Blake’s voice is SOULFUL. I’m pretty sure his physical body was on the floor while his actual soul sung into the microphone. There’s no way he did this while still wearing his skin. It’s so beautiful. My eyes are starting to water again. TRAVIS WENT FULL KANYE. FULL SUPER SAIYAN KANYE.
6. "NO BYSTANDERS" ft. Juice WRLD & Sheck Wes
Woo. I’m sweating. Juice WRLD is trying to steal the show already. Travis came in like he was just launched out of a cannonball. The background vocals are everything. I’m telling you, the way he’s rapping is with a newfound zeal. FUCK THE CLUB UP! ANOTHER ROYALTY CHECK FOR THREE 6 MAFIA! SHECK WES FOREVER! I’m pretty sure Juicy J and DJ Paul will be on the Forbes list this year off sample clearances alone. Travis is curb-stomping the pocket. His flow is moving faster than Forrest Gump. I forgot Travis could flow with such finesse. I’m loving the energy of this album. It’s very amped, high energy. “Who said I ain’t gonna sell.” Talk your shit, sir. A little long-winded, but this one is going to cause the ground to shake at his forthcoming performances. Can I stop the album now and buy my ticket? The drums that just hit should have baby powder the way they slapped me. Success has only made Travis Scott stronger.
7. "SKELETONS" ft. Tame Impala, The Weeknd & Pharrell Williams
What a rush. There’s no way a song with The Weeknd is keeping that tempo. Heavy keys. They're a nice texture. Travis is giving us some Auto-Tune drenched notes. He went full Tame Impala with the production and vocals. I’m seeing three-eyed elephants and flamingos crip walking. Kanye flow. He’s in a zone. It’s a bit messy. Weeknd just appeared from nowhere like the vampire that he is. This is like "All of the Lights" but on shrooms.
8. "WAKE UP" ft. The Weeknd
Guitar strums. Like a broken guitar, though. As if Travis just smashed it on stage and is still trying to play it. Abel sounds good over these rowdy drums. Travis just came in. The features have all been very fluid in contrast to the lead artist. They move together rather than around one another. I didn’t love Travis’ verse, and I can do without his ad-libs. The song is too thin to add the extra noise. I want whoever produced this to pop up on the next Weeknd album. I don’t love this one, but it's not bad. Sounds like a bunch of good ideas collaged together but not quite stitched in the way to make a beautiful quilt of romantic debauchery.
9. "5% TINT"
Loving this buildup. The bassline and keys together are as menacing as they are angry Florida gator. Yep, this is a heater. The perfect Travis vibe. Dark, dirty, and infectious. I would love to hear Future spill some lean on this one. “Who’s that creeping through the window.” I wonder if that’s a nod toward “Antidote.” [Editor's Note: That is a nod toward Goodie Mob, whose "Cell Therapy" is interpolated on the track.] This a Travis hit I haven’t heard often enough over the past five years. This album has been an engrossing listen.
10. "NC-17" ft. 21 Savage
Wind chimes? I don’t know. Travis introduced a new voice. I've never heard this pitch but it's FIRE; it's like he’s the inverted version of his deeper texture. This is the pitch you get when Swae Lee doesn’t answer the phone. Menacing keys just dropped. SAVAGE! He just woke up to wrestle a dragon. There’s some bars. He sounds perfect on this beat. That Kid Cudi line took me out. The Babyface line caused me to fall out my chair. I’m typing from the ground. Whoever made that beat needs to send 21 an entire pack.
Interesting. I love how chaotic the percussion is; these drums are popping up from every angle. I have to say, I’m a bit fatigued. I need Travis to finish this strong. He’s slowed down the flow and I’m starting to move slower than a turtle crossing the Sahara. I do like the hook, though. “Feel like the life I need a little distance.” Some additional production to give the song last-minute color.
12. "YOSEMITE" ft. Gunna & NAV
Now, these guitar chords I like! The sample too. Gunna’s flow is GOOD. SO GOOD. Almost thought he was Thug for a moment. This is far too composed to be Thug, but he’s dripping pure diamonds and gold. All the pitch switching is causing my head to spin. Travis picked up. These two are onto something. Gunna really reminds me of like Thug without all the croaks. Cool hook. Some Cudi-esque hums. Cudi really did change the hum forever. Gunna is about to be out of here. This is the flow that gets you a million fans. And NAV sounds like NAV. He’s the cousin your mom made you take to the studio and he begged you to get on the end of the song. I’m kidding, NAV didn’t sound bad.
13. "CAN'T SAY" ft. Don Toliver
Slow buildup. Sounds like music you would hear in Castlevania. The melodies are clean. Very Weeknd-esque. I wouldn't be surprised if he was present for this studio session. The drums waited perfectly to come in. My favorite version of Travis is when he sounds like the third member of Rae Sremmurd. Who just came on the song? I have no idea who Don Toliver is but he sounds like if Young Thug hatched from his egg too soon. I hope this clarifies the origins of Thug for those who thought he was born. He definitely has a strong presence. The best song on this album has been puzzling. Musical madness. Each time my head has spun I’ve been satisfied.
14. "WHO? WHAT?" ft. Quavo & Takeoff
Travis is on a completely different trap aesthetic with these beats. It’s like fantasy trap. SLAPS. Disgusting. Hearing those Migo ad-libs. Why was this not on the Jack Huncho album? Man, they really gave us the Dollar Menu of joint albums. Travis is going off on this one. I’ve enjoyed the rapping when he’s really tapping in. So far Migos have only been adding vocals to the background... which is fine, they’re a really good supporting cast. QUAVO! TAKEOFF! They’re really going to pack the entire Migos cast into the last few seconds. Quavo was Quavo, but that Takeoff flow was tighter than a knot tied by an exceptional boy scout.
15. "BUTTERFLY EFFECT"
I thought I didn’t need “Butterfly Effect” on this album, and a good part of my soul still believes that, but it flows very well with how the album is arranged. It’s funny how certain singles don’t work until you hear them within the framework of a larger body. “M&M sweet as candy cane” is such strange songwriting. Comparing a candy to a candy; Travis has to be a psychopath. That’s a clear sign, right? Yep, okay, I’m sold on “Butterfly Effect.” I don’t want to skip it if the whole album is playing.
The series Californication has to get more credit for all the rap song titles it’s inspired. Hi-hats are in the kitchen with Lil B, cooking. I love this tempo. I love how Travis is catching the entire surf with this watery flow. I would not mind an entire mixtape of Travis rapping with this much enthusiasm. “No one can check me when it’s chess.” I like this bar even if it’s a bit silly. That said, the beat might be the show stealer. It is KNOCKING. Fire. Too much fire.
17. "COFFEE BEAN"
OH OKAY! THIS IS A BEAT. Travis outros might be underrated. This is crazy. Nineteen85 is an UNDERRATED producer; please give him all the bags to get beats on your next album. The OVO and Cactus Jack combo is a very dangerous fusion. My shoulders are shimming and my ears are Harlem shaking. I feel like this song is the audio version of Keeping Up with Travis and Kylie. Introspective Travis might be a whole different artist. Reflecting has him tapping into a whole 'nother zone. Repeat. Run this on repeat. All night long. Loving the electric guitar and the surrounding backing vocals. The entire record sounds so disruptive and alive. Music that makes your heart race. WHAT A RIDE.
Final (first listen) thoughts on ASTROWORLD:
Travis Scott didn’t just create his album around an amusement park theme; he manufactured the audio version of one. The entire project feels like a summer at Six Flags without the beaming sun and having to wait in lines. From the roller coaster production to cotton candy melodies, Travis delivers.
There are stretches throughout the album where Travis sounds completely new and improved, like an artist who has spent the last two years training in a hyperbolic musical time chamber. There would be no irony in stating his power level as a rapper and curator has exceeded 9,000. Not only did he summon an array of producers to elevate his sound to territories unknown, but he placed the perfect features across the album, allowing each guest to thrive for the betterment of the album as a whole.
Every screw, bolt, and nail was carefully blueprinted and installed. Travis has never captured the height of his artistic capabilities on one project the way he does on ASTROWORLD. It’s based on one listen, obviously, but no Travis Scott album has ever made me feel this way from front to back.
ASTROWORLD is open for business. I can’t wait to visit again.
By Yoh, aka, AstroYoh aka @Yoh31