Travis Scott gets outshone on new album 'ASTROWORLD'

by Andrew Sosanya | 8/10/18 2:10am

Last week, Travis Scott treated fans to the release of his long-awaited new album, “ASTROWORLD.” This marks Scott’s third studio album, a project that has become the subject of hype since its initial announcement two years ago. The success of Scott’s previous two albums, “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” and “Rodeo,” only served to heighten the anticipation. The project’s title serves as an homage to Six Flag’s now-defunct AstroWorld theme park, a staple of Scott’s homecity of Houston, Texas. The album is arguably just as much fun, as Scott creates an unorthodox universe in which trippy beats go head-to-head with spacey tracks that send listeners through the cosmos. The feature list is stacked, filled with big names, little names and guys you’ve probably never even heard of. Rest assured though, they’re all fire. The production is just as diverse, with collaborations from veterans of the industry veterans including Mike Dean and Metro Boomin’, as well as breakouts like Turbo and Tay Keith.

“STARGAZING” serves as the album’s surprising introduction, with kaleidoscopic auto-tuned crooning and an unpredictable musical transition that effectively launches listeners into astronomical “ASTROWORLD.” Travis channels an acid trip with an ectasy-inducing first verse, “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ got me stargazin’ / Psychedelics got me goin’ crazy.” While some elements are forgettable, the Travis Scott standard creates a great hollistic sound. Fans will regonize his distorted 808s, lo-fi samples and certified La Flame adlibs. Scott incorporates his signature beat-switches into the project, transforming potential standalone tracks into sonic adventures. His trademark smooth transitions also feature heavily on the album, somehow making high-energy tracks like “NO BYSTANDERS” blend seamlessly with mellow, atmospheric tunes like “SKELETONS.” 

Scott compensates for sometimes formulaic lyrics with a cohesive atmosphere that pervades the whole album, save for a filler song or two on the way. The reflective “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” is the result of several complex elements. Among them are a humbling hook and verse from Scott, classic Kid Cudi hums, a Stevie Wonder harmonica solo and an evocative James Blake melody. Scott serves up introspective vibes on “ASTROTHUNDER” over Thundercat production. The way he rides on these futuristic instrumentals is just plain wavy. It doesn’t get more chill than this.

Five years ago, Travis Scott was mainly known for being Kanye West’s producer protégé. Fast forward to 2018, and Scott has carved out his own space in the mainstream. He’s the full-stack package: a rapper, producer and celebrity personality. In “COFFEE BEAN,” Scott creates an outro akin to that of Kanye’s “30 Hours” and Drake’s “6PM in New York.” Scott offers mindful, self-aware commentary on his relationship with Kylie Jenner and their newborn child. On boom-bap production, Scott reveals his thoughts: “Your family told you I’m a bad move / Plus I’m already a black dude.

Where this album really shines, however, is in its wealth of features. Comparable to the likes of Kanye West, Scott proves  himself to be a great orchestrater. He crafted the feature list with both new and old in mind. Hip-hop staples like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd offer for consistent appeal, while industry newcomers such as Houston-native Don Toliver, Sheck Wes and “LUCID DREAMS” star Juice WRLD elevate tracks from unremarkable to luminous. Travis shows that he can string together each piece to create a euphonious synergy. As Scott says himself on “SICKO MODE,” he’s the glue of this album, and it shows.

If anything, these hot features overshadow Scott. As master craftsman of “ASTROWORLD,” Travis takes a backseat and commands from afar. The songs with the most replay value don’t owe their glory to Scott’s verses or adlibs. Don Toliver, whom Travis just signed to his label, spearheads “CAN’T SAY” with an electric flow and a sonically-pleasing voice. “YOSEMITE” plays like a Gunna song in disguise. Gunna spits a poised cadence over producer Turbo’s guitars supplemented with Kid Cudi-like hums from Scott. Drake makes taking medications as prescribed sound dope, rapping “Now I hit the FBO with duffels in my hand, did half a xan, thirteen hours till I land.” Scott and Drake alternate in a catchy song that’s sure to hit the billboards.

After the long road to stardom since breaking through the mainstream in the last couple years, it’s disappointing to hear Scott struggle to conserve momentum in his solo tracks. “ASTROWORLD” crumbles under expectation of something commanding from Scott. His magnum opus and first studio album “Rodeo” broke boundaries and redefined what trap music could sound like. While classic joints with catchy choruses like “Antidote” drove Scott to stardom, most of his solo pieces aren’t hitting the mark on his most recent release.  Without a hot feature or two, his played-out flows, recycled adlibs and lyrical content don’t make for a sustainable listen. Scott sprinkles variations on the same tired theme throughout the project, spitting phrases like “Pop a seal like it’s Chris make it look Breezy (it’s lit) / Wedding bands on my fist, shit is freezing (straight up).” The laziness of the album is tangible. It stung to see the 15-month old “BUTTERFLY EFFECT” on the track list, despite the fact that it’s about six feet under when it comes to circulation. I have little faith that Scott would be able to hold his own on a no-feature album or EP. Only a satiating beat salvages some of these songs—luckily Scott is one hell of a producer.   

It’s hard to pinpoint anything new that Scott does to establish “ASTROWORLD” as more than just another installment in the La Flame collection, but it remains a must-listen record. It’s not 2015’s “Rodeo,” but it’s the closest he’s come to it. Despite considering its pitfalls, it’s good music. Put your headphones on and sink into Travis Scott’s “ASTROWORLD.”

Correction appended (Aug. 14, 2018): This article has been updated to correct a typo in the headline.