Travis Scott: Producer, Rapper, and Rockstar in the Pursuit of Happiness

In the past two years, trap-rapper Travis Scott has a seen a meteoric rise in popularity with smash-hit albums “Rodeo” from 2015 and “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” from 2016. Though he has refused to open for anyone again after selling out arenas with Rihanna and The Weeknd, he recently made an exception: opening for Kendrick Lamar’s tour of his latest album, “DAMN”.

Travis Scott’s style lies somewhere between the stoner confessions sung by Kid Cudi in the album Man on the Moon, the gritty, eccentric trap of Young Thug, and the opiated, auto-tune bangers of Future. While Scott has only named rappers as his sources of inspiration, the structure of his albums are reminiscent of classic rock with musical preludes, a focus on melody and harmony, and beat switch-ups in the outros of almost every track. A producer first and rapper second, Scott’s albums not only deliver hard-hitting beats, phenomenal rapping, and great lyricism, but also catchy hooks, complex musical progression, and soulful vocals from both features and himself.

Though he has been drumming since he was four years-old and producing since high school, Travis Scott got his big break in his professional career making beats for Kanye’s 2012 album “Cruel Summer”. Kanye saw promise in the young Texan producer and signed him to his label, giving him an opportunity to produce and rap on his own projects. Hot among rappers, Scott’s debut studio album “Rodeo” had a rock star list of features, including Kanye West, The Weeknd, Chief Keef, and Young Thug. Commercially successful with several chart-topping bangers including “Antidote,” Rodeo was a promising debut for Travis Scott. The work suffered some hiccups, namely that some tracks far outshone the others. Scott’s sophomore work, however, is high-energy, soulful, and teeming with catchy hooks from front to back.

The opening track, “The Ends,” features a chilling verse from the legendary Andre 3000 about a series of child murders surrounding his upbringing in Atlanta. In a Rolling Stone interview, Scott said the feature was “the craziest thing I’ve heard in my life.”

Detuned arpeggios open “Coordinate” with an eerie ambience that matches the trap defiance of the song’s lyrics. Scott opens with the refrain, “Coordinate the tan with the beans in my rockstar skinnies” in a deep, subdued, and still-impassioned voice. A true test of obscure drug slang, tan means codeine, and the beans are pills of MDMA, otherwise known as “molly.” Typical for his music, which focuses on themes of opiate drug use, sex, partying, and authenticity, “Coordinate” likens the rapper’s lifestyle of today to the rock stars of old with a tying article, skinny jeans.

A common criticism of rappers like Scott is that their lyricism is facile and concerns superficial topics like drugs, women, and clothes. While Birds in the Trap is only vaguely political and celebrates drugs more than anything else, the lyrics and delivery feel authentic and are charged with Scott’s genuine emotions. Even if the lyricism revolves around partying, sex, and getting high on psychedelics, who’s to say his album is more shallow than “Fear and Loathing” and other drug-addled literature? As rock stars and sensualists, why do we demand that rappers like Travis Scott tackle politics when that’s not where his interests lie?

Passion bleeds strong in “Through the Late Night” with features from Scott’s biggest idol, Kid Cudi. Trading verses, one of Cudi’s lines repeats, “N, N-Dimethyltryptamine and Lysergic Acid Diethylamide,” the chemical names for DMT and LSD, and continues, “the vibes are effervescent, delicious just how they should be.” Cudi recently placed himself in rehab for drug addiction, yet the track portrays the central role of drug experimentation in their lifestyle.

On the heels of “Birds in the Trap” is Scott’s upcoming album, tentatively named “AstroWorld.” The title mourns the loss of his childhood Six Flags in Houston, the amusement park being taken down to make more space for a rodeo. After the shutdown of AstroWorld, Scott at age 13 began taking his music career seriously, looking for another source of genuine fun.

When asked by Rolling Stone about his career goals, Scott responded, “In almost every album I feel like I’m chasing this thing. To others it might sound like drugs, to some people it might sound like love, to some people it might sound like success. It’s just this happiness thing I’m trying to find.”

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