7 quick takeaways from Travis Scott's 'Astroworld'
The thrills connect on La Flame’s third studio release and, damn, is it a raucous one — a 17-song one at that.
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In 2015, Travis Scott galloped out of the Rodeo, only to step foot into the Trap a year later. Now, he invites us into the crazy, wild adventure that lives in his mind, Astroworld. The thrills connect on La Flame’s third studio release and, damn, is it a raucous one — a 17-song one at that. Like the title suggests, every record on Astro is a different sonic attraction. The serene “Stop Trying to Be God” sounds nothing like the nightmarish “Carousel,” and out of nowhere are Stevie Wonder’s harmonica (“Stop Trying to Be God” and Drake vocals (“Sicko Mode”). Altogether, what we have is a sonic interpretation of the high-strung mind of rap’s master collagist, and the whole, here, is greater than the sum of its parts. With so many elements to pick apart, here are a few quick notes.
Outside of touring atop his giant bird, collecting a few platinum plaques, and anticipating the arrival of young La Flame, Travis Scott poured up a splash of playlist fixtures in 2017. He stayed in rotation with new music by dropping loosies like “Butterfly Effect” and securing guest feature work such as “Sky Walker” for Miguel To close out 2017, he dropped Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, his long-awaited collaborative album with Quavo. In the rearview of all of that was Astroworld, an album that’s been talked about even before the release of 2016’s Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight. In fact, Astroworld has been looming since Rihanna was last on tour. “The name of my new album after Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight is now called Astroworld,” Travis announced to a crowd during an Anti World Tour stop in 2016. Since then, the album was shrouded in mystery, other than hints by producers and quotes from Travis. “They tore down AstroWorld to build more apartment space,” he told GQ in May 2017. “That’s what it’s going to sound like, like taking an amusement park away from kids. We want it back.”
It’s Travis’ world, and we’re experiencing it
Astroworld is to Travis what Disney World is to Walt Disney. The long-teased third studio album is a product of the Houston-bred wunderkind’s vision. Amidst the cavernous, high-octane and spacey production, Scott brings us – and his guests – into his own sonic fantasy. Who else in 2018 gets a verse from the streaming era king Drake, sweet harmonica-playing by Stevie Wonder and a hot 16 from Frank Ocean, all while having room for Migos, John Mayer, the Weeknd, Gunna, James Blake, Nav, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Pharrell Williams and Juice Wrld? Even with his star-studded attendees, Travis manages to hold position as master of ceremonies in his sonic amusement park. In addition to the brilliant production, handled by the likes of Hit-Boy and WondaGurl to name a few, these guests and collaborators don’t steal the show (well, Frank does, but that’s another bullet point). Instead, they each, collectively and respectively, add to the experience. Perfect example: Drake on “Sicko Mode.” Never before have we heard the “God’s Plan” rapper’s vocals be manipulated the way it does here, where his verse is split into two separate sections of one track. The Weeknd’s appearance on “Skeleton” and “Wake Up” is another example — two separate features, but the sum of their respective parts gel as a whole. Through Travis’ vision, all of this makes sense. After all, we don’t call him rap’s master collagist for no reason. Since 2013’s Owl Pharoah, his debut mixtape, Scott has proven himself to be the heir to Kanye West in orchestrating all-star ensemble casts. He put Justin Bieber and Young Thug together for “Maria, I’m Drunk,” a standout on 2015’s Rodeo, and meshed well with Kid Cudi on “through the late night” on 2016’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. He is skilled at making the improbable, probable when it comes to creative decisions. On Astroworld, more than any of his prior releases, he masterfully connects worlds. Thundercat and John Mayer are paired on “AstroThunder,” while “Stop Trying to Be God” becomes Voltron-like as it enlists the duties of Stevie Wonder, and what is believed to be, Kid Cudi and James Blake.
Frank Ocean is the biggest attraction
Sonically, Travis Scott’s Astroworld feels like Rodeo turned into a big budgeted Cirque Du Soleil-themed amusement park featuring internal consulting by Evel Knievel. Explosive production pop out at you, as do surprise guests. But there’s one special guest who perfects this trip like a nice plate of funnel cake, and it’s none other than Frank Ocean. The elusive singer appears on “Carousel” and steals the show. “Moving in silence don’t mean it’s movin’ slow,” he croons. “Even though the speed got old, sprinkling mephentermine on the leaves like the snow.” Frank is unique in that his voice and melodies almost always override the beat when he’s playing guest. It’s as if the instrumental takes an intermission when his vocals take center stage and we’ve seen this on records like “Purity,” his standout appearance on A$AP Rocky’s TESTING album, and “RAF.” As in the mentioned tracks, his voice brings clarity and allows, you, the listener to take a breather. In Scott’s hyperactive night show, Frank delivers some much needed tranquility.
Another epic album cover
For Rodeo, Travis pushed the bar, swapping a regular profile shot for one featuring an action figure of himself. He would later sell the action figure as a rare memorabilia for the album. In 2016, he recruited the legendary Nick Knight for the dark and hellish Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight artwork. Last year, he enlisted the duties of Ralph Steadman, the famous illustrator behind Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and frequent Hunter S. Thompson collaborator, for Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho. In his goal for treating every one of his works as art, he keeps it up on Astroworld‘s cover art, using the curatorial eye of renowned photographer David LaChapelle. For Scott, it’s either go big or go home for each project.
H-Town, you got one
Across Astroworld‘s 17 tracks lives the voices of Scott’s hometown heroes. There are references and samples of DJ Screw, DJ DMD, Big Hawk, Big Moe, Lil Keke, Pimp C, and Fat Pat. On “Stargazing,” he name drops Screwed Up Click rapper Big Moe’s 2000 track “Barre Baby,” rhyming, “Sipping on purp, feeling like the Barre Baby/ Whenever I’m down, it got me going crazy.” The late Big Hawk can be heard on the bridge of “Sicko Mode,” and the legendary DJ Screw is honored on the syrupy cut “R.I.P. Screw.” Dallas rapper Big Tuck drops in on “Carousel,” which samples his song “Not a Stain on Me,” while Lil Keke and Big Pokey’s 2001 track “Peepin’ In My Window” is referenced on “5% Tint” (the latter record also fuses Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy”). On “Can’t Say,” Fat Pat and Lil Keke’s “25 Lighters,” get love, as does up-and-coming Houston rapper Don Toliver, who is featured on the song. All in all, it’s a complete ode to Texas.
Producers and guests
Omitted from the album tracklist are appearances by Drake, Frank Ocean, Stevie Wonder, James Blake, Juice WRLD, Sheck Wes, The Weeknd, Pharrell Williams, 21 Savage, Gunna, NAV, Don Toliver, Quavo, Takeoff, and more. As far as producers go, Wondagurl, Boi-1da, Sevn Thomas, Nineteen85, Murda Beatz, Cardo, 30 Roc, Frank Dukes. Cubeatz, Thundercat, and FKi 1st, to name a few.