The most gratifying events in music are the moments where you can literally hear the construction in the artist’s mind, the building onto the promise of greatness. While not a guarantee, Days Before Rodeo provides the listener with the glimpses of the incredible, long-ranging capabilities of Travi$ Scott. Scott has been bubbling from below, as both an MC and as a notable producer, specifically for G.O.O.D. Music. Key contributor in the formation and composition of both the Cruel Summer compilation and Kanye West’s Yeezus, on top of his excellent Owl Pharaoh mixtape, La Flame has set himself up for success, as an artist and a needle mover.

The tone is set with the WondaGurl-produced “Day Before Rodeo (The Prayer),” a track that could have been at home on the back end of Yeezus, with it’s interplay of piano, droned echoes and synths, and punchy drums. The mid-tempo “Mamacita” continues the vibe, with surprisingly decent Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug features. Mike Dean and Southside manage to level up on the original, with the sparse “Quintana Pt.2”, which contains a trapped-out, uncredited T.I. verse, with its own production.

Even with the strong start, Scott gives the listener something more honest with “Drugs You Should Try It”. Here, he transforms from a producer/rapper to songwriter with a firm understanding of composition, which is where he truly shines as a creative. With all of the talk of auto-tune killing music, Scott manages to use the vocal processor to its highest potential, creating tangible emotion, mimicking the drugs altering the process of his feelings for the woman. The semi-single, “Don’t Play”, features The 1975 and Big Sean, who comes with a fitting verse, sounding more like Iceberg Slim in his hey-day, than a rapper. An almost goth-trap song, with the cathedral organ keys over 808s, it sounds like a Triple Six track.

Young Thug has the crucial lines, “Skyfall”, a Kid Cudi-influenced industrial trap track: “Look me inside of my eyes/All of these problems I‘m tryna disguise.” Lex Luger produces future concert/festival rager “Zombies”, a track reminiscent of Kanye’s past call and response tracks. The album has its down points, specifically on Migos and PeeWee Longway featured “Sloppy Toppy,” though Takeoff comes with a decent verse. The clichéd lyrics on “Basement Freestyle”, another Luger banger, wasted the production. (It seems the “bitches on bitches” talk is the base default of the majority of today’s mainstream rappers – a troubling, ongoing trend, and sign of what rap is today, or perhaps what labels are willing to put out.)

Recovery occurs by way of the album’s strongest, instant-replay worthy track, “Backyard,” an autobiographical track, with the appropriate Third Coast feel. Part ode to old school ride out tracks, and part memorial to an incarcerated childhood friend, “Grey” puts the album over the top, further exemplifying abilities as a full service song creator. The second verse is arguably the strongest of his career, perfectly encapsulating who Travi$ could be as a lyricist. “BACC***” is an unusual way to close the album, but the strength of the two previous tracks almost swallow this short track whole.

The high production value on the free album alone would be enough for wide scale praise. Pricing aside, Scott intended the album to act as a stand-alone event, not just a setup for Rodeo. The album succeeds as such, though are (very) few notable negatives, such as the mailed-in “trap, money, and bitches” rap. That said, the unfortunate truth is that those topics sell in today’s market – Scott is almost compelled to have them, given the climate. The comforting aspect of the album, and of Scott’s career to this point, is that he appears at ease straying away from those topics, and digging a bit deeper, when it calls for it. For most artists that attempt to construct something, even slightly, below the surface, it comes off as trite and clumsy. The listener doesn’t believe it, because the artist isn’t convincing. Because he has a firm command of his sound, Scott is able to flow in and out of different subjects, while maintaining substantial passion and creativity.

Stardom is a fickle creature, and it’s hard to know if it is going to circle around for La Flame, as there are many other factors, aside from possessing enormous talent. Some artists, regardless of genre, will have staying power, based on force of personality, or force of unquestioned talent. Scott represents the latter. Regardless of whether the upcoming “debut” pushes him into the mainstream, at minimum, Days Before Rodeo stands as evidence to Scott’s future as likely critical darling.