Travi$ Scott attempts to raise hell, but are his efforts undercooked?
Travi$ Scott has been the figure of some controversy for a myriad of reasons. Number one, he appears to have a reputation for being a dick, but that's actually not anything new to rap. He's also been known to bite styles, which is yet another familiar trope. But, perhaps above all, is the fact that both Grand Hustle and G.O.O.D. Music have seen fit to fully endorse Travi$ Scott as "that guy." He has been considered an essential part of Kanye West's last 2-3 years of output, though to what degree is impossible to determine. Also he's released a number of mixtapes that have considerable aid from the lesser-known stars of hip-hop, in both production and rapping; who don't get the considerable media fawning that being the apple of Kanye West's eye gets you. In this regard, his debut LP, Rodeo, places significant demands upon Travi$ Scott. So can this record finally silence doubts and criticisms, and prove Travis Scott is worth all of the hype?
One of the albatrosses of Rodeo is not Travi$ himself, but the guiding hand of Mike Dean. For the uninitiated, Dean's masterful production and engineering have made him an integral part of the classic '90s albums that emerged from Rap-A-Lot records. His considerable musical talents and exceptional ear, doing magic for Texas representatives such as Z-Ro, Scarface, UGK and Devin The Dude, before moving on to be Kanye's right hand man since Graduation. But while all of these individuals have had long-standing careers before Dean's guiding hand helped them out, Travi$ is still relatively unproven. With a good many of his production skills tied to figures like Kanye or journeymen rap producers of the current scene, like Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital, he becomes a rather imposing figure. Rodeo has a vast smorgasbord of psych-rock interludes, and massive beat switches that allow guest features to resemble whole new songs, and it's going to be very easy to presume Dean not only had a big influence in allowing Scott to craft this cinematic approach, it's also not outlandish for cynical critics or anti-Scott haters to simply lay all the positives at Dean's feet. Furthermore, with a cast of pinch-hitters like the aforementioned Boomin or Digital, as well as other heavy-hitters like Pharrell Williams, TM88, DJ Dahi and more, it doesn't leave a lot of room for Scott himself to showcase his own talents. In fact, besides the Kanye-featured “Piss On Your Grave,” Scott is notably uncredited on the beat-making side. It leaves one to question how Travi$'s album would benefit from so minimal a presence, at least on paper.
Before going on to further ponder the mystery of Travi$ Scott's contributions to his own album, it has to be noted that the guest features are a strange hodge-podge of some of rap's biggest stars and then some. The aforementioned hallmark of Rodeo's ever evolving song structures give an immense feel of grandeur, and make even the slightest twist and turn feel spectacular, and often brings out some of the best in this supporting cast. For example, “On My Dis Side” features Quavo crooning and taunting over a slab of Jodeci-esque R&B, while the hallucinatory “Maria I'm Drunk” brings out a surprisingly nice verse from Justin Bieber and, a typically slurry Young Thug.
By now a good deal of you are probably asking yourselves “Well what about TRAVI$!?!?” and that's the general flaw of Rodeo... What about him? Travi$ Scott is most certainly rapping, singing, and ideally producing his debut album, and yet, I cannot tell you anything about him other than the fact that he clearly likes sex and drugs. Because even when Travi$ offers insights into his character, like his background from Texas or his family still lingering around somewhere, he never really talks about them with any more effort than he does about girls' breasts. And, even that is a nondescript, blunt and rather stunted affair. His rapping itself also feels like an afterthought, often delivered lazily and a real slight when held up against the company he's elected to establish himself among.
The album also maintains an incredible weight, both sonically and in self-worship. Throughout the album, Travi$' other mentor, T.I narrates for us like he's telling a storybook to the enticed audience. Its oddly reminiscent of the debut by another chosen one of Kanye's; Kid Cudi's Man On The Moon. In fact, Travi$'s singing, desire to craft blurry soundscape, and overwhelmingly self-deluded tendencies feel astonishingly close to Cudi territory. Bitterly so, when you remember one of Man On The Moon's most prominent attributes was the additional portentous quality from Common's oratory skills, both two of Kanye's 'former' partners in crime. To bite a flow or style is fairly commonplace in rap, but Rodeo feels like a hijack of Man On The Moon, stripped of all the humanity and replaced with guitars and bummy attempts at dubbed-out trickery.
Its hard to see where Travi$ Scott will go from here. None of the record feels like 'hits' nor does he seem to be vying for radio play with them, and perhaps that was exactly his intention-- as a full body of work, things sync together, but the pieces of the puzzle aren't necessarily single material. Still, for Travi$, a man with a very well-pronounced craft, to give so little in terms of 'himself' on Rodeo is a bit disturbing. Perhaps all that hype has given him an sense of industry entitlement. It's obvious how much effort, how much thought, went into Rodeo, just based on the scale and the complexities of each record-- is it all deserved, though?