“The biggest knock against Travis [Scott] early in his career (and today) was his tendency to be an expert cipher, but rarely innovator. Besides his help behind the boards on 2013’s landmark Yeezus, Scott seldom introduced music that didn’t sound indebted to his own influences,” writes Charles Holmes in a recent Rolling Stone article preceding the release of ASTROWORLD.
Reading this, as a Scott fan, initially irked me. However, as I kept reading, I realized Holmes was entirely correct in his analysis of Scott’s career. Scott undoubtedly has the best live performance currently in music. His energy, showmanship and stage presence are unique and found maybe once in a generation; Holmes gives credit to Scott for this. But looking back over Scott’s catalog, although there are a few notable exceptions such as “Drugs You Should Try It” and “Maria I’m Drunk,” it is a struggle to find a cut that sounds truly distinct.
Towards the end of Holmes’ article, he points out that Scott has perfected the art of recreating the rage that his idol Kid Cudi brought to his audiences — finding proof in tracks like “Skyfall” and “Through the Late Night” (on which Scott literally reimagines the lyrics to Cudi’s breakthrough track “Day ‘N’ Nite”). But he asks a key question: “So, what happens next?” And in the context of Holmes’ thesis, this question can be reinterpreted as, “can Scott prove he is an innovator?” On Friday, ASTROWORLD answered this question.
I remember the day Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (Scott’s second studio album) was released. I tuned into Scott’s Beats 1 Radio show, .Wav, while in my high school English class and was subsequently glued to my phone for the rest of the day. This process repeated itself in the early morning hours last Friday — listening twice before finally deciding Mac Miller’s Swimming deserved some of my time.
ASTROWORLD impresses sonically; its moody sequences and dark melodies create the carnival-esque atmosphere for which Scott seems to have been shooting. Beat changes highlight this album, as if the listener is walking through, as Scott describes perfectly, an amusement park taken back by the ragers. But given the hype that was generated around this album and the fact that it has theoretically been in the works for nearly three years (Scott claims that ASTROWORLD was supposed to be his second release), it simply does not bring with it the expected lyrical and emotional complexity.
This is not saying ASTROWORLD is not enjoyable or perhaps even the best release of the year to this date. Songs like “STARGAZING,” “SICKO MODE,” “WAKE UP” and “HOUSTONFORNICATION” are rage anthems that will generate countless mosh pits (I personally look forward to losing my mind during the upcoming tour). But the reality is, nothing is said that we haven’t heard before on ASTROWORLD; most of lyrics have to do with sex, xans or Kylie Jenner’s Forbes cover. That being said, there are some deep cuts on the album — including “COFFEE BEAN,” “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” and “WAKE UP,” which show a more personal side of Scott.
For Travis Scott fans, ASTROWORLD is everything you have been waiting for and more. It combines rage, fire features and production credits that you will not be able to find anywhere but an album of this caliber. But for those who haven’t immersed themselves in the Travis Scott hype or simply fail to see his musical importance, ASTROWORLD won’t sway their opinion.
ASTROWORLD is not what it is advertised to be, but it will most likely earn itself a Grammy nod, claim several top ten song spots and potentially top the Billboard 200. Furthermore, it has clearly overshadowed Mac Miller’s Swimming, an inspirational album to say the least. We saw the same effect present with the release of Drake’s Scorpion. Scorpion was below average at best, yet it destroyed streaming records worldwide and remains at the top of every chart. The music industry has become more about branding and less about the weight or importance of the music.
I think there is a lot to be said in general about albums like ASTROWORLD. For one, they are fun and make for a special vibe in a concert or party setting. And it’s okay to enjoy these albums and appreciate them for the art that they are. In the case of ASTROWORLD especially, when neglecting the lyrical aspect, we are left with one of the greatest hip hop instrumental albums of all time — maybe second only to Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. ASTROWORLD evokes the emotional response for which Scott worked; it’s just a matter of being able to immerse oneself in the music and take the lyrics as what they largely are: placeholders. The production value of the album alone reflects the near three years that it took Scott to conceptualize it.
Lyrically, if that’s what you are looking for, ASTROWORLD is a let-down. But to answer Holmes’ question, I think it is fair to say that although Scott may never reach the level of genius of those to whom he is compared, he is certainly an innovator. ASTROWORLD has a fresh sound and will create a unique atmosphere every time it is played. If you are able to accept that lyrical transcendence is simply not the goal of ASTROWORLD, buckle up and crank the volume up; this album is a wild ride.
Peter Buonanno is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].