Courtesy of Cactus Jack Records.

September 4, 2023

Travis Scott’s ‘Utopia’ Unlocks a Whole World

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After the tremendous success of his 2018 effort Astroworld, which many consider to be his  magnum opus, Travis Scott had big shoes to fill following years of hype for his next album. Utopia is the final product, diverse and melodic in Scott’s signature style. 

A lengthy break between projects is surprising for Scott. If we include the label compilation album JackBoys, the Houston rapper has had a new release for every calendar year between 2013 and 2019, inclusive. After such an unprecedented wait, caution was warranted going into this project: For an artist accustomed to churning out music, it’s within the realm of possibility that the switch-up in schedule could also mean a switch-up in quality. Yet Scott emerges without missing a beat, channeling his usual insistence on variability and liberal use of melody into a project that could reasonably stand in the pantheon of his discography with previous efforts Rodeo and Astroworld.

The opening stretch to this album is full of bangers. “Hyaena” leads us into Utopia with powerful boom bap, announcing Scott’s return with an instrumental so tough that only a simple hook is needed. “Modern Jam” lives up to its name, with its unique, bouncy feel and a catchy Teezo Touchdown feature that caps it off nicely. “My Eyes” is reminiscent of Rodeo highlight “90210” in terms of song structure. Although it’s definitely not as good of a song, its build-up into a relentless Scott verse makes it easy to love.

The album meanders a bit from there, but its body is always well-produced and has plenty of highlights. The feature list is absolutely stacked: “Delresto (Echoes)” is elevated so much by the Beyoncé guest spot, and its house rhythms sound like they would’ve been right at home on her latest offering Renaissance. The Weeknd glides in so well on the interlude and outro of “Circus Maximus,” making his recent declaration that he’s done with features hurt that much more. But Scott still turns in effective solo songs on this project, if the suave “I Know ?” is any indication. This track’s dark piano melody backs Scott’s pensive thoughts to create one of the album’s standouts.

What holds Utopia back primarily is its severe lack of quality lyricism. Good lyrics can of course come in many forms, from intricate rhyme schemes to simple yet hard bars, but Scott doesn’t associate with either end of this spectrum, opting instead to pen generic verses that don’t contain any memorable lines. It’s a testament to the album’s production and songwriting versatility that Utopia shines through its poor lyricism and still delivers a claim to be one of the year’s best.

Lowlights are still present though, with two of the album’s most popular tracks being subpar. “Meltdown” has a fun Drake verse with the whisper flow, but the song boils down to a strikingly weaker version of previous Scott/Drake collaboration “Sicko Mode.” “Fe!n” with Playboi Carti has an energetic beat and a good Scott verse, but Carti’s contributions are below his usual standard, and the hook is just way too repetitive.

Utopia ends on a high note with two of its best songs, “Telekinesis” and “Til Further Notice,” coming right at the end. The peaks of this album are so strong in terms of catchy vocal melodies and dynamic song structures, and even the lows are listenable with redeemable qualities. That kind of consistency is great to have in the hip hop mainstream and is one of Scott’s strengths when it comes to curating a project. Even if not every song is a hit, his tracklists are littered with enough variability and interesting production choices to keep his listeners engaged and wanting more.  

Nihar Hegde is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].