If you do the same thing long enough, eventually something will stick. Hip hop is constantly changing, but that can be mostly attributed to new and unique artists bursting onto the scene year after year, rather than established stalwarts reinventing themselves album after album. Popular rap music is a revolving door; last year’s Bobby Shmurda was this year’s Fetty Wap, who has already been eclipsed by the unforgettable Desiigner. Travis Scott is the guy who stands on the other side of that door, taking photos with rappers as they enter while covering his face and talking about “vibes.” It’s been a couple of years, and now he’s just “that guy.” It’s finally stuck.
Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is a continuation of what Travis has always done; it’s like he just changed clothes and invented a new gang sign. He’ll never be as influential or memorable as any of the rappers he poses with, but that’s fine. Maybe “the culture” needs an annual aggregator in the form of a “Travis Scott Album” — a summary of the year’s most exciting entrants and sonic trends.
Much like how Kanye West has made a living out of orchestrating unlikely collaborations (think: Chief Keef with Justin Vernon) to make music greater than the sum of its parts, Travis tailors the red carpet for each of his album’s guests. In a way, it’s actually remarkable how he coordinates appearances from Kendrick Lamar and Andre 3000 to make a project that doesn’t feel like a DJ Khaled album. Yet, like Khaled, Travis Scott is more brand than man. The album credits just fuel his status as the shape-shifting kid with cool friends.
Even the title — Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight — feels fit for some sort of luxury-trap motion picture. It conjures imagery of doves pouring out of an Atlanta kitchen window while Curtis Snow cooks crack in a Pyrex pot. It has nothing to do with his music, message, fans, whatever, but it sounds as cool as he wants it to be.
To focus too much on the context of a Travis Scott album would be reductive in nature, though. At the end of the day, it’s 54 minutes of actual music. I can’t tell you to like or dislike it. If you only listen to music because it sounds cool on Xanax, I guess you’ll like this album. Executive-produced and mixed by Houston legend Mike Dean, Birds features some of the most lush production this year, ensuring that the project will at least rest easy on the ears.
“Coordinate” lurches under a synth melody from TM88, with a hook that’s guaranteed to feature on every fit-pic caption this year: “Coordinate the Xan with the lean in my rockstar skinnies”. The track feels mostly inspired by Metro Boomin’s record-breaking run through Summer 2015, and Xanax too.
“Way Back” features classic GOOD Music ad-libs and Swizz Beatz vocal samples while lifting a synth melody straight from MadeinTYO’s “Uber Everywhere.” Travis juxtaposes nostalgia for Dark Twisted Fantasy-era West with newer and more disposable SoundCloud-rap, which is actually a creative palette unique to him. Swizz’s voice echoes and reverberates off the walls of Travis’s imaginary trap; neon-haired friends nod in enjoyment.
“Through the Late Night” is a song about staying up late, at night, while your parents sleep down the hall. Kid Cudi finally collaborates with his surrogate child, humming for most of his verse before rapping about dimethyltryptamine and “effervescent vibes.” Paying homage, Travis actually interpolates lyrics from Cudi’s 2009 smash hit “Day ‘N’ Night,” another song about not sleeping.
The album’s standout track, “Goosebumps,” has shades of “Antidote” — Travis’s most successful pop crossover attempt thus far. The Cardo and Yung Exclusive beat is reminiscent of the atmospheric tones that characterized Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered., but with Travis’s knack for earworm melodies and textures layered on top. Kendrick himself makes an appearance and drops the best verse of the entire album, alternating flows like he’s trying to dodge the beat. He moves to a steep falsetto after mirroring the melody of the hook, stuttering and stopping to catch his breath but moving again before you can even catch a glimpse.
All in all, the new Travis Scott album sounds nice. The beats are cool. No one will complain if you play this at a party. Your friends might admit it could have been better “lyrically” and recommend you check out Rodeo, where Travis really lays down his “life story” or something. If you’re into stuff like being outside, at night, while wearing vintage band tees, I recommend you check out the hot new Travis Scott album Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, in stores now. Xans sold separately.