I remember back when Travis Scott first announced himself to the Internet. A few blogs started buzzing when pictures of him with Kanye West started making the rounds, and they announced that G.O.O.D. Music had signed “the next Kanye.” Travis did his best to dress like Kanye and Kid Cudi and he would even modify his voice to sound like them on record. At the time, his entire fan base was encompassed by a single thread on a music forum, tellingly titled “KanyeToThe…”
Since rap hasn’t been quite as Kanye-centric the past couple years, the hilariously inorganic manner in which Travis has “evolved” should not be overlooked. Just as the music world’s attention turned to Atlanta as a hotbed for bizarre artists (see: Young Thug, ILoveMakonnen, Future), Travis, out of left field, released a mixtape carried entirely by featured rappers and producers from Atlanta. The production credits reveal he's not the five-beats-a-day-for-three-summers young Kanye protégé he makes himself out to be. Travis only co-produced one track off the mixtape, while four other producers cleaned up after him.This was pre-Yeezus 2013, a time when plenty of fledgling Internet rappers were beginning to piece together parts of Kanye’s identity and construct them as their own. From the onset of his career, Scotty “La Flame” (suspiciously close to Gucci Mane “La Flare”) never even attempted to present himself as a legitimate personality. But hip hop was so deep into the Church of Yetheism that Kanye’s cronies got a pass for aestheticized plagiarism.
Travis Scott was born from the ashes left behind by the phoenix on the cover of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it has emanated through everything he’s touched in his short and fraudulent career. When Kanye curated a star-studded guest list for Twisted Fantasy, he turned the album into his own tasteful award show of sorts, rather than let it serve as a distraction for him to hide behind. Travis, however, has a proven track record of using high-profile features to play hot potato with the music industry.
2013 saw him birthed into relevance by Kanye and T.I. In 2014, he latched onto dynamic duo Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, and now on Rodeo he has features from Justin Bieber and The Weeknd, who has been building steam on a year-long hype train packed with great pop records. Is it not suspicious that this guy already has such an illustrious and well-timed list of collaborators without even first building a local following? Why is the music industry trying so hard to make this guy happen? Is Travis Scott an industry plant? His trajectory thus far certainly looks that way. Point being, if rap were a high school, he would’ve been the kid who sat at a different lunch table every day in search of the elusive cool table.
It comes as no surprise that the first voice on Rodeo doesn’t even belong to Jacques Webster. In a fashion not too dissimilar from the role of Common on Kid Cudi’s Man On The Moon series, T.I. floats in and out of the album with cringe-worthy monologues about a “young rebel against the system” (ironic, because the powers that be are very clearly working on his behalf). “Oh My Dis Side” sees Travis go for that hardly-audible-but-expressive type of rapping that codeine-fueled artists like Future and Chief Keef have mastered, but his delivery falls short of the emotion required to make you feel … anything. Even when Future mumbles lyrics in his classic Xanaxed-out daze, it’s at least about something (usually heartbreak) or sung in a way that evokes feeling; Travis spends the track mumbling about nothing, leaving only drab vibes and sonics (two of his favorite words) in place of a legitimate song.
The inconsistency in terms of who Travis works with leaves all of his collaborations void of any chemistry. It’s as if two strangers had to share a studio and made a song while they were at it. When he finally does snag someone from the cool table for a feature, the authenticity of their personality automatically takes the limelight — every time. Migos’ Quavo appears on the latter half of “Dis Side” to give a heartfelt recount of his rags-to-Versace come-up. “3500” is basically a Future song where Travis only stops by for the adlibs (the “straight up” adlib was coined by Future anyways). Travis really outdoes himself on “Pray 4 Love” with bars like “Contemplatin’ fornicatin’ / Might as well fuck up some shit / They lookin’ at me way too crazy / Got me feelin’ communist.” He doesn’t really make any sense, but how ‘bout those Vibes™, right? The only time it even feels like a real human being is on the track is when The Weeknd closes out the song.
The hotly anticipated “Piss On Your Grave” features Kanye himself, who again renegades Travis on his own track. Kanye takes a break from Hampton spouses to use an executive’s face as a urinal, which, although crude, channels the same frustration as 2013’s “New Slaves.” Travis makes yet another forgettable appearance on his own song, with lines like “Told my momma ‘bitch get back in the door’” and “Kamikaze over commas” (another obvious bite from Future’s jargon). The disparity between their verses highlights the fact that context and transparency are supposed to shed light on an artist’s character and identity, which Travis has none of.
For example, Kanye raps about urinating on an executive because of his well-documented struggles in entering the fashion industry (see: Yeezus). For Travis though, there’s really nothing left to say, as his every word is an attempt to recreate a black-rockstar persona that he also stole from Mr. West. More than anything in this world, Travis Scott wants his music to sound as important as the artists he bites, but would he ever really have enough substance to deliver a speech like the one Kanye delivered last week at the VMAs? Or communicate his upbringing through his music, like Chief Keef? Or be as painfully honest as artists like Future and Drake? No, but he can hire their producers.
Travis’s identity crisis is the central issue regarding not just Rodeo, but his entire career. He hides behind a legion of Kanye’s sidekicks and Atlanta super-producers to curate something artistically worth much less than the sum of its parts. Yes, Rodeo is packed with high-thread count beats and is one of the best-engineered albums since Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, but only with the help of names like Mike Dean, Kanye West and Metro Boomin. The album closes with a series of questions from T.I regarding the young revolutionary: “Will he make it? Was it worth it? Did he win? Will he survive the rodeo?” But these are all the wrong questions. By the end of Rodeo, only one pertinent question remains: honestly, who is Travis Scott?