Well, it’s here. After two years of anxious anticipation, Travis Scott’s “Astroworld” is finally available to the listening public. For being a Kanye West protégé and one of the most successful rappers of the last decade, Scott is an enigma.
Though listeners have gleaned little insight into his personal life, the Houston-based rapper is known foremost for his trademark production, a combination of surreal ambiance with nightmarish trap rap that has earned Scott a sizable fan base — a group I do not include myself in.
Personally, I’ve always regarded Scott as an inventive artist that lacks anything worthwhile to say, and despite the artist’s progression from a Kanye/Kid Cudi clone into a musician capable of standing on his own achievements, the quality of music, for me, hasn’t followed suit.
With Scott’s prior studio albums, “Rodeo” and “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight,” standing as two entirely mediocre albums (actually, I think “Rodeo” is downright terrible), I originally expected little from my trip to “Astroworld.” Nevertheless, with the majority of critics ranging from Consequence of Sound to The Needle Drop showering the album with praise, the buzz surrounding it intrigued me.
I should’ve stuck with my gut. The opening track, “STARGAZING,” fizzles out before it even gets a chance to start. I’m not usually a stickler for technicalities, but the mixing on this track is unacceptable.
Additionally, the indecipherable autotuned screeching featured on the post-chorus provides a much-welcome relief from the actual hook itself, as lazily written as it is annoying. “Rolling, rolling, rolling, got me stargazing”
How has it only been four minutes and I already feel like throwing my phone into the nearest garbage can? Ironically enough, “Stargazing” includes one of the only worthwhile lines on the entire album. “Just to drown out all these thoughts, I tried all kind of things/If I take you to my past, you will be traumatized”
What about Scott’s past haunts him? Did this abovementioned trauma become the inspiration for the rapper’s trademark moody production? Who hurt you, Travis? In response, Scott has the following to say.
“She keep my dick jumpin’ up/I feel like I’m Moby” Wow. Very insightful. Thanks.
Luckily the following track, “CAROUSEL,” which features Frank Ocean, carries you away before “STARGAZING” leaves a permanent mark. The singer’s emotive verse is one of the rare moments that I don’t roll my eyes at the lyrics.
“Moving in silence don’t mean it’s moving slow/Even though speed got old/Sprinkling methamphetamines on the leaves like the snow/Bet they soaked/I’m a new species/Tail swings on the road”
“CAROUSEL” undeniably stands as a highlight on “Astroworld,” which sees the song’s bold aspirations meet equally impressive execution. Nevertheless, it also kickstarts a recurring theme of featured artists outshining Scott’s forgettable performance and calling even more attention to the rapper’s lack of charisma.
“Stop Trying to Be God” might be the most mature song Scott has ever released. From Stevie Wonder’s lonely harmonica to James Blake’s brokenhearted outro, the hallucinogenic dreamscape of a track sounds like an acidic trap anthem merged with an android’s idea of a church song.
Unfortunately, you’ll find no more complements beyond this point. The remaining 13 tracks bounce between unremarkable throwaways like “5% TINT” and “YOSEMITE” (the only memorable aspect of “YOSEMITE” is the strangely quiet Nav feature, which makes the rapper sound like he’s singing out the window from across the street) and underdeveloped ideas like “R.I.P. SCREW” and “ASTROTHUNDER.”
Deeper into the album, you’ll uncover “SKELETONS,” a nauseating attempt at a psychedelic rock-rap fusion that completely squanders its Tame Impala production. The ultra-basic seduction anthem “WAKE UP” showcases twinkly vocals and guitar strums unable to boost The Weeknd’s half-hearted contribution or mask more horrific lyrics from Scott. “Bend her over for some piping/Bust a cloud, shoot the lightning”
Though it’s been nearly a week since the album’s release, I still can’t decide if “NC-17” is the worst track on “Astroworld” or my favorite on the entire album. The song continues to headline some of Scott’s worst bars on the entire project — “Eatin’ that punane, got my bangs wet” — but also sports bright chimes and a skittery drum pattern that offer a playful reprieve from the project’s tedious pace. An outstanding feature from 21 Savage rounds out the song with the ever-quotable one-liner, “I nutted on her cheek/Her new nickname is babyface.”
In more ways than one, “NC-17” represents “Astroworld” and Travis Scott’s entire career. I enjoy every aspect of the song — with the exception of Scott himself.
My primary critique of the rapper’s music on “Astroworld” — though it can also be applied to his entire discography — is the complete lack of identity. Who is Travis Scott? Why should I care about his music? As far as I’m concerned, the album serves no purpose.
Many artists today craft the same type of moody hype rap that Scott seems intent on creating but find their own methods of flipping the formula — case in point, 21 Savage. To clarify, I’m not comparing the artists sonically, but rather on the basis that both create music without any pointedly original or boundary-pushing qualities.
21 Savage has built a self-made empire with his personality as the foundation, while also delving into his past experiences countless times over the course of his career, allowing listeners to understand his perspective and reasoning for creating the music he’s known for. Furthermore, what 21 lacks in lyrical prowess he makes up for with his renowned cold-blooded cadence and antiheroic charisma.
How anyone can connect to Travis Scott’s music emotionally is beyond me. What is there to relate to? Though both 21 Savage and Travis Scott constantly reference high-end fashion brands, expensive jewelry and sexual conquests, I have no grasp of Scott as a person to offset his irredeemably awful songwriting.
As such, I’m forced to endure lyrics like the following for an hour without the luxury of personality to distract me. “And she hit that booger sugar ‘til her nose bleeds”
“I told her B.Y.O.B/That means buy your own boobs”
“If she take her titties out, do you expect checks?”
“I smack that ass/She threw it back in self-defense”
“Nobody can press me but the press/Nobody can check me when it’s chess”
Moreover, apart from a select few near the top of the tracklist, every track on “Astroworld” blurs into one hour-long song, rarely deviating from a hyper-trippy, oversaturated disposition.
Sure, the album gives off the feeling of riding an interdimensional rollercoaster or staring at fireworks after consuming two tons of LSD, but honestly, who wants to watch fireworks for an hour? “Astroworld” provides a momentary high that wears off incredibly fast with mind-numbing aftereffects.
I’m not insinuating Travis Scott is a talentless washout or undeserving of any recognition for his contributions to modern hip-hop. In fact, I’ve noticed many smaller artists blatantly stealing Scott’s trademark stylistic flourishes and manipulating them to a noticeably weaker effect.
It would be ignorant to deny Scott’s knack for fostering a distinct niche within the genre, and I’ll give the rapper his due credit. That said, “Astroworld” fails on every level. As an entire album, it’s too boring to sit through in its entirety, and too few songs possess enough admirable qualities to support themselves.
The project is the embodiment of style over substance. You can cover vomit with enough scented candles and diamonds to fool people into thinking it’s something else, but at the end of the day, it’s still vomit. Better luck next time, Travis.