Travi$ Scott, ‘Rodeo’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
Travi$ Scott might be one of the most controversial rappers in the game right now. He incites riots at his shows, spits on fans and is open about his drug use in his music. No matter what, the controversy is unlikely to change with his debut album, Rodeo.
Around 2012, Scott appeared seemingly out of nowhere and started working with Kanye West and the rest of G.O.O.D Music on their Cruel Summer compilation, appearing on songs "Sin City" and producing "To the World." He signed to T.I.'s Grand Hustle, and made the cover of XXL as part of 2013's Freshman Class cover before he even dropped his first mixtape. Then he became a major label signee, joining the Epic Records roster. Early on, people started to think Travi$ Scott was a factory-manufactured industry plant because of his sudden, swift rise to fame.
Industry plant accusations can be overcome, but it's much harder to shake the label of being a biter. When Scott's mixtape, Owl Pharaoh, finally dropped in spring 2013, critics quickly accused him of biting styles from the likes of 808s & Heartbreak-era Kanye West and Kid Cudi. Days Before Rodeo came out a year later, featuring his ballad to getting high "Drugs You Should Try It" and the Auto-Tune-heavy banger "Skyfall." Despite the project receiving critical acclaim, the rapper was still getting compared to the likes of Yeezy, Future, Chief Keef and Young Thug, among others.
Rodeo doesn't deviate from those influences. "90210" wouldn't sound out of place on 808s & Heartbreak. Rae Sremmurd comparisons abounded after Scott released "Antidote" as a single. The 23-year-old Houston native sounds incredibly similar to Future on "3500." He certainly wears his influence on his sleeve in a fairly obvious fashion.
Yet the most interesting aspect of Rodeo is that the same artists he "bites" join him on the project. He may sound like Future on "3500," but Fewtch is on that track with him. Keef, Thug and Swae Lee are here too. There's nobody who he's apparently swagger-jacked more than Kanye (or Yeezy's jacking him, whichever way you look at it), but Kanye's seemingly made him one of his proteges. Is it biting if the artists he's supposedly lifting styles from are cool with him? It's more likely that somebody like Cudi or Drake would shout out Scott rather than drop a "Shark N----s"-style track aimed at him.
Listen to Travi$ Scott's "3500" Feat. Future & 2 Chainz
The obvious influences on Rodeo are not the album's biggest problem. Instead, it's what Scott does with them. Compare Travi$ Scott to an artist like A$AP Rocky. Rocky's another rapper whose influences (Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Three 6 Mafia, The Diplomats) are clear as day. Yet even if his subject matter didn't go much farther than being a pretty motherf---er, doing drugs and repping Harlem, he had an aesthetic that was undoubtedly his. You could hear Juicy J and Cam'ron influences all over the place, but we still saw the image of a unique artist.
Unlike Rocky, Scott doesn't show a very clear picture of who he is as an artist on Rodeo. Lyrically, there's not too much that sets him apart from other artists. It's like he's checking boxes of the most familiar subject matter on every track. Raps about sex and dealing with fame are right there on the opening song "Pornography." He talks about partying and drinking on "Wasted." "Pray 4 Love" is the song where he expresses his regret about that lifestyle. "Piss On Your Grave" is Scott's "angry" song. Exploring familiar territory isn't always necessarily a negative, but it usually requires a unique perspective. Since Scott seems so heavily reliant on his influences, that perspective is nowhere to be found.
There's just not that much substance to Rodeo. Scott doesn't offer much insight on "Maria I'm Drunk" that can't be found in the title of the song. On that nearly six-minute-long track, all he says are variations of "call your friends and let's get drunk." Justin Bieber and Young Thug are luckily there to provide verses that go beyond that simplicity, but the end result is the rhymer getting lost on his own song.
Some tracks sound more like other artists' songs than belonging solely to Scott. "Piss on Your Grave" is bookended by Kanye appearances, and the track could easily be a Yeezus b-side. Likewise, the Weeknd steals the show on "Pray 4 Love." However, the rhymer does deliver a solid, thought-provoking line on that offering with: "Tired of seein' these black kids on the face of Fox / And f--- CNN, they don't wanna see us win." Toro y Moi is the highlight of "Flying High." Swae Lee and Chief Keef are the best parts of "Night Call." Scott just can't hang with these other rappers.
Listen to Travi$ Scott's "Antidote"
Even when Scott is the only person on the track, he still gets outshined, as the production is by far the star of the show. Rodeo boasts a murderer's row of heavy-hitting producers, including Metro Boomin, Pharrell Williams, Zaytoven, Sonny Digital, Illangelo, Mike Dean and almost countless others. DJ Dahi's lush beat for "90210" balances noisy darkness and beauty perfectly. The production he builds on "Apple Pie" is catchier and more memorable than most of his bars. His ear for beats and his own production skills are light years ahead of his rapping. If anything, Rodeo is one of the year's best-produced albums. Yes, the best.
One of the reasons Travi$ Scott isn't in the same league as the artists he's influenced by is that he lacks many of the qualities of those other artists. He might be influenced heavily by Kanye, but he doesn't have the charisma that the Chi-town MC uses to shine. He might be tight with Future and Young Thug, but he doesn't have the quotable lines and emotional resonance of Future, or the weirdness that makes Thug unique.
Rodeo is sure to be one of the most divisible rap albums of the year. The LP experiments with its sound and is one of the best sounding albums that has come out in 2015. Move past the relatively basic lyrics -- perfect for party vibes and zoning out -- and there's still room to get lost in the music. As a whole, Travi$ Scott serves as the sum of his influences. This is his first official flight, which means there's still room for growth. After taking a giant leap while the world watches, T.I. has a point on "Wasted": "How could you judge?"
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