Travis Scott’s long awaited third studio album arrived with the grandiosity of some of his most notable peers and predecessors. I think of Kanye West’s Graduation and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, landmark albums that capitalized on the buzz and growth of each artist at that stage of their careers.
ASTROWORLD follows suit, delivering a 360 degree experiential take on trap music, the genre we have tried to pigeonhole Travis into and he has routinely defied.
To fully understand the moment that is ASTROWORLD’S release, one must contextualize it. The title of the project was first announced about two years ago, immediately on the heels of his second studio LP, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. He then went on tour with Drake, dropped a slew of loosies, teased and released a collaborative project with Quavo, all while giving his fans glimpses and snippets of his recording process, accompanied with “SOON” and “ALBUM MODE” tweets. ASTROWORLD was beginning to feel like the album formerly known as Boys Don’t Cry.
But then this summer, anticipation for release hit a fever pitch. Travis began performing snippets at live shows and promising an imminent release, leaks flooded Soundcloud, and in July, reports came out of a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-esque gathering of collaborators in Hawaii for the album’s final sessions. The album was legitimately starting to take shape. Then, Mike Dean and Travis Scott announced an August 3rd release date, accompanied by a series of merch drops, a trailer, and the album artwork. Almost anticlimactically, ASTROWORLD was upon us.
The album is everything but anticlimactic.
ASTROWORLD is the true artistic arrival of Travis Scott, cashing in on the growth in artistry and fame from Rodeo to Birds. It is the evolution of the show from the Rodeo, the local festival, the quaint circus, to Astroworld, the Houston amusement park for which the project is named, and all the grandiosity and thrills that come with it.
The production somehow continues to improve upon Travis’ trajectory, providing nuanced and deeply intricate instrumentals that are each individually unique, yet still cohesive enough to work in concert with one another. There is a delicate balance between singing and rapping, but ultimately on ASTROWORLD, Trav opts to rap more than he did on Birds or Rodeo, and the melodic moments throughout the albums serve as accents to the flows and rhymes that largely define its lyrical content.
The LP is paced like a rollercoaster ride, filling up the theme park setting with escalating heights of adventure and extravagance. It opens up with “STARGAZING”, a semi-psychedelic post-trap banger that features Travis vocals distorted to the point of resembling guitars, tearing through an earworm of a chorus with a ridiculously satisfying falsetto crescendo. You hear the rumblings of a roller coaster before the beat changes entirely, transitioning abruptly into a grinding, synth laden trap instrumental, over which Travis raps unrelentingly, setting the stage for the chaos and frenzy of ASTROWORLD.
However, much more of the body is revealed with the following four tracks. The experimental, Frank Ocean assisted “CAROUSEL” showcases the first of the project’s star laden guest list, and displays the function of each featured artist on the album. Each guest serves the energy and vibe of the project, often with Travis ceding most of a track’s attention to the feature while orchestrating the feel and flow of the sonics, hosting the listener through this sonic tour of Astroworld. Think of each feature as an attraction, and Travis himself as the park.
The album’s devotion to Houston and it’s musical legacy is also on full display beginning with the Big Tuck (from Dallas but same vibe) introduction to CAROUSEL, and throughout samples and interpolations prominently featured the fourth track, R.IP. SCREW. In between the two tracks is the Drake, Swae Lee, and Juicy J assisted goliath “SICKO MODE”, the longest track on the project, complete with three beat switches, an homage to Houston’s Screwed Up Click, and not one but one-and-a-half Drake verses. While Drizzy’s contribution to the track can feel phoned in at times, his bouncing flow and Tay Keith’s menacing production perfectly match Travis’ energy as he hops in on Drake’s second hook to clean up. ASTROWORLD is Scott’s most personal project to date, and it’s ode to Houston reveals more of Travis’ heart and mindset than the narrative of Rodeo, or the experimentation of Birds.
The album largely avoids the mid section lull familiar to full length trap albums, carried by its unparalleled production and the excitement of it’s surprise features. But while Travis noticeably steps his rapping up, his lyricism still leaves much to be desired. There are many moments of clever wordplay and turns of phrase, and his flows are consistently catchy, but the lyrical content rarely surpasses luxury, sex and drug use, not that any of those things aren’t fun to rap along to. Travis makes clear strides in improving his technical ability as a rapper, but does not attempt much outside of his comfort zone lyrically. Still, it is introspective for a Travis Scott project, most notably on the gorgeous closer track “COFFEE BEAN” that sees Travis musing on his rocky early relationship with baby mother Kylie Jenner, all over a boom-bap adjacent beat with escalating strings and vocoded accents.
Travis has long been considered the heir-apparent to Kanye West, but on ASTROWORLD he takes up the mantle. He is the head orchestrator, putting together a collaborative display that sums up to Travis’ own vision. If you’re a Travis Scott hater, this will not be the album to change your mind. But if you appreciate modern rap music, if you appreciate production and vision, then ASTROWORLD is totally undeniable. It is a complete artistic expression from front to back that is light years ahead of its peers. In a genre and era of popular music that does not lend itself to the album format, Travis is a master coordinator, putting together a total experience that can only be compared to a rollercoaster ride. ASTROWORLD is so daring it’s flaws do little to slow down the ride, and it’s victories ascend it to a level Travis had not yet seen.
STOP TRYING TO BE GOD