Since he dropped Rodeo in 2015, which has been esteemed by many as one of the most consequential trap albums of this decade, Travis Scott has become one of the genre’s biggest torchbearers.
Anyone even moderately familiar with the Houston rapper’s work knows what his music is about: he is all about aesthetics, and atmosphere, and the overall sound of music. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that he began his musical career as a producer. And even though it doesn’t seem like he’s done a whole lot of producing as of late (Scott has only 3 production credits on ASTROWORLD and had just 1 production credit on Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight), he’s made his name in much the same way a DJ uses a keen sense of sound and musical shrewdness to curate and control the vibe of a party. It’s this attention to sound that resulted in some of the sonic escapades he delivered on Rodeo, such as “3500,” “90210,” and “Pray 4 Love.”
And while Scott took a detour on Birds — a slight artistic deviation in order to reach a wider audience — ASTROWORLD sees an aesthetic return to the formula that garnered the Houston rapper so much acclaim in the first place.
In many ways, Travis Scott’s fourth album, named after the now-defunct Six Flags location, is itself reminiscent of an amusement park.
For albums, much like amusement parks, establishing an atmosphere at or before the entrance is essential. It’s what draws an audience into the album or gives a potential audience a reason to consider listening. Scott draws in the the musical audience with the song “STARGAZING,” a spacey track describing the psychedelic effects of ecstasy (“Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, got me stargazing”). The back half of the song features Scott flowing over a higher-tempo trap beat and delivering a few clever quotables (“It ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries”). One of the album’s strongest offerings, “STARGAZING” successfully reels us into ASTROWORLD and gives us reason to be excited about everything this “amusement park” has to offer.
And how do amusement parks deliver on this hype they’ve created? With attractions, of course. And while most amusement parks have carousels, tower rides, ferris wheels, and the like, no other attraction creates (and delivers) on hype more than the roller coaster.
Enter “SICKO MODE.”
One of the longer songs on the album, the Drake-assisted track is a three-part ride that features two beat switches and excellent production all-around, including work on the back end from Tay Keith, who currently is one of hip-hop’s go-to producers. Travis’s catchy flow on the second part and Drake’s cadence over Tay Keith’s ethereal trap instrumentation on the third part make this easily one of ASTROWORLD‘s most exciting moments.
The variety of attractions and activities an amusement park offers oftentimes determines how long a tourist will stay (and how much money they’ll spend). And variety definitely abounds in ASTROWORLD: Travis Scott keeps listeners engaged for *most* of the album with a laundry list of features. The list is lengthy and star-studded: Frank Ocean on “CAROUSEL”; Drake on the aforementioned “SICKO MODE”; Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee on “R.I.P. SCREW”; Kid Cudi, James Blake, and the legendary Stevie Wonder on “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD”; Tame Impala, Pharrell Williams, and The Weeknd on “SKELETONS”; 21 Savage on “NC-17”; Takeoff and Quavo on “WHO? WHAT?”; features from up-and-coming artists like JUICE WRLD, Sheck Wes, and Gunna…and that’s not even all of them. The variety of producers and features, as well as the sounds that they bring, ensure that there are few lulling moments or boring rides in this theme park.
There are two main songs on the album whose goals are to turn the rage knob down and offer the listener something more digestible: “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” and “COFFEE BEAN.”
On “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” Travis chastises those whose stardom has led to the development of superiority complexes. The sentiment is echoed in the ambient chorus (“Stop tryna be God / That’s just not your job”) as well as a few lines in his verses (“Stop tryna be God Almighty / Fuck the money, never leave your people behind” & “Stop tryna play God Almighty / Always keep your circle tight”). And English singer and producer James Blake’s gorgeous songwriting on the outro (“Is it the complex of the saint that’s keeping you so still?”) rounds out a beautiful trap tune that stands out among the tracklist.
“COFFEE BEAN” is a laid-back closer with a complete sonic and lyrical switch-up from the rest of the album; the sub-bass and rattling high hats are replaced in favor of the leisure sounds of the guitar and snare. The production is skeletal in comparison to most of ASTROWORLD, which shifts the listener’s focus to Scott’s lyrical content. The Houston rapper seems to reflect on his relationship with current girlfriend Kylie Jenner and on her family’s negative impressions of him (“You’re family told you I’m a bad move / Plus I’m already a black dude.”) as well as periods of withdrawal in their relationship (“We ain’t been speaking in mad min / You feeling free in my absence”). This softer side of the self-proclaimed rager serves as a pleasant surprise for listeners that didn’t think the rapper capable of, or even interested in, making introspective music.
The main takeaway? Simple: on ASTROWORLD, Travis Scott advances his sound and once again displays his ear for tasteful music. The result is an album that you could argue is his best one yet.