Travis Scott’s ‘Rodeo’: Pre-packaged & Processed

We live in a time when all too often the trailers are better than the movies. Books are strategically bundled together in series and only hit the shelves after extensive marketing campaigns. These same books and movies are critically acclaimed and labelled as New York Times Bestsellers before they even appear on neighbourhood screens or bookshelves. Nowadays, it is all about constructing an image. This elaborate process of aesthetic building places more emphasis on the feel or the ‘vibe’ of the product rather than the quality of content.

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Travis Scott is a project out of Houston, Texas. I say project and not artist because there are simply too many contributors to his product for him to be considered the sole proprietor. He first made a name for himself as a producer, credited on Kanye West’s and fellow G.O.O.D Music’s 2012 brainchild Cruel Summer. After a number of leaked demo records and loose singles, Travis Scott released Owl Pharaoh, a project which continued to build on his neo-gothic production style while simultaneously showcasing his rapping ability. Later still, Scott released Days Before Rodeo, a mixtape which featured an assortment of trending rappers and producers, in order to build anticipation for his official studio debut. Overtime however, it has become clear that he hasn’t been producing most of the songs. Instead it was other established producers like J.Gramm, Wondagurl, Metroboomin, and 808 Mafia that were actually crafting the soundscapes that people had started to associate with Travis Scott. As for his rapping, there has never been anything special. Despite putting out a number of releases over the last few years, his lyrics have never really revealed anything about him as a person or as an artist. Moreover, he has never displayed the pure & undeniable rapping skills necessary to be considered a hip-hop heavyweight – yet he has continued to become increasingly popular. Instead, it has become clear that Travis, much like movie trailers and ad-campaigns for books or TV shows, is less about the content and more about the vibe.

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On September 4th 2015, Scott’s major label debut Rodeo hit the shelves. Only one thing has become certain: Travis Scott is a brand. He is a brand born out of the moon tales of Kid Cudi. He is a brand born out of the maximalist ambition of Kanye West on Dark Fantasy and West’s unrelenting rock ‘n roll aggression and frustration on Yeezus. As a brand, Scott is a convenient tool for record labels: a centralized repository for all of the ‘of the moment’ aesthetics. Rodeo is the auditory equivalent of the VSCO filters on Instagram: dark, hazy, pretentious and obnoxious. It is an album which packages all of hip-hop’s latest trends: musically and linguistically.

The Kanye West grandiose sound is blended together with New Atlanta catchiness and Drake song structure and singing-rapping techniques. The album opens up with a story narrated by T.I, and it seems awfully similar to Nicki Minaj’s opening words on West’s Dark Fantasy. On ‘Oh My’, Travis does his best Future/Migos/Young Thug/Rich Homie Quan impersonation, repeating words so often that the division between chorus and verses becomes increasingly blurry. He even recruits Migos’ Quavo as if he is attempting to mask the fact that he is biting them. The second half of the song ‘Dis Side’, is blatantly Drake influenced – Scott croons about how things are different on his figurative ‘side’ of the world much like Drake did on his own song ‘My Side’. Wasted sounds like a cut that didn’t make it onto A$AP Rocky’s 2015 psychedelic rock and houston rap fusion album, At. Long. Last. A$AP.  Even the adlibs at the very start of the song are eerily similar to Rocky’s signature ones. ‘90210’ is vintage Kanye West on 808s and Heartbreak, mixing the laser like staccato synths with auto tuned singing and mumbling. ‘Piss on Your Grave’ is a Kanye West Yeezus Era throwaway record – and it is very obvious.

And it doesn’t end there. Not only is the music a carbon copy of other artists, Travis Scott also manages to package together most of hip-hop’s trending slang as well. Words like ‘lit’, ‘bando’, and ‘lowkey’ appear throughout the 66 minute runtime of the album.

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It is important to note that being influenced by other artists is not a bad thing. In fact, I would argue that it is an essential part of art: to be able to take a previous piece of work and put a contemporary and innovative spin on it. But Travis Scott does not seem to be modifying or advancing rap music in anyway – instead he simply comes off as derivative.

A big theme of the twenty first century is humanity’s obsession with convenience. We are constantly striving to consolidate our knowledge, information and/or belongings to make life easier. Think about it: Wikipedia, Netflix, Google Drive and so on and so forth – these were all created so that we could more conveniently store and organize our content in a virtual world. Music streaming services are another novel example of convenience making. Instead of having to walk to a local HMV or log onto our iTunes, we can now simply stream any and all music on our mobile devices or personal computers. It goes without saying that these technological innovations have value: they have bridged the geographical distances between people and cultures and more simply… who wouldn’t want to have a single place to find all movies, songs and books? Sometimes however, this convenience leaves out some of the nuances which made the information important in the first place. Travis follows this theme: he offers a convenient place from where one can to witness hip-hop’s trends, but in this convenience, he loses all the meaning behind the influences.

All this is not to say that the album is without exciting instances. There are some nice features: Justin Bieber has a standout verse on ‘Maria I’m Drunk’ and Toro y Moi adds some depth to ‘Flying High’. The production, handled largely by Kanye’s right hand man Mike Dean and the likes of Allen Ritter, Metroboomin, and Wondagurl, is layered and sounds cinematic. At the end of the day, even the songs where Travis is mimicking other artists are tolerable – simply because he is re-creating sounds that are already popular and loved.

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None of this would be problematic if Travis was simply trying to make good party music. Instead, he claims to be making “next level sonics” and urges people to call him an artist and not a rapper. But the inconvenient truth is that Rodeo is not as groundbreaking and magnificent as it tries to be. No matter how much Rodeo is branded and advertised as beautiful parmesan oregano or aged cheddar fresh out of dairy farms in Italy or France…it simply is processed cheese made in a factory somewhere in middle America. The album is made all the more disappointing when the listener realizes that his 2014 mixtape Days Before Rodeo was a lot more unique and concise than this incredibly hyped-up debut. Scott has seemingly reverted to his muddled sound that was holding him back on his earlier Owl Pharaoh.

This album will get played. It is being promoted by popular artists and edgy teenagers all over instagram. Ultimately, it is a testament to the Instagram era: it can sound cool at times, but in the end, it is simply shallow. At most however, this is an enjoyable guilty-pleasure album – and that’s only if your turn your brain off and ignore that blatant copy and pasting of sounds and styles that occurs throughout.

Images courtesy of HighSnobiety, Mr. Porter, Hypetrack & News 7.

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