Travi$ Scott is a sort of conundrum. Before releasing his debut mixtape, Owl Pharoah, he remained an obscurity in the midst of the heavy hitters on Kanye West’s GOOD Music and T.I’s Grand Hustle. We only heard snippets of him in a myriad of projects: co-producing Cruel Summer tracks “To the World” and “The Morning”, and contributing bars to “Sin City”. And he somehow managed to rank in XXL’s Freshman Class of 2013, before even releasing a cohesive introduction. Owl Pharaoh presented Scott as a wunderkind, coalescing his very obvious influences into a dark, yet somehow also approachable. He set up great expectations, as fans clamored to learn more about the rather mysterious rapper. Unfortunately, Scott’s debut studio album, Rodeo, leaves those questions unanswered.
Simply put, Scott is a talented masquerader, shifting visages accordingly between Cudi’s spastic wordplay, Kanye’s aggression, and Drake’s vulnerable ruminations. Rodeo walks a fine line between homage and outright biting, an exercise which can be both exhausting and entertaining at the same time. No question, Scott, at the young age of 23, just may be a product of the internet — an amalgam of his influences thrust into the self-deluded blog hype cycle before digesting those influences and refining his own voice.
There’s also the glaring fact that Scott just hasn’t reached the point at which he can rap at the level of his idols. His verses are unmemorable, unfolding into a chaos of frantic afterthoughts and lamented hedonism. Through all its bombast and braggadocio, he also seems to be desperately trying to legitimize his spot. In “Pornography”, T.I. describes Scott as “the young rebel against the system,” which, considering his cosigns, feels calculated and only raises already lofty expectations. After that sort of mythologizing, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed and unsatisfied.
But wherever he lacks, Scott finds help from his friends, which includes a long list of the most ubiquitous names in hip-hop: Young Thug, Future, Metro Boomin, Kanye West, The Weeknd, and more. The collaborations are integrated smoothly; rather than an overpacked competition for attention, Rodeo ping-pongs fluidly from the sluggish Quavo on “Oh My Dis Side” to Juicy J’s humorous turn on “Wasted” — and even Justin Bieber’s candid accent on “Maria I’m Drunk”. Don’t be fooled; while he may not be the most gifted rapper in the room, Scott can still hold his own. He shines when his vocals ricochet between languid revelations and Auto-Tuned flows, beaming boasts and brooding introspections.
Just like Kanye, Scott came into the hip-hop spotlight through the back door, proving his mettle behind the boards before taking over at the mic. As on Owl Pharaoh, Scott’s production preference remains “the bigger the better.” Rodeo reinforces his predilection for dark and cinematic soundscapes, whether in the druggy sprawl of “Piss on Your Grave”, the ominous R&B loop of “Oh My Dis Side”, or the hazy, hallucinogenic “Maria I’m Drunk”. While he isn’t credited as a producer on every track, Scott proves to be a talented curator.
However, Rodeo is designed to be groundbreaking and innovative, but falls short of that goal. Yes, the production is great and Scott puts together some good hooks, but he never puts forth a cohesive statement of voice. After brushing away the copious contributions from high-profile guests, Rodeo proves to be a fitting name, as listeners are left trying to hold onto a mercurial presence that can’t be pinned down.
Essential Tracks: “Piss on Your Grave”, “Oh My Dis Side”