There was a lot of anticipation around Travis Scott’s debut album Rodeo, which in advance of its release was compared to Kanye West and Kid Cudi, both artists Travis admires. Big shoes to fill – even my size 15 foot might flounder in such an undertaking and unfortunately, so does Travis.
Travis’ name has been in the media a lot leading up to Rodeo, with his non-shit-giving personality and the way he’s been acting out: fighting security, fighting a fan, threatening concertgoers, humiliating a photographer, ‘inciting a riot’ at Lollapalooza, and, recently, making homophobic slurs. He might be trying to come across as a badass, but these antics land him closer to the juvenile behaviours of other rappers of his age group like Odd Future (whose dark and twisted raps are at least well written).
Taking inspiration from Kanye, in Rodeo Travis gives us the gothic sound that he helped Kanye craft on Yeezus with songs I Am God, Guilt Trip and New Slaves and later expanded on with his stellar sophomore mixtape, Days Before Rodeo. But here, some of the auto-tune audio-synth is murky and at times hard to understand.
The key to pulling off the futuristic, experimental synth-rap sound that works so well for ‘Ye and Cudi is having tight raps to back it up, which Travis unfortunately doesn’t. In the song Apple Pie, Travis even says, “I am everything, except a rapper”, which is a confusing statement to make on a rap album.
Travis is far from a show-stopping rapper, which I feel like we might have known from his two mixtapes (where he actually comes a lot harder on the raps than he does in Rodeo). So why else would you listen to the latest rap album if not for well-crafted raps? You might pick up the album because of his ear for putting together producers, engineers, and guests to create killer fresh-sounding tracks. With exposure and endorsement from Kanye, along with the inspiration of Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon, Rodeo had all the makings of an album worth waiting for. Needless to say, the hype behind his debut album was enormous.
But it seems that the hype was too much for Travis to live up to. He is simply overshadowed as a rapper by the illustrious guests he raps alongside: Kanye West, Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Chief Keef, Future, ScHoolboy Q, Quavo, Young Thug.
The only time I found myself turning up the volume when driving the truck around Melbourne streets was during the guest verses from 2 Chainz and, weirdly enough, Justin Bieber. Whatever your opinion of Justin Bieber, he delivers a surprisingly good verse on Maria I’m Drunk, one of the more thrilling numbers on the album which pairs Bieber with Young Thug. The track is a rework of the Travis Scott and Young Thug collab Drunk, with Bieber subbing in for Travis for the second verse. It is such an unlikely combo of pop star and rapper that the track reads as skippable – but it actually makes for a better song than the original.
There’s a lack of narrative or identity on Rodeo, and I found Travis repeatedly falling back on overused ideas like too many blunts and too much liquor. In fact, OK Alright and Never Catch Me, billed as bonus tracks, actually deliver more of the personal and entertaining approach that has been missing from the main tracks on the album.
I’m not saying Rodeo is a bad album: it fits together as a whole, but individually the songs aren’t great. It might be a good debut for someone else, just not for Travis. He has proven himself a solid producer and music video director, but his rap game is just not up to the standard you’d expect in an album. He might have been better off taking the Statik Selektah approach, gathering the who’s who of the rap game to spit 16 over his tracks.
There are definitely a few bangers on the album with some surprisingly good moments – “30 30 3,500 for the coat/only real n***** keep you float/only trill n***** I know,” is catchy as fuck and I’ve rapped it at my dog for the past two days (with “puppy” in place of the n-words). But it shouldn’t be a case of a few songs being only ‘surprisingly’ good, and in a year that has given us To Pimp a Butterfly; I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside; Songs in the Key of Price, Sean Price’s posthumous tribute; and two Ghostface albums, I can’t help but look at this and wonder if it was really ready.