Long time readers of our weekly columns (both TTT and its predecessor NMM) are no doubt familiar with the critical eye I place on modern hip hop. With it’s proximity to the electronic musical age, as well as what may end up being one of the most white washed periods in pop music yet, I find more and more that hip hop (at least mainstream hip hop) eeks closer to pop every day. Predictable production and canned content reminds me why I wait with bated breath for the “Bling Era” of hip hop to be put to rest. When a genre of music is born from the smoldering coals of a populace oppressed by circumstance, songs about excess wealth and power seem tepid, and culturally deaf. While I grow wary of the unending stream of tracks about cars and chains, I am not so stubborn that I can’t admit when something good comes from something bad.
When your first public appearance has you labeled as a protege of Kanye West, it’s safe to say you travel with heavy expectations on your shoulders. When Travi$ Scott was revealed as one of the top producer’s behind West’s blistering thrash-rap opus, Yeezus, the countdown to his solo album began. While his debut EP Owl Pharaoh failed to impress, his follow-up Days Before Rodeo did much to increase the appetites of Scott’s swelling fanbase. Now, two plus years after the source of his fame, Travi$ Scott has released his highly anticipated solo record, Rodeo. Without giving too much away, it lives up to the name.
It’s difficult to put into words exactly what I find so appealing about Rodeo. On it’s face, it possesses many of my least favorite qualities of modern hip hop. While lead singles “3500” and “Antidote” felt half-baked on first listen, in the context of this swirling, watery record, they make more sense as fixed points along the way, musical anchors. Though taking part in many a modern hip hop trope, when your first single clocks in at just under eight minutes, it automatically distinguishes itself from easily digestible radio fodder we’re used to.
“Wasted” drips with 90’s hip hop grunge, sporting nose diving chimes and a lit shifted click beat. It manages to sound both classic and progressive (or at least, current). While some tracks lean closer to classic, tracks like “90210” show Scott’s obvious Kanye influences. Though apart from his mentor, Scott enjoys the multi-sectioned song, a quality that benefits the record throughout. Beginning with a cavernous synth, “90210” drops the synth in favor of piano and bossy filler. “Apple Pie,” the closer on the record, has a positivity that reminds me of the closer on J. Cole’s most recent venture. Meandering for the sake of its adoring audience, the track exudes confidence, independence, and maybe a touch of humility.
As a long time fan of the music of Kanye West, I was, to say the least, perturbed to see that “Piss on Your Grave,” a track long touted as a collaboration between Kanye and Paul McCartney, has actually ended up on Rodeo. Excited though I was to hear the viciously named track, the shine left my eyes soon after pressing play. Though the track rockets towards climax, using lo-fi rock noises to do so, at barely 2.5 minutes, the track doesn’t give you much time to hook into the meat of the song, what little there is. What was once the hope for good content on West’s apparently never-to-be-released next record, ends up being the worst track on Scott’s album, an afterthought tucked between a 5.5 and 4.5 minute song, respectively.
I think what strikes me most about Travis $cott is his willingness to participate in not just modern hip hop tropes, but stereotypes. He exhibits them so virulently, that it dips its toe into self referential, and satiric. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to paint him as some sort of sensitive, genre twisting lyricist, but there’s more to see here than cars, clothes, and hoes. Aquatic, bruising, and nasty, Rodeo is a must listen for anyone interested in the splayed and frenzied evolution of the genre. Keep up with his social media antics (which are plenty, I assure you) at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.