Travis Scott- Astroworld Album Review
By: Thomas Rodriguez
“When’s Astroworld dropping?”
That’s the question everyone in my lunchroom table asked freshman year, sophomore year, and junior year. Houston rapper and producer Jacques Webster, better known as Travis Scott, has been teasing the release of his latest project, Astroworld, for a long majority of his mainstream career. Lifted out of Houston and into the world stage via a collection of solid mixtapes, an XXL Freshman appearance, and masterpiece of a debut album titled Rodeo, Scott’s name and influence in the game cannot be denied. With a knack for hypnotic production, catchy hooks, and boundary pushing trap aesthetics, Scott has held the rap industry on the edge of their seats, promising to continue his hot streak on Astroworld.
The wait was painful.
Travis did nothing but tease and tease some more, only hinting at a few collaborations and ideas while dropping other albums on the side, with Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight being a prime example. As the wait continued, hype went to the roof. The excitement was comparable to a blockbuster, complete with a beautifully shot teaser trailer. Hell, even a friend of mine named his dog Astro in anticipation of the project. As people were finally able to press play on the album this past summer, the hype for Astroworld went into the sky…
And Travis took the world to the stars. Astroworld isn’t just great; it’s the album of 2018.
A Beautiful Melting Pot
The greatest asset of Travis Scott, in anything he crafts, is his amalgamation of the sounds running through the mainstream. Anything from autotuned R&B, Houston-styled screwed production, and Atlanta based ad libs are a drop in the bucket of Scott’s ideas. Astroworld is a melting pot of everything that was essential in 2018 and the past few years, while managing to keep its own identity in a psychedelic and colorful tour of Travis’ favorite theme park. “STARGAZING” is a prime example of this, features Travis’ trademark vocal riffing over ethereal synths and reverberated drums…only to change into an incredibly menacing and dark trap beat with vivid descriptions of mosh pits, nosebleeds, and Moby Dick. It’s stylistically all over the place, never staying in one place too long, giving us the rush of finally entering a musical Disney, surrounded by the countless opportunities ahead. Just thinking about the variety of the album gets me as giddy as a kid in a fair whenever I revisit: the sheer number of musical styles you’ll hear can equate to multitude of rides in Magic Kingdom. From the mix of echoed crowd samples and smooth Frank Ocean singing in “CAROUSEL” to the synth ballad of “R.I.P. SCREW”, first time listeners will go through all sorts of musical loop-de-loops within an hour.
The mix of styles, while not necessarily cohesive overall, are still pulled off incredibly well throughout because each track is an entirely different beast from the next; “YOSEMITE” has acoustic guitars and buttery smooth Gunna vocals, while “5% TINT” runs almost entirely off a deliciously creepy and awe inspiring reworking of Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy”. The classic Scott beat switches are constant throughout, schizophrenically tossing songs from one sonic idea to the next, never leaving you with a bored or stale instrumental, helping songs stay that much more memorable. “5% TINT” has a truly soul lifting choral outro, only to be followed by a chilly bell lead in the nasty “NC-17”. Astroworld takes every ingredient in 2018’s music: trap, rock, modern pop sounds mixed with 90s hip hop, and crafts an amazing 5 course meal of unique production and great individual tracks.
Pushed to the Limits
Travis is very much dependent on his features. Hell, some of his biggest songs were assisted by fellow artists that were operating at their highest powers (see Quavo on “Oh My, Dis Side). Astroworld, despite not listing its features, has an insane lineup of producers and artists that give Travis the alley oop to his slam dunks. They aren’t simply rap features too, (although 21 Savage bodies “NC-17” and Drake created a musical phenomenon with his verses on “SICKO MODE”). Singers like The Weeknd, the aforementioned Frank Ocean, and James Blake put some beautiful touches onto their moments in the limelight. “WAKE UP” is the best Weeknd feature of the year, what with its echoing guitar and sexual crooning throughout, and James Blake crafts the most dramatic bridge of the album on “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD”. The latter track is a perfect example of how Scott manages to push his features to perform at near perfect levels: Kid Cudi’s humming here is soul soothing, Stevie Wonder has a beautiful harmonica interlude, and the beat matches the lyrics of faith and self control with its gospel inspired organs and sparse 808s. Everyone on Astroworld is on their A game, both on the mic and behind the boards (except for Nav, but we’ll get to that in a bit).
The ranges that the collaboration reaches throughout Astroworld is unique as hell; Scott’s tastes bleed throughout its runtime. “SKELETONS” takes an ethereal, heavenly fall through space induced by an excellent Kevin Parker instrumental, and “ASTROTHUNDER” is a beautiful deep dive into pure bass, psychedelic synths, and guitar licks. The latter’s instrumental, produced by John Mayer and Thundercat, is a high point on the record, an outstanding sonic trip that almost feels as chaotic yet controlled as Scott’s mind is on the record.
The Master Showman
As much as Astroworld is supported by its mashup of 2018’s sonic palette and excellent collaboration, Scott is still the center of gravity for the theme park. As I’ve hinted at throughout this review, this album is very much a deep dive into Scott’s current life views and insane work ethic. He’s most likely the reason his features do so well; he pushes them to their absolute best to craft songs that sound seamless from one verse to the next. Scott’s signature ad-libs continue to add a sensed of fun to the album, despite its occasional moments of darkness and introspection. “HOUSTONFORNICATION” is a surprisingly detailed look at Travis’ home town, backed up by a moody and droning beat that sounds as dry and hot as the city’s weather. “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” is one of Scott’s most personal moments period, with its hedonistic yet biblical diagnosis of Scott’s perfectionism.
Even on the more wild moments of the record, designed to get the club bouncing, Scott’s near perfect blend of independence and partnership shine brighter than the golden entrance to the theme park. “NO BYSTANDERS” will literally ‘f*ck the club up’ with Scott’s insane flow and employment Sheck Wes’ cannon shot adlibs. “SICKO MODE”, featuring Drake and about 6 producers, is profoundly outstanding. Despite its status as a meme at this point, the song is nothing short of an iconic single. Its elegant opening, only to be followed by sinister synth patterns after its first beat switch is a slap in the face and shatters the dance floor. Scott and Drake showcase great chemistry, and simply craft an iconic moment in an album full of memorable moments.
Astroworld, at the end of the day, is a success because it is one of the few trap albums that shoves the envelope and crafts iconic moments that everyone can remember. From its repetition of excess xanax intake (out like a light) to Nav’s famously awful verse on “YOSEMITE”, these Scott contributions stick in your head forever. Astroworld is all over the place, it doesn’t have a theme or story to tell, but its a visit to the various nooks and crannies of Scott’s brain. As the melancholic “COFFEE BEAN” plays at the end of the album, its the equivalent to dragging your feet as you leave your favorite Disney Park. Thankfully, we can revisit it any time we want.
As 2018 nears its end, it’s obvious. Astroworld is the album of the year. You’ve listened to it at least once already, and if you don’t agree, give it a shot.