It has been almost two years since Travis Scott’s last solo album. That record, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, was not only a #1 album but also one of the best hip-hop albums of the ’10s. Understandably, the hype for his next album was at insanely high levels. Between Birds and his most recent record, ASTROWORLD, Travis released an underwhelming collaborative album with Quavo and gave guest verses to Migos and Kendrick Lamar, among other artists. Despite all of this music leading up to his next solo album, nothing could’ve prepared us for the intricate and exemplary musical odyssey that Travis would undergo on ASTROWORLD.
The journey begins with a psychedelic acid trip of a trap song called “STARGAZING.” On this track, Travis introduces his guests to the dark universe he has conjured for this album. It is a universe filled with despair, hubris, and drugged-up love; his fiendishly processed vocals set the scene for a heavy emotional undertaking. Following the ghoulish intro, Travis unleashes an unbelievable six-track-run that includes some of the best music of the year, and of his career, so far. There is the bass-thumping Drake collab that will soon dominate the airwaves (“SICKO MODE”) and the atmospheric and meandering Frank Ocean-assisted “CAROUSEL.” It is clear from the first few tracks, that ASTROWORLD thrives on its focus, but also on its fluidity. The story of Astroworld, Houston’s equivalent to Brooklyn’s Coney Island, is a story steeped in the evils of gentrification, and the production perfectly exudes those sentiments. ASTROWORLD is not a happy album, it is an album of pain and the absence of warmth.
Track five is the crowning jewel of the opus. That track, “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD,” recruits Kid Cudi’s moans, Stevie Wonder’s harmonica, and James Blake’s croons to dismantle and destroy the “God complex.” Whether Travis is talking about his fellow rap stars or the contractors who think they can destroy a city landmark in favor of apartment buildings, “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” is simultaneously poignant and aciculate. On ASTROWORLD Travis expertly toes the line between radio hits and crafting a genuinely rich album. His collabs with The Weeknd (“WAKE UP”) and Juice WRLD & Sheck Wes (“NO BYSTANDERS”) are poised to be big hits on streaming and radio. Additionally, more dense album cuts like the languid “COFFEE BEAN” offset the aforementioned tracks. It is important to note that Travis also holds his own on the solo tracks, “5% TINT” and “ASTROTHUNDER” are some of the most interesting and rewarding of the album’s 17 tracks.
Perhaps Travis’ greatest achievement on ASTROWORLD is his expansion of the trap genre. We’ve seen artists go down the square mainstream path (Migos), combine it with elements of gangsta rap (21 Savage), and even blend it with emo and rock (XXXTentacion, Lil Peep), but Travis does something even greater. Travis has crafted a concept album about the darkness of life and love through the story of Astroworld’s real-life gentrification. Travis took every stereotype about trap music and eradicated them. ASTROWORLD is easily one of the best albums of the year; it is a masterclass in genre-bending and story-crafting like no other.
KEY TACKS: “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD,” “WAKE UP,” “5% TINT,” “COFFEE BEAN”