By Cameron Messinides ’19
This is an emergency. Listen very carefully. Travi$ Scott is wild, crazy, and on the loose. Absolutely, demonstrably, unbelievably crazy. And not just crazy high or crazy lit or crazy pissed, although all three certainly apply. This man poses a serious and imminent danger to all in his path. Already this trap terror from Houston has taken hostage millions of victims. You better run now before those drum machines come smashing down your door. This is Rodeo, hip-hop’s newest weapon of mass destruction, and Scott is here to make sure you stay firmly in the blast radius.
How crazy is Travi$ Scott? Crazy enough to ride a horse in this video just because he felt like it. Crazy enough to wear these pants. Crazy enough to be a Houston stan (yikes). Clearly these are the irrational and inexplicable actions of a man gone far, far off the deep end. And, in the grips of his own insanity, he has discovered the most potent and pathological strain of trap below the Mason-Dixon line. No one and nothing can halt his frenzied blaze towards total carnage. He spreads his music like a brain-eating, limb-flailing, party-making contagion. Or perhaps a better analogy would be cocaine, because somehow in this transaction, you end up paying him to destroy every intelligent neuron in your body and get you hooked on the basic, carnal pull of a wild sound that just makes you want to jump. And through it all, you won’t really care. You will jump. And jump. And jump.
Perhaps most unbelievably, Scott doesn’t operate alone. He leads an entire league of artists and professional hip-hop torpedoes on his mission of annihilation. Features fill Rodeo to the brim with a multitude of unhinged voices. Headliners like Kanye West and The Weeknd pop off the tracklist, but Scott emphasizes his Southern roots with other features. Quavo (of the Migos), Swae Lee, and Young Thug hail from Atlanta, and Toro y Moi from South Carolina. The Memphis-born Juicy J joins Scott to shout a raucous anthem to the roof: “It’s really going down in the goddamn South.” And it really is. With this release, Scott turns up the heat and turns down the lights, and he will pound that anthem into your head until you recite it in your sleep.
Scott may actually be some sort of rap Jesus with the miracles he pulls off on this album. Listen to this. Let’s say Scott decides to record a radio single. Got that? Pretty standard? Curveball: it’s going to be almost 8 minutes long. Also, the hook will revolve around a fur coat Kanye and Kim bought for North West. The beat will rely on modulated choral howls, tiptoeing piano notes, and the illest booming organ samples ever conceived by the human mind. It will sound vaguely like a trip to your grandmother’s Episcopal church if your grandmother likes her worship profane, her prayers trill, and her sermons cranked through subwoofers. Oh, and it will heavily feature/resurrect the careers of much-maligned southern rap phenoms Future and 2 Chainz. And it will bang. Hard. Welcome to the sacred hymn of southern trap, “3500.”
Scott hurdles stupidly monumental obstacles like that all over Rodeo. Bring together Young Thug and Justin freaking Bieber for a rambling song soaked in its own drunk machismo and somehow make it pitifully charming? Sure! Take a break from the incessant party of “Nightcrawler” to let Chief Keef brag about his Korean takeout? Absolutely! Put beat switches everywhere? Put beat switches everywhere.
Scott’s lyricism and storytelling could stand some more robust risk-taking. The choice in “Antidote” to characterize a drug-flooded party as an “antidote,” while leaving the poison up to interpretation, appears as a subtle and light-handed surprise. But otherwise, on songs like “Nightcrawler” and “I Can Tell,” cliché narratives and uninspired phrases disappear into overwhelming beats. But Scott has never sold himself on lyricism anyway. He’s here to overturn your house party, not your House of Representatives. He takes some stabs at conscious rap along the way, but they lead nowhere. His idea of revolution appears far removed from any real-world implications. The opening skit of “Pornography”–“Nine light years away, just outside the Kepler solar system / We find… / a story of a young rebel against the system”–sounds more like the scrolling wall of text before a Star Wars movie than a call for social justice.
And in the end, Scott probably couldn’t care less about any of that. His rage and rebelliousness simply fuel this album’s larger intent: to keep you bumping and tweaking and getting way too loud all night long. At points, he writes lyrics out of necessity, the casings required to contain his gunpowder production. And he gets away with it, because that production might be the most volatile, lit, and live substance we’ve seen concocted this year. Travi$ Scott is a certified alchemist. He takes the incongruous elements his peers overlook (Chillwave? Organ samples?) and transmutes them into trap gold. Who else tackles the objective “turn way up” with as much breadth, depth, and creativity? Certainly not many, and even fewer on a stage as big as his. Accept Travi$ Scott, or run from him. But there’s no escaping this rodeo.