The party never ends for Travis Scott, but as he’s become one of rap’s biggest stars, the stakes and expectations have only gotten higher. He’s now an extended part of the Kardashian clan thanks to his relationship with Kylie Jenner, and his riotous live shows have made him a titan of the turn-up scene.
A mercurial figure with several vastly different deliveries, Scott offers the best of himself as both a vocalist and an orchestrator on Astroworld, named after the defunct Six Flags theme park in his hometown of Houston, Texas. Where once Scott seemed content to be a kind of geographically unanchored artist floating from one trashed hotel room to the next, his embrace of Houston—the album features samples from several members of the city’s veteran rap crew Screwed Up Click— and the Astroworld motif has helped Scott find a rich and fascinating sonic center for himself.
On his last solo LP, Birds in the Trap, it often felt like Scott was capitulating to his guests, be that Kid Cudi on “Through the Late Night”, Young Thug on “Pick Up the Phone”, or even Nav on “Beibs in the Trap”. Here though, Scott is relishing his command of the roller coaster, bringing dynamic artists like Frank Ocean and Tame Impala into his distorted, druggy world and watching them roll with the twists and turns. Ocean’s unhinged delivery on “CAROUSEL” feels like a funhouse mirror version of his usually understated cadences, while Tame’s production on “SKELETONS” is typically kaleidoscopic, but features the menacing, gothic bass that you hear on Travis Scott standouts like “3500” or “Antidote”.
Astroworld also features some of the most technically impressive rapping of Scott’s career. From the rapid fire flow of “NO BYSTANDERS” to his bouncy, downbeat-emphasizing delivery in the middle passage of “SICKO MODE”, Scott has never sounded more engaged on the mic. One-time G.O.O.D. Music MC CyHi the Prynce has a handful of credits on the album, and it’s clear that his more emotive, punchline-heavy writing style had a positive influence on Scott.
Scott’s improved rapping is most sharply observed on “COFFEE BEAN”, the album’s contemplative closing tracks which pairs introspective bars with a backpack-esque beat from Nineteen85. The song explores his relationship with Kylie Jenner and features the kind of unvarnished snapshot of Scott’s psyche we rarely get.
“Your family told you I'm a bad move / Plus, I'm already a black dude / Leavin' the bathroom, my hands is half-rinsed / If only a n***a just had sense”, he raps on the opening verse.
It’s a major departure from the stream-of-consciousness flows that saw Scott switching topics with abandon on projects like Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho. Though that issue isn’t entirely absent from Astroworld, as he goes from threatening to retaliate against violent cops to cookie cutter strip club fodder within two lines on the unfocused “5% Tint”.
As with any lengthy, high-profile rap release, there are a couple of songs that don’t contribute much to the experience, like the thin love song “WAKE UP”, which is as spartan as a mattress on the floor, or “WHO? WHAT!”, which pales in comparison to the best Travis-Migos connections.
Still, Scott could have easily made another distorted, debaucherous project like his previous two albums, but by emphasizing his vocal performances and finding the best middle ground he ever has with his bevy of superstar collaborators, he’s made Astroworld a theme park worth revisiting whether you came in as a stan or a skeptic.