Travis Scott, hip-hop’s most popular AutoTune crooner, returns with ASTROWORLD, and he’s locked and loaded with dark beats and bars. Scott has seen glimmers of genius spread throughout his two studio albums and wide catalogue of guest features on other artists’ work, but both Rodeo and Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight had forgettable low points that dragged their respective albums’ quality down. He hit a recent low this past December with Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, a collaborative project with Migos’ Quavo, which felt like a creative dud after stretching his wings (literally) across his own albums and guest features.
While ASTROWORLD’s release was no surprise — a lot of hype was built up by Scott himself as he wrapped production and released singles — the album is a pleasant surprise, as it surpassed its already-high expectations. With ASTROWORLD, Scott has reached a new high in balancing his musical identities as hip-hop’s trap master and a curator of different voices.
“STARGAZING” starts the album off with a bang, beginning with a dark AutoTuned-aesthetic before moving into a hard beat change accompanied by a fierce verse. The song’s lyrics move between drug-induced trips and Scott’s hometown of Houston (both familiar territory), but also his relationship with Kylie Jenner, who gave birth to their daughter Stormi Webster this past February. Drugs, home and women make up a majority of ASTROWORLD’s lyrical content, much like Scott’s previous work, but he’s got the creative kick to keep the subjects interesting and clever without crossing into corniness, like with the lines, “Who that creepin’? Know that tint is dark/ All that fall-in-love shit, gotta Kevin Hart” on “5% TINT.”
What really takes ASTROWORLD to the next level, however, is his skill in blending together a variety of voices under his sonic brand. Some of my favorite tracks in other albums have been Scott’s ability to steal the show as a guest artist: “Sky Walker” from Miguel’s War & Leisure and “Love Galore” from SZA’s Ctrl are two amazing examples.
On his home turf, the roles may be reversed, but the collaborative chemistry still makes for one hell of a mixture. Frank Ocean, John Mayer and Swae Lee all make solid contributions in different tracks, and Stevie Wonder gives us the harmonica solo we didn’t know we needed in “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD,” to name a few examples. Even Drake, who just released the boring behemoth Scorpion, delivers a fire verse in “SICKO MODE.” Travis Scott’s skill in managing different voices to create a cohesive record elevates his own talents behind the mic to make ASTROWORLD a full-fledged theme park with a plethora of roller coasters to ride.
The second half of the album is more consistent with shorter lengths and simpler song structures, but still maintains a solid range in its sounds and tempos. This change in strategy works well, as Scott still holds our attention with interesting ideas, more often on his own than with others. One example is the glazed AutoTuned hook in “CAN’T SAY”: The lyrics “No, you can’t say if I’m mad or not/ Smokin’ hella weed, I’m on the alcohol,” mix well with a beat backed by an echoed guitar and driving bass. Then, rather than coast that hook through the rest of the track, an energetic Don Toliver takes the mic, weaving so naturally into Scott’s track that it’s eerie.
Already-released single “BUTTERFLY EFFECT” is one of the simplest tracks on the album, but even at his most barebones of dark bops, Scott is always entertaining — stretching that across nearly an hour of music split into 17 tracks is really impressive work. Closing track “COFFEE BEAN” is a great ending to the record: With a string arrangement that sounds straight out of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it makes for one of the album’s best musical moments.
Travis Scott titled ASTROWORLD after the now-closed theme park in his hometown of Houston, saying he wanted to “take the park back.” With as much fun as ASTROWORLD is, by and large, he succeeds.
Final Grade: B
Carl "CJ" Zabat is a music columnist at the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.