The first words we hear on Travi$ Scott’s debut album Rodeo are from rapper T.I., who praises Scott as a “young rebel against the system, refusing to conform or comply to the ways of authority, [choosing] a mood of ‘fuck this shit.’” Scott (or, as he refers to himself, “La Flame”) takes these words to heart, delivering his well-known brand of “fuck this shit” music on this album. After a few listens, it’s clear that T.I.’s intro serves as both the album’s dedication and a personification of Travi$ Scott: “Lost souls in the middle of their metamorphosis / Not quite through with their journey, ain’t made it to wherever the fuck they gon be in life / But wherever it is, it’s better than here.”
Rodeo sounds exactly like you would imagine a Travi$ Scott debut album to sound. Scott had a hand in his mentor Kanye West’s Yeezus, and the style of tracks he produced like “I Am A God” and “New Slaves” continues here on Rodeo, along with discernable influences from his favorite artist, Kid Cudi. Scott brings to bear the full array of his trademark sound: pitched-down vocals, thundering basslines, rumbling drums, hard-hitting snares, and murky, distorted chords. It is an industrial, metallic, and yet somehow lush auditory experience.
Rodeo is also a feast of features. As usual, Future steals the show on “3500,” in the same breath confirming that he is “not from this planet,” asserting that he urinates promethazine, and praying to God for more cough syrup. The Weeknd returns to his Trilogy self on the Illangelo-produced “Pray 4 Love”, singing joylessly about having sex with your girl while decrying emotional attachment. “Nightcrawler” will ride out 2015 with months of club rotation, featuring an infectious hook from Scott and a Finally Rich-reminiscent Chief Keef, who proclaims for all, “Walked up in the bank, ordered me some funds / Walked in the strip club, order me some ones / Walked up in the gun store, order me some guns” while subsequently dropping references to both McDonalds and UPS. “Maria I’m Drunk,” one of the album’s standout tracks, features a classic Young Thug verse and a lyrically average but surprisingly well-delivered verse from, yes, Justin Bieber. Kanye West even makes an appearance, snarling obscenities over distorted guitar riffs on “Piss On Your Grave,” and picking up where left off at the VMAs, shouting, “is you not entertained?”
Although lyrically Travi$ Scott is regularly outshone by his features, the album’s second cut, “Oh My Dis Side,” shows us a rare flash of the introspective La Flame that could have been. After all the lean-sipping and drug-tripping, and in between Migos member Quavo’s ad-libbed interjections, Scott laments, “Mama kicked me out the house now, oh my / I might end up on the couch now, oh my,” following later with “about to get some cash now, oh my / Got my momma that new house now, oh my / Now she cannot kick me out now, oh my.”
Such reflection is decidedly absent on the rest of the album — for Scott, lyrics are just another vehicle through which his sound is delivered. This philosophy is embodied by “90210,” a juxtaposition of low, menacing chords and the ethereal voice of fellow G.O.O.D. Music member Kacy Hill. Despite being low on lyrical content, Scott manages to deliver one of the most well-crafted songs of the year.
With Rodeo, as with his previous releases (Owl Pharaoh, 2013, Days Before Rodeo, 2014), Scott’s voice is so effects-driven that it’s difficult to feel any of his emotions — except, of course, for his fierce, ever-present energy. And, just his like previous releases, you can’t turn to the lyrics for a message, as the only themes consistently projected are those of of the consumption of drugs, money, and women. Flashes of lyricism like on “Oh My Dis Side” notwithstanding, Scott’s sub-par lyrics are offset by his ear for production and creative vision. While a majority of the production is handled by a number of other heavyweight producers (from Kanye West and Pharrell to Metro Boomin, Mike Dean, and Sonny Digital), each cut has Travi$ Scott sonically stamped all over it.
Critics will argue that overlooking Rodeo’s lacking lyrical content in favor of its aesthetic value elevates style above substance — undermining the legacy and validity of hip hop as an expressive art form. Travi$ Scott’s contributions to the art form, however, are not through extensive wordplay, meaningful lyrics, or even a unique delivery à la Young Thug. The album’s best moments come as Scott’s vocals charge through the gritty production, the vibration of the bassline and murky synths providing the perfect haze through which he emerges, only to plunge back in with a vengeance. Rodeo is an aesthetic showcase, a masterpiece of a soundscape obsessed with its own power. With no message to weigh it down, Rodeo is the perfect storm: thundering above, drifting where it may, with the listener as its only potential anchor.
Get high with me, and come down with me
That’s all I need in my fantasy”
- Travi$ Scott, Rodeo (“Pornography”)