Bringing The World To Houston // Travis Scott "Astroworld" Album Review
Written by Waylon O'Day
It’s been a long time since Houston has had someone that they can immediately point to as the lead torchbearer for the city. In the 90’s it was the late, great DJ Screw, in the new millennium, the spotlight shining on the Bayou City was shared between living legends like Slim Thug, Paul Wall, Mike Jones, UGK, and so many others. Now, with the release of his third full-length album, Astroworld, the torch has undoubtedly been passed to Mo City native, Travis Scott.
Much like its namesake, Astroworld feels like a rollercoaster, full of lush production and pure, unadulterated adrenaline. These are things we’ve come to expect from Scott, but on this project, the stakes are raised to all-time highs.
Opening with “Star Gazing,” sets the tone immediately with a stark, booming production as Scott raps about an intense psychedelic experience. It’s like a roller coaster slowly ascending, with the hi-hats mimicking the sound of clinking chains before that first breathtaking drop about midway through the song. The elusive Frank Ocean makes an appearance on “Carousel,” whose gentle approach contrasts decidedly with Scott’s energetic delivery before Ocean tries his hand at Scott’s game as the two trade bars throughout. (Not to mention that Scott sampled one of Texas biggest dance songs "Not A Stain On Me" by Dallas' own Big Tuck // An Informational note added by the editor, Greg Harris :) )
“Sicko Mode” is the most immediately striking song on the album, as the bounce provided by Tay Keith, Hit-Boy and others production, embodies the essence of a wild theme park ride, with too many twists and turns to count. The track is probably Scott’s most lyrically adept showing on the album as he manages to hold his own with Drake. “R.I.P. DJ Screw” is the first chance listeners have a chance to catch their breath as Travis creates a calming environment through his production and lyricism, both of which are deeply indebted to the song’s titular icon as well as the entirety of the Houston hip-hop pantheon.
“Stop Trying to Be God” has Travis being uncharacteristically humble, a departure from his usually bombastic nature. Then again, it’s hard not to be humbled when you have Stevie Wonder contributing a goose-bump inducing harmonica lick that cuts through the hazy, haunting, angelic production, all of which are further complimented by James Blake’s angelic bridge. “No Bystanders” ends the dreamy reprieve of the previous two tracks as Juice WRLD reminds listeners that “the party never ends,” much like Travis’ Rodeo-era penchant for raging.
“Skelton’s” is one of the most ambitious Scott tracks to date, thanks to production from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, as Scott blurs the lines between indie and hip-hop with more than satisfying results. “Wake Up,” does what the previous achieved, but with much more ease, thanks in large part due to the Weeknd’s contributions as well as a guitar-sample that sounds more Jason Mraz than La Flame.
“5% Tint” drops out of nowhere with a monster baseline, and a creeping carnival piano lick courtesy of FKi 1st, reflecting the opening line of the song “Who’s that creeping through my window? /Fore you come outside, I got the M4.” 21 Savage delivers easily the best punchline bar on Astroworld (“I nutted on her cheek, her new nickname is Babyface,” on the otherwise forgettable “NC-17.”
Travis continues to push the boundaries of what hip-hop is with the unusually jazzy “Astrothunder,” which features contributions from Matty of BadBadNotGood, John Mayer, and Thundercat, whose contributions are most apparent besides those of Scott himself.
The Turbo-produced “Yosemite” may be the closest we ever get to a Travis Scott lullaby, due to the abnormally subdued approach from Gunna, Travis, and NAV’s oddly mixed outro verse that seems to fade like the last moments of consciousness before sleep. “Can’t Say” is a sleeper track for sure, as Cactus Jack signee Don Tolliver makes his presence known in a big way with his off-kilter cadence that wiggles its way around the woozy production, providing one of the stronger lyrical performances throughout the album.
“Who? What!” is largely a forgettable track, although Quavo and Takeoff do give admirable performances, but nothing about the song is particularly remarkable in the context of the album. “Butterfly Effect,” which was released more than a year ago, will always be a solid track, but it’s placement in the album sort of just feels like a filler in an album that is already chock-full of radio-ready hits.
"Astroworld takes more risks than other major releases in recent memory and succeeds in almost all cases."
Houston has always been a part of Scott’s identity, never has it been made so obvious than on “Houstonfornication,” an ode to not only the 3rd Coast but to Scott’s adolescence. It’s no “City of Syrup,” but it’s a certified H-Town classic already. Closing out the rollercoaster that is Astroworld is “Coffee Bean,” the most vulnerable and personal track in Scott’s catalog, as he raps over a beautiful boom-bap beat courtesy of Nineteen85.
Travis Scott has never been a lyricist, you can go back to the OwlPharaoh to see this. His music has always been about energy and hauntingly beautiful soundscapes that push the boundaries of the genre that he’s been placed in. What sets Scott apart from his peers is his keen ear and being able to amass a compelling cast to compliment his genre-bending productions. Astroworld takes more risks than other major releases in recent memory and succeeds in almost all cases. It’s certainly not his magnum opus, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Listen to the whole project below.