Ranking the Projects of a 21st Century Trailblazer
Houston’s Travis Scott is undeniably amongst the most important and influential musical figures of the last decade. From critically acclaimed projects, chart-decimating singles and possibly the most outrageous live show of any active hip-hop artist, Jacques Bermon Webster IIl / Cactus Jack / La Flame is indisputably at the top of his game. The impact of Scott's versatility and creativity should go without saying, but with the possibility of fourth studio album Utopia dropping later this year, 2021 offers itself as a perfect time to take a look back across the phenomenal quality of La Flame's projects. Here, for Slow Motion Panic Masters, is Travis Scott: ranked.
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Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho
Kicking off with an Otis Redding sample, this collaborative project seemed set up for greatness, but as soon as its first beat hit it appeared unfortunately clear that Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho would prove to be little more than a watered down album of recycled trap beats.
A collaborative album with Quavo, and featuring the occasional appearance from each of his fellow Migos co-conspirators Takeoff and Offset, 'Huncho Jack’ isn’t necessarily a bad project, but it is a dull one. It brings precious little in the way of new ideas to the trap sound table, and for an artist as imaginative as Scott, this record remains a considerable disappointment.
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Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight
I’ve always subscribed to the thought that the sophomore album is always the most difficult to get right, and Scott proved that thesis right with 2016’s Birds In The Trap’ Sing McKnight. Despite boasting one of the biggest tracks of the 2010s with the billion-stream behemoth that is ‘goosebumps’, the rest of the project falls a little flat.
Inconsistency is one of the biggest flaws on Scott's second studio LP. Even the record's two biggest hits ‘goosebumps’ and ‘pick up the phone’ fail to fit together with the seamlessness found on the artist's superior albums. They almost should as if they should be on entirely different albums, but still stand out as demonstrations of Travis Scott's talent. Aside from some inspired creative inventions (see ‘sdp interlude’) "Birds" is just a mash of melodramatic production and sub-par performances from Scott. However, regardless of the inconsistencies, the project stays true to the artist's distinct style, retaining the dark, hazy edge that he has since become so famous for.
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Scott’s first mixtape instantly demonstrated himself as a supremely exciting up-and-comer, partially indebted to his attachment to Kanye West and Very GOOD Beats as a 2012 Yeezus disciple. Unfortunately, looking back today I think that West’s hand in this project is what ruins restricts some of Owl Pharaoh's potential. ‘OP’ is very Kanye, almost to the point where the influence on some tracks is borderline imitation, but on Owl Pharaoh Travis Scott proved himself to not as a talented rapper but also as an artist with an already identifiable interest in pushing at the boundaries of 'hip-hop' music.
This project displayed a confident maturity - something preciously rare when dealing with debut mixtapes. Scott goes in hard on every track, and hearing his voice without his now-signature AutoTune is worth the excursion into that artist's back-catalogue. While not yet exhibiting the unbelievable originality that would go on to define him as an artist, Owl Pharaoh proved an excellent foundation for Scott to evolve from.
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If it was possible for Scott to become even bigger than he already was, ASTROWORLD did that for him. His third LP is a psychedelic, feature-stacked daydream. From the leftfield beat switches to the fiery production sprinkled across this project, ASTROWORLD is an unmissable album from a phenomenal decade of music.
With a feature list somehow including Frank Ocean, Drake, Kanye West, The Weeknd, Pharrell, and (long time inspiration) Tame Impala, ASTROWORLD is still grandiose and bold, with Scott carving a truly unique trap album. It also boasts what is arguably the biggest hip-hop track of the decade, with (the overplayed but phenomenal) ‘SICKO MODE’ - a demonstration of just how far Scott has been able to push experimentation and creativity while still balancing his music with radio dominance and accessibility.
But my biggest issue with this project is how admittedly forgettable some of its moments are. Aside from chart destroying singles and the more exciting production cuts (re: ‘SKELETONS’), there are a few too many moments where the album falls into a classic (birds in the) trap of being overly generic and skippable in the context of an hour long LP. On ASTROWORLD the highs are sky high but it features too many forgettable tracks to position it alongside his very best work.
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I feel like placing JACKBOYS above ASTROWORLD is going to rub a few people the wrong way, but hey, this is my article. Listen to why I'm right.
JACKBOYS was so clearly the collaborative project that Travis Scott had always wanted to make. With the disappointment of the Huncho Jack project, Scott pulled it back with a project of hard beats a killer roster of artists and the efficiency of a succinctly brilliant record. The production is stellar - shoutout to that outro - and it retains Scott’s signature darkness while leaving room for the collaborators to bring their own unique flairs to the table. ‘OUT WEST’ is one of Young Thug’s best offerings in recent years (you say this like everything the man makes isn't pure gold - Ed.), and ‘GATTI’ boasts a huge, cinematic beat featuring the ridiculously talented late Pop Smoke. Hearing Scott over a drill beat is not something I thought the world needed, but man is it great. It's highs are as sensational as ASTROWORLD, but with none of the forgettable moments that dragged that project down. It's so good.
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DAYS BEFORE RODEO
Since its release in 2014, Days Before Rodeo has cemented itself as a true classic of the SoundCloud era. Whereas Scott found himself buried by his influences on Owl Pharaoh, Days Before Rodeo saw Travis Scott coin his signature blend of auto-tune and inspired creativity.
"DBR" is dark, brooding and self-assured. Scott is in his element over trap beats, vintage synthesisers and obscure samples (The 1975 being sampled on this project still confuses me til this day - but it works so fucking well). ‘Don’t Play’ stands out as highlight in Scott’s discography to this day, encapsulates everything Scott is about in the creation of a fantastic song.
The performances are intense and energetic, but so clear. With its production being so undeniably Travis Scott, Days Before Rodeo side-stepped the biggest issue with trap's recent years. Where trap can be generic, unambitious and content to meet expectations, from this mixtape but it is always obvious when a track is Scott’s. The artistic forethought already obvious on this project ear-marked the artist for greatness, and the promise it offered for such a young artist, even now, is still unbelievable.
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Yeah. You shouldn't be surprised.
Travis Scott’s debut studio album ‘Rodeo’ is his magnum opus, one of the trap's greatest records, and it should be recognised one of the best debut LPs ever made. Rodeo defined trap for a generation of new listeners, and still sticks out as a near-perfect album. Rodeo has no filler. Rodeo has no dull moments. All it has are phenomenal songs, mesmerising concepts and an ambitious desire to commit to artistic risks. From discussing his childhood to exploring his ascent to superstardom, lyrically Travis Scott is at his best here, but it's still astonishing just how inventive and brave Scott's debut LP still sounds.
From woozy perfection on ‘90210’ to party rager ‘Antidote’, Scott shows off his versatility relentlessly, all the while retaining consistency and his signature sound in this mission statement of an introduction to his sonic universe. It's a masterclass in maximalism, with its huge instrumentals, shapeshifting structures and dark soundscapes, as on Rodeo, Travis Scott takes us on a drug-induced, dark Hollywood journey that is just as captivatingly audacious today as the day it arrived. What's even more astonishing? The knowledge that this artist has the talent and the desire to someday outdo the magnificent achievement of this masterpiece.
James Mellen is Slow Motion Panic Masters' Head of A&R, and is currently studying songwriting and production and is based near Bristol. Interests include silly effects pedals, Yorkshire tea and 100 gecs.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He edited this article and he is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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