Truth be told, I didn’t really care for 2012’s Cruel Summer, besides “New God Flow” and “Mercy”. I never listened to any other song on it after my first couple of listens through. I did not listen to Owl Pharaoh when it dropped because of that apathy, Travi$ Scott flew under my radar and I had no idea who he was until July of 2014 when a tweet caught my eye. Something or other about Days Before Rodeo, Scott‘s second mixtape, being the banger smash hit of the summer. I turned it on and was immediately struck… By the production and features. Aside from the song “Drugs You Should Try It” I didn’t really bother memorizing any of Scott’s lyrics from that project because they all felt flat, colorless, and vague. The year now is 2015 though, and Travi$ Scott has decided to “bless” the streets with a studio album. Is he still afflicted with Chronic Dull Guy syndrome? Let’s cross our fingers and hope not.
The problem of being human white noise continues to plague Travi$ on RodeoThe album is stacked with features that look like someone Googled “good musicians 2015” and picked whose names would look coolest in the album credits. Scott is overshadowed the whole of this album by the beats most of which are produced by super-producers Mike Dean or Allen Ritter, and by the features. Rodeo is laden with star-studded features ranging from indie heart-throb Chaz Bundick aka Toro Y Moi/Les Sins to Prince of Pop Justin Bieber. Travi$’ boss and the best rapper from Chicago, Kanye West; and the other best rapper from Chicago, Chief Keef, are also featured. Keef cleans house on the meandering party-track “Nightcrawler” working as the light at the end of a sewer pipe. “Flying High” featuring Toro y Moi sounds like the exact kind of music you might hear in an HBO show aimed at millennials , which isn’t to knock the superforce of Pharrell, Mike Dean, and Allen Ritter who provide the production. The instrumental is just so flavorless. The beat sounds like anyone could have gotten it and anyone could have produced a hit from it. Anyone but Scott. It doesn’t help that La Flame’s whooping over the track is more annoying than catchy. “I be flyin high, shawty, I be flyin high” comprises 60% of the lyrical content of the song*.
*I am not a math nerd I promise bro
Furthermore, the evidence of songs getting better the farther away Travi$ is from them is clearly perceptible on songs like “Maria I’m Drunk”, a song that was initially simply a Thugger/La Flame collaboration that evolved into a Biebervelli team up, and as an avowed Belieber, I was not displeased. What did I think of Travi$ Scott’s verse? Uh, I’ll tell you when I can remember what he said. This lack of attempt at saying anything of substance is troubling for an album and it is a problem that never goes away on Rodeo.
The issue of saying nothing of substance essentially destroys any attempt for there to be an emotional and/or intellectual narrative on the album, leaving it mostly without an identity. On the intro track “Pornography”, T.I. speaks of a mystery man [Travis] who values rebellion and individuality. Then, of course, Scott clumsily creeps in and begins singing about threesomes and coming down from drugs.
It is quite easy to forget that Rodeo is La Flame’s very own album at points.
Beyond the music, Scott’s made many questionable decisions for the public to scrutinize; he’s been oft accused of swag vampirism and wouldn’t you know, he is still vamping swag in this year 2015 on his debut album (NOTE: coincidentally, on “Apple Pie” he mentions keeping garlic on deck to dissuade the ‘Draculas’ in his life). Noticeably, A$AP Rocky gets swag jacked (who himself is the king of swag vampirism, but that’s for another time) and goes so far as to use ScHoolBoy Q’s flow on the track featuring him.
There is an air of hard rock feels on this album, clearest heard on the track “Piss On Your Grave” a title that sound like a Tyler the Creator song. We’ve been teased with that title all year, when originally the song was alleged to be on SWISH, Kanye’s forthcoming (#SWISHIsAMyth) LP. To be real with all of you this song is what I expected all of Rodeo to sound like.
I think of punk rock and metal when I hear La Flame’s music. He can, admittedly, mold a distinct image well via the soundscape he curates. The first 46 seconds of “Piss On Your Grave” might have someone thinking they’re listening to Black Sabbath or The Beatles via Sgt. Pepper’s era. I was completely unsurprised that a Travi$ Scott song about peeing on both (your) face and grave would be such a slapper.
Beyond POYG, there are a few moments of TS coming through with actual passion. A couple of tracks (namely “90210” and “Apple Pie”) find the listener hearing Scott in rare form, rapping for once with emphasis and with emotion. “90210” is a respectable homage to Kanye West thru it’s sampling of The Dells “Fonky Thang, Diamon’ Rang” which ‘Ye sampled all the way back for “Family Business” on College Dropout, the track is ostensibly the zenith of Rodeo. The snares hit crisp enough to be sold as food at a state fair, and the increased tempo feels reminiscent of a sunrise. Three years into his very public career, there is still this shroud of mystery around La Flame, the only thing we as listeners know for sure is that this man enjoys having a good time. He has released very few tracks that are anything other than grandiose brag rap or strip club joints. A few of the featured artists stumble or simply phone in their verses, like Juicy J on “Wasted”, which incidentally bring shine to Travis $cott’s usually lackluster verses.
Aside: We gotta stop Juicy J from being on all these tracks with Pimp C in 2015.
Further Aside: No more tracks named “Wasted” ok Guwop washed you all on that shit. Thank you.
Though he may not be featured anywhere on the album, Rodeo is dripping in Kid Cudi’s influence. A lot of Rodeo sounds like Kid Cudi’s first studio album, Man On The Moon. Scott has been vocal about his support and admiration of Cudder and recently got cosigned from his favorite rapper on Twitter; a nice gesture and completely unnecessary plug since Cudi’s split from G.O.O.D. Music. The similarities that are easiest to identify between Rodeo and Man On The Moon: End Of Day are the auto-Crooning (wooo-ooo-ooh-oohhhhh), progressive/psychedelic rock influence, calls to doing as many drugs as you can handle, and the intro/outro handled by a rap veteran. Unfortunately, the homage reads cheesy and unoriginal. It truly feels as if La Flame was trying to get T.I. to out-nonsense Common’s narration on Cud’s album, and I’d say he “succeeded”.
Scott brings nothing to the table but somehow finds a way to leave with a slice of cake and the big piece of chicken. Rodeo isn’t a bad album; but it’s the features that carry the album. That of itself is a crazy thing to have to say in defense of an artist’s album. Rodeo could have been a complete train wreck but instead it’s something that never wipes the eye crust from its face. Sonically, the album plays like a journey. A journey to an area which is near a location adjacent to a place. It doesn’t feel like anything is accomplished with Rodeo. It is indeed a fun album and will entertain for the next few months, however it disappoints as a debut of Travi$ Scott’s artistic ambitions as nothing new or exciting is brought forth. Scott is still not a good rapper. There hasn’t been much, if any improvement since the days of Owl Pharaoh. Scott straight up admits on the track “Apple Pie” that “I am everything but a rapper”. The way he has worked his way into the inner sanctum of rappers without much rap skill himself is to be admired at least I suppose, unless that tale of the alleged lying cheating and stealing was true.
La Flame clearly knows what he’s doing and it’s apparent he doesn’t care what others think. He has diehard La Flame fans ready to uppercut men out of their sneakers unless homage to Travi$ is paid. He’ll be alright, even if his album really wasn’t.
Pokémonye West, known to the government of the United States and his mama as Porter Partin, is a jack-of-many-trades millennial residing in that great land of Texas who can usually be found on Twitter being hilarious, and devilishly handsome — @PokemonyeWest