Let’s face it: Travis Scott’s 3rd studio album, Astroworld, is one of the most hyperactive, hexing albums of 2018. I’m here to answer a really simple, yet compulsive, question:
Is Astroworld “just hype?”
Short answer: Hell no, chief.
How I Review Albums
You caught me, I’m a Travis Scott fan. I review albums I feel a connection with.
I try to discover my own interpretations and nuances.
Album reviews of mine can end up either good or bad… mostly good though, I won’t lie to you. Seriously though, why would I thoroughly / repeatedly listen to an album I know I have no chance of liking?
Come on, now.
What I look for: sonically, what’s happening at the surface. I don’t really give much of a shit about the background or “historical homage” side of things. I won’t recognize every reference, double meaning, sample, or feature.
I love music, but that’s not my job here — this ain’t a history lesson.
Enter the polychromatic atmosphere frantically, meticulously branded by Scott and his team. Astroworld has always been a part of the narrative. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Travis mentioned “this was always supposed to happen,” even way back in the midst of the Rodeo era.
“Stargazing” is a portal into Travis Scott’s intoxicating, psychedelic world.
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’
Got me stargazin’
Off top, this feels like a nod to Cudi (see his song “Rollin”). Astroworld’s spacey, crude concept reminds me of Big Brother’s Man on the Moon; the vibe lives on.
However, this is a new galaxy— much darker, sporadic, and snapping.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the conception of Astroworld. My inklings and expectations for this album were met with full force, forming a solid fuckin’ moon rock at first listen.
“Stargazing” is maybe the most pivotal, engrossing tracks in the mix.
The beat-switch within the opening track is so deliberate, it almost pushes you back (like a rollercoaster). Immediately, it felt like a glacier shift. Here I am, hooked by another one of Travis’ bass-lines — between the drums and the hectic synth lead, this shit rolls.
Of course I expected a powerful verse upon the neck-twisting turn. Lyrics are considered to be the weakest link for Travis. Most of his criticism comes from his lack of depth and creative word play.
It’s a fair argument I think, but…
The writing on this album is every bit elaborate, witty, and sharp.
The verse following the switch on “Stargazing” feels like dropping the gate at the Derby — it gets rowdy, astronomical, improbable, diabolical, whatever you wanna call it. As a writer, I’m impressed with these lyrics. From a word-choice perspective, it’s genius. For example, Travis raps:
Got the keys into my city,
Now she know the rides
The phrase “know the rides” sounds exactly like “notarized.” Instances of double entendres are all over the place in Astroworld.
In this first leg of the album, anyone with a hint of music savvy understands the magnitude of these guest features. To hear Frank Ocean and Travis Scott swap bars is a pump of both pleasure and adrenaline. This is an interesting dynamic, these two.
I feel like both artists work like chameleons — they have rare ability to morph, adapt, and change suit to fit the soundscape. They’ve done it alongside the Migos, Calvin Harris, Major Lazer and now here they are spitting back and forth about therapists, black skies, and flashes.
And when Frank Ocean sings “the speeeeeed got old…”
I felt that.
3.) SICKO MODE
Oh shit Drake!…
Sike. Honestly, this feature didn’t surprise me. It was nothing compared to the previous, “Carousel.”
Truth be told, when Drake started in on “Sicko Mode,” I got sad. Scorpion was 39 tracks long and I’m sort of “sick” of Drake’s vibe and flow at this point on this album.
So when the song caved in and did a backflip at the minute mark, I lit up. It didn’t feel right to have Drake “take the cake,” so to speak. It only felt right when Trav planted his foot and took handle — this is the Sicko we wanted.
This is apparent: the production on Astroworld is unique, erratic, and forward thinking. For this song to start off smooth like creamy JIF peanut butter, crumble and distort in the middle, then revive with an uptempo, hard hitting beat… it’s like what more can you ask for?
It’s Drake and Travis Scott.
“Out like a light,” this track is sick forsure.
4.) R.I.P. SCREW
After the opening trifecta shot of morphine, the 4th track embraces more melody and vocalization; Astroworld’s pieces are well-placed.
Worth noting, the lyrics on Apple Music are a little shaky. I’d take them with a grain of salt. Apple Music says this for track 4:
This GS you see, smooth like man
But I heard:
This shit S.U.C. smooth like mane
Whose right? I don’t know.
I’ve learned to just listen and interpret the words however I see fit. Much of the writing on the album feels purposefully tricky, like it’s supposed to have double meaning, so I’m just going with what registers in my mind.
5.) STOP TRYING TO BE GOD
*CUDI HUM ALERT*
Again, the lyrical content feels deeper. No “It’s Lit!” or “Strayup!” on this one. It’s about love, finding your way, and keeping your circle tight.
You won’t succeed tryna learn me
Stick to the roads in my journey
Stay outta court when you got the attorney
She say she love, but want to really burn me
I can get down with some meaningful, poetic lines. Every vocal on this track is pretty much flawless too.
Okay, let’s take a step back and look at the album as a whole up to this point just five tracks in.
Astroworld is 5 for 5.
We’ve gotten an array of facets from Travis; we got the hard hitting drums, out-of-line, otherworldly vibes he usually puts forth. We also have the airy, autotune vocals the guy basically redrafted himself since landing on the scene.
We also have:
- Monumental features
- Scattered, yet intriguing, album flow
- Seemingly improved lyrics
On Apple Music, the first five songs each have a little star accompanying them — that means people are responding the project as a whole. I mean, it’s an air tight presentation of work (17 songs, 1 hour).
From spirit to fundamentals, the album’s wildly efficient and effective.
And the party never ends…
6.) NO BYSTANDERS
This track starts off soft and subtle, but quickly builds into a hook you either respond to or not:
F*ck the club up! (Bitch!!!)
… Need I repeat?
Again, the production and vibe hit hard. Pay attention to the zooming synth layer in the back. You can hear it well when Travis comes in with the “Bicentennial” line.
AHHH! That’s me when I reached track 7. This feels like a fuckin’ Beatles joint, but I know that’s the Tame Impala sound coming through.
Then, as if it can’t get any better, it does: The Weeknd!
Standin’ in the oceeeeeeaaan
8.) WAKE UP
The package deal of 7 and 8 took me. The cool thing about Astroworld is the songs feel perfectly strung together; one leads right into the other.
The twangy guitar picks are a pleasant touch too. The album has a country-ish tone throughout that really brings it down to Earth.
My favorite part here is when Travis takes his turn at the chorus: “I don’t wanna wake up.”
9.) 5% TINT
That creepy-ass goblin noise SOMEHOW fits in the song. It builds an unsettling worry the producers were probably aiming for.
The “chain sex” line is ridiculous. It’s clear Trav is going for dark, twisted energy, but the way he achieves it is so creative and outta the blue. You gotta respect it.
The intricate, spacious production of “Astrothunder” almost induces meditation. There’s a really nice, deep guitar bass in the back. John Mayer is credited as a writer also.
Again, we’re getting great production, A+ collaborative power, and new sounds.
I won’t lie, I thought this was Young Thug when I first heard it… On second thought, I’m still convinced this is Young Thug.
13.) CAN’T SAY
This is the song I was waiting for. “Can’t Say” demands the kind of vocal power I like to see out of Travis.
Gotta take a long drive up the hill
Gang too wavy, move like Navy Seals
Everything about this song feels familiar; the brief slow-mo, chop and screwed bridge between verses reminds me of bits off Rodeo.
Then Don Toliver comes in and delivers an elastic, adherent chorus you can’t forget (or say, for that matter).
And no, I can’t put the production into words. It just works.
14.) WHO? WHAT!
If you’re down with HUNCHO JACK, then you’ll love this one. The chorus is seriously addictive and sprinkled with backwood hints: pork n’ rinds, ain’t no fence, just a hundred acres wide!
Oh and the “threw it back in self-defense” line is bonkers.
Quavo does something weird on this track — he actually sounds like he puts forth effort! His little 8-bar is kind of moving.
But Takeoff? Meh.
15.) BUTTERFLY EFFECT
I want to address one thing and one thing only: stop complaining about “Butterfly Effect” being on the album.
I get it, the song came out 16 months ago. But Travis hasn’t put out a solo-album in almost 2 years. Singles like this are supposed to capture a window of time. This song was hot for almost a year and deserves a spot on Astroworld.
Another favorite on the album for me; I think Travis really gets in his zone and enforces why he’s selling half a million records in his first week. He drops some signature lines too:
We at the fest, come and link, per request
Send the pin, drop it in, GPS
These lyrics are equally stand off-ish too, like leave me alone, let me do my thing… but also demand you pay attention. For example:
I’m hard to catch,
That’s the butterfly effect
And it feels exactly like that. Travis Scott’s vision seems temperamental. I’ve been a fan for a while and Astroworld has thrown me for a loop — I didn’t see any of this coming.
Dude’s energy is a mystery we’ve yet to solve.
17.) COFFEE BEAN
This is one way to wrap up an album; with a track that feels both nostalgic and escaping.
I’m responding to the last minute’s violin bites, organic vocals, and overpowering guitar licks — they sort of remind me of a Kanye West production.
It’s hard to ask for more out of a piece of work. In my mind, if an artist is innovating, orchestrating collaborative talent, and playing to their strengths, how can you criticize?
As a Travis Scott fan, I ate.
We made it to Astorworld.