La Flame finally opens up the cage door
The impact and impression that Travis Scott, the Houston-born singer/ rapper, has been (if summed up in one word) phenomenal. Having gradually crept into the ears of many listeners over the years through his mixtapes ‘Owl Pharaoh’ and ‘Days Before Rodeo’, he built up somewhat of a cult following, drawing in those looking for something different that what most of hip hop had to offer. That’s what’s made Travis such a well-know name across the genre now, the fact that he stands alone in his own self-pioneered sub-genre; fusing the sounds of trap, 808’s and mid-noughties auto-tune to find sometime that really connected with an internet-obsessed youth. With his new studio album, he continues his signature, unique vibrations – but has his style already grown tiresome or has his singularity driven him to even greater heights?
After his success sky-rocketed last year with the release of his debut LP ‘Rodeo‘, Travis found himself at 23 with a fan base that rapping veterans and legends could only dream of having. Guided under the wing of the likes Kanye and Mike Dean, he managed to find his own lane in the genre and proceeded to drive through it on a dump truck, knocking any competition aside. This first commercial outing took everything that attracted listeners to his mixtapes and developed it into a stellar record that made it into many peoples favourites for 2015. Some would call this a curse, a bar that Travis had set too high and wouldn’t be able to reach again, while others saw it as a milestone in the career of a rising star that would take the rap game by storm. With the (somewhat delayed) release of ‘Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight‘, Travis looks to stay true to his penchant for anthemic beats and reverb rapping – but sadly it’s a style that seems to have not progressed since its introduction.
You wouldn’t have thought this with the release of the fantastic ‘pick up the phone‘ with Young Thug and Quavo back in June. An upbeat, glitzy instrumental full of washed-out synths is one you can’t help but love, especially when backed by some strong additions from all 3 MCs. Although the lyrics detail a longing for a girl who simply won’t/ can’t answer the phone, the song is so enjoyable you mistake it for a celebratory tune. If we’d known this was another taster for the album I’m sure it would’ve gained a lot more hype, as it exerted the same personality and creativity that was found on ‘Rodeo‘, taking conventional trap sounds and turning them into something more fashionable.
Unfortunately, that’s just what a lot of the album lacks. Listening to ‘Birds‘ honestly feels like listening to what was cut out of his last project for too much of the run time, with less distinct, interesting and outside-the-box effort going into it. Take the tracks ‘coordinate‘ and ‘beibs in the trap‘, two of the most bland and boring pieces off of the record. The first incorporates the standard go to trap beat with a half-asleep Travis who happened to leave the mic on while dreaming about “Rockstar skinnies“, while the second uses tone-dial keys to zero effect and a couple of weak verses from him and Nav about cocaine, white women and … that’s about it. When compared to the instrumental craftsmanship of what was on his debut outing, these songs just seem so pale and lacklustre, not doing any justice for the ability we all know Travis has.
The track ‘sweet sweet‘ has an initially interesting beat similar to that of ‘pick up the phone‘, but the ultra-reverbed and auto-tuned hook is cringe-worthy to hear from someone with some usually good singing vocals. At times, Travis seems to be the weakest component of the track, with cuts like the LP’s opener ‘the ends‘ having an insanely good verse from André 3000 over a substantially more interesting beat that apparently set too good of an example to be replicated in some way. ‘first take‘ just sounds like it was pulled from Bryson Tiller’s ‘Trapsoul‘ who (coincidentally) is featured here and does a much better job of making something of out of the snooze fest of beat.
Don’t get me wrong, there are moments where Travis’s prowess and creative genius are set free, but they’re just too sparse across the 14 tracks. ‘outside‘ features the grittiest beat on the cut with its crawling synth keys and heavy kicks, driven by a strong hook and a surprisingly likeable verse from 21 “it’s a knife” Savage, who sounds right a home spitting rhymes like “Beat yo baby mama throat so long she say her jaw’s tired“. The very track that follows it, ‘goosebumps‘, is the most, well, lit *insert fire emojis here* of the entire cut. The trunk-rattling sub bass and a great hook sets it up to be a real banger of a track, with the lyrics in fact being a worthy part of the whole thing: “I get those goosebumps every time, I need the Heimlich / Throw that to the side, yeah / I get those goosebumps every time, yeah, when you’re not around“. The track also features a surprise verse from Kendrick Lamar, who comes through with not a mind-blowing but decent enough verse, complete with his alien voice singing falsetto (something I did not expect on a Travis Scott track). Even ‘through the late night‘ with Kid Cudi has a nice ode to Cudi’s classic ‘Day n’ Nite‘ single with a refrain of the well-know hook.
Hardcore Travis Scott fans may find a lot to like, as in the end this is (for the most part) an extension of the sound he’s already fashioned for himself. But then there’s the unquestionably bad ‘guidance‘. ‘guidance‘ is a song that has so obviously jumped on the dancehall trend that’s sky-rocketed into fashion at the moment, and it feels so tacked on to the record and so out of place it’s painful to listen to. Complete with fake patois and Desiigner-esque gun clips, it’s an attempt at pandering to an audience who I’m sure by now want the trend to stop and to let those who know what they’re doing get back to making real Jamaican music. ‘Birds‘ attempt though? It’s a no from me – and I imagine a lot of others.
I wanted ‘Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight‘ to be good, I really did. But I can’t help being so frustrated when the majority of the album feels like a real step back from what he achieved with his debut. I admire him pursuing the style and sound he’s helped lay down the foundations of, and at times on this record he shows he’s still one of the most interesting cases in all of music right now, but he could’ve really gone about it in a more versatile way. Lacking the character and the flair of ‘Rodeo‘, it feels like this LP should’ve come before his last, as the stripped-back nature of ‘Birds‘ does him no justice and serves and no testament to his ability. If you like this record, more power to you, but in the end I feel like Travis has dropped the ball and has in all honestly been a little too lazy with this one. La Flame is starting to dwindle.
Highlights: pick up the phone, goosebumps, the ends, outside