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Album Spotlight: Astroworld

Travis Scott has cemented himself as a member of the highest echelon in rap. His attention to detail concerning production and the overall musical tone is virtually unmatched. Finally, after years of teasing us the Houston MC has allowed us to board his ship and travel to Astroworld. It’s everything he said it would be. Astroworld stays true to its theme park elements.

The album is very much a rollercoaster affair with Travis leading you to the highest of turn up points to bring you down with a more sobering moment immediately after. Moodier tracks like “RIP SCREW” and “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” are sandwiched between the raucous “SICKO MODE” and “NO BYSTANDERS” creating that same sense of exhilaration that the highest rollercoaster, right when you think you’re in the groove you’re suddenly jolted upward at breakneck speed.

Soon, you realize that Astroworld isn’t simply a theme park, it’s a theme park in the vast distances of space somewhere.

ASTROWORLD COVER

The intro track “STARGAZING” fully embraces this structure with its sudden yet welcome beat switch near the end, predicated only by the sound of frantic sounds of kids on a rollercoaster. The beginning of the song mirrors a wild theme park ride, it starts off energetically enough but the track’s rapid ascension towards the end will virtually send you hurtling into the stratosphere.

The interpolation of the Beastie Boys sample from Big Tuck’s “Not A Stain On Me” is layered times over on the Frank Ocean-assisted “CAROUSEL” to emulate the sound of exhilaration from being on a ride especially when paired with the twinkling carnival-esque keys. “CAROUSEL” is where the album begins its initial takeoff (not the Migo, who actually is featured on the album, but more about him later).

Following this track is “RIP SCREW” an ode to Houston pioneer DJ Screw the creator the iconic chopped and screwed sound. This track is where the albums interstellar takeoff begins to slow it’s ascent in space. “RIP SCREW” is an appropriately slowed homage to Scott’s hometown finding Travis wax reflective in a way rarely reflected in his discography.

TRAVIS STARGAZING

Astroworld is truly an otherworldly experience one moment you’re turning up with Drake and Tay Keith on “SICKO MODE” the next you’re floating in the depths of space accompanied by a minute long Stevie Wonder harmonica solo. Travis Scott still finds a way to blend the disparate sounds by using his own unique abilities as a musical chameleon or featuring an artist on back-to-back songs to create a sense of continuity.

When Swae Lee shows up in the midst of  “SICKO MODE” then immediately after on the much slower “RIP SCREW” it’s akin to going on a different ride but with the same people. The Weeknd appears consecutively on the Tame Impala helmed “SKELETONS” featuring Pharrell and “WAKE UP” serving as a tour guide of sorts through the unbridled mind of Travis Scott. The undulating, wave of tonal shifts keeps the listener on their toes as Travis takes extra care to ensure that the sequencing doesn’t fall into a lull. The groovy sounds of “ASTROTHUNDER” and “YOSEMITE” are welcome respites between the infectious energy of “5% TINT” and “CAN’T SAY”.

Travis does a lot of the heavy lifting on Astroworld but the features on the album truly send this album to the next dimension. It would be remiss not to mention how Travis always enlists the perfect features to enhance the experience. Even the features that are more lowkey bring an unprecendented level of musicality to the project Stevie Wonder and John Mayer have the most lowkey features on "STOP TRYING TO BE GOD" and "ASTROTHUNDER" respectively but their contributions to each track drives those songs to their maximum potential.

Mayer's guitar solo on "ASTROTHUNDER" is exactly what imagine floating in space feels like. Though the Pi’erre Bourne-produced “Watch” featuring Lil Uzi and Kanye didn’t make the tracklist there are plenty of astounding features on the album.  The reclusive Frank Ocean brings a level of electricity to “CAROUSEL” that only serves to ramp up the intensity of the album’s trajectory.

TRAVIS

Drake effortlessly navigates through the Tay Keith production of “SICKO MODE” boasting “see the shots that I took wet like I’m Book/Wet like I’m Lizzie I be spinnin’ Valley” referring to NBA’s Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Liz Cambage of the Dallas Wings two of the most respected shooters in their respective leagues. 21 Savage is the most apt for the lurking chords of “NC-17” a song that borders on frightening once Savage’s distinctly haunting voice hits the track.

Migos Quavo and Takeoff appear on “WHO! WHAT?” offering ad-libs for most of the song until essentially the last few seconds of the song. Quavo, the Huncho to Travis’ Jack, drops a totally serviceable verse with the time he’s given but Takeoff--whew! Travis gave Takeoff the tiniest sliver of paper and Takeoff folded him an origami Transformer that somehow transforms into a full-size rocketship. Gunna employs one of the most impressively dextrous cadences on the album in showing that’s almost worthy of tears on “YOSEMITE”. Burgeoning Houston artist Don Tolliver shows up on “CAN’T SAY” and immediately puts his foot on the gas. Tolliver’s unique voice and malleable flow will immediately draw comparison to Young Thug but Tolliver’s measured flow hints that he definitely has more in the bag.

La Flame

The focus on the features isn’t to say that Travis was outshined at any point. From onset to exit this is very much Travis’ world guided only by his whims. Travis’ production has always been his strongest suit but his rapping has grown leaps and bounds. The album’s closing track “COFFEE BEAN” is essentially the end of the ride or the landing of the ship--either metaphor is applicable--but it’s Travis at his most vulnerable. He raps about his relationship and his newfound take on fatherhood. Reflective Travis could be a whole artist in his own right. “COFFEE BEAN” is the album’s only no-frills track and symbolizes a return to reality, there’s no spaced-out sound effects like “ASTROTHUNDER” and no anime sword sounds like in “HOUSTONFORNICATION”. Astroworld is written as a love letter to La Flame’s influences but even when Travis directly acknowledges and uses his influences in his music he creates something unique in and of itself. His ability to be whichever version of Travis Scott is needed for the track plus the level of musicality and surprising introspection makes Astroworld a true journey and an adventure all the same.

To put it short, “IT’S LIT!”