Rodeo redefines southern trap with dark production
It is difficult to label Travi$ Scott’s much anticipated debut album Rodeo when its production is simply too far ahead of its time to be put on a pedestal with other 2015 releases. He does not use many lyrics, effortlessly giving fans insight about his struggles back in Houston and his life around drugs and hopeless love, and yet Scott has fans “utterly mesmerized” by his beat-shifting craftiness and synthesized melodies. The southern hip hop/hardcore trap flow is prevalent in his work. Often compared to the flow that artists like Future and Migos have made a theme amongst young listeners who want to simply trap,his production is so revolutionary and futuristic that fans may not be able to fully appreciate Scott’s genius for another couple of years. Last summer, Scott gave fans a taste of his potential with the mixtape Days Before Rodeo, which had fans bumping on bass-heavy beats and flows that were more about style than they were substance. Loaded with features from hot artists like Rich Homie Quan and Big Sean, Scott’s platform was more reliant on feature flows and rhythm that felt choppy at times. This allowed fans to question whether he would have the ability to branch out as an artist behind the mic or remain in the shadows of Kanye West’s beats.
This year, Scott teased fans with features on hits like “Company,” from Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late mixtape. Soon after, he would be producing one of the biggest hits of the summer “Better Have My Money,” by Rihanna. Now he has answered fans and critics with Rodeo, which has substance, style and an unforeseen flow that rips the ears off of listeners and throttles them into an everlasting rodeo of drugs and pain. His brutal honesty about his past is subtle and overlooked by fans through the dark and heavy beats that control the rhythm of the entire project.
The album opens with “Pornography,” where Scott makes a declaration of what the album will present. We get high with him, appreciating the fantasies of a misfit achieving a riot against the system. T.I. opens the track with an introduction to Scott’s intentions and ambitions. Scott brings back a drugged love prevalent in his past mixtapes. The pain that made his single “Mamacita” such a hit resonates in the beat, leaving fans only to listen and imagine Scott grappling on to a bull back in his hometown of Houston and taking us all on his ride of truth and brutality. As he says to close the track, “let your ambitions carry you.”
The track that follows, “Oh My Dis Side,” has to be one of the pinnacle points in the album. Early on, he lets fans know the truth behind his motivation, with a play off words “on this side,” he takes listeners home to Houston and reveals facing the demons of being homeless at one point in his life and selling drugs to stay afloat until his music career launched. The untamed honesty in his words resonates with a calming flow in the second half of the song as he slows it down, fusing southern rap and R&B. The beat shift from dark and heavy to collective and settling is so powerful, it allows listeners to feel his emotions and understand his message beyond the lyrics. He lets the world know he is handling himself quite well in a cocky fashion, saying “you know how I like my lean: poured right, just right.”
The rodeo picks up and Scott reinvents the flows from Days Before Rodeo with a more matured sonic wave of beats that sync together into one extended trap club banger. His extensive list of featured artists allows him to make the album a masterpiece in other ways outside of rapping. Each of these artists brings their own flavor into Scott’s culmination of drugs and adventure, coming together like a posse and serving different purposes in Scott’s rodeo.
The Weeknd, who has always been seen as an ally of Scott, embraces drugs and partying with girls under the influence in “Pray 4 Love.” “She like my show lights, she want to be wife, she know that if she got me that she gon’ be good for life, so I pull out ‘fore the climax.” Love is something unfamiliar to these artists, voyaging through women and leaving them for a lifestyle surrounded by self-conscious fame and self-discovery.
Swae Lee, member of Rae Sremmurd, and Chief Keefe represent the lavish lifestyle of drugs, groupies and alcohol in “Nightcrawler.” Scott’s crafty production on the track leaves fans foaming at the mouth, trying to keep up with the rodeo. The sound crashes in waves in an unorthodox balance of southern hip-hop, synthetic electro and in-your-face pop. The same can be said about “Maria I’m Drunk,” featuring Justin Bieber and Young Thug in what forecasts to be the banger of the album. Fans fall into an insomnia of auto-tunes in Young Thug and Scott’s voices while giving Justin Bieber a much-earned redemption in his feature. Representatives of life in the spotlight, these stars are drunk in love with models and drugs.
Surprisingly, his solo tracks are as flaming hot and catchy as the features. Still in a daze from “Grey” and “Backyard,” fans are given the opportunity to bump harder and get personal with Scott through tracks like “Antidote” and “Impossible.” These tracks are plastered with the heavily dark flow that Scott adopted in his past projects, Owl Pharaoh and Days Before Rodeo. Drugs are the clear-cut motivation carrying his flow in most of these solo tracks, but Scott escapes his darkness through his drunken love with an unknown mamacita. As mentioned in his track “Impossible,” there are nights where he wants to do the impossible and fall into the trance of high that this certain girl provides for him.
He finishes his rodeo with an up-tempo funky beat that is drenched in Scott’s motivation to move on. In “Apple Pie,” he makes an innuendo from moving on from Houston and from the girl who gave him the best high. The rodeo never ends as Scott admits to continue “searching for home,” but now knows that he wants to cement his legacy among the greats. He is letting go of a familiar apple pie that was so sweet in order to make his own recipe of greatness. He closes with an outro from T.I. who forecasts terror for any artists who try to stop the greatness that is coming together before our eyes. “The head to the body of the belligerent militant group that sponsors the revolution will not be televised.”
The 23-year-old mastermind has set the bar high for expectations going forward after Rodeo. Honest to his originality and ambition, Scott designs an album with so much cohesiveness in its delivery and an overpowering bass that compliments a drugged-out melody. This unique sound gives listeners a thrill in their bodies that the mind cannot interpret. It possesses Scott’s outlandish personality, and makes fans want to kick authority in the face to the tune of his genius. In the most trill adventure of self-analyzing and outrage on society, Scott unleashes his inner savage and lets us join him on a rodeo that will only be understood when fans listen to its design and appreciate the same mastery that made the production of Yeezus so rich. It is exactly what southern hip-hop needs to anchor a powerhouse genre in the music industry.