Travis’s Supersonic Circus: ‘ASTROWORLD’ Review

By Marcos Léon and Matt Ford


The “Day” version of the David LaChappelle-created album cover.

Prefer to listen? You can hear the review, or read it below:

Marcos: Travis Scott is a rapper from Houston, Texas. He came up under Kanye and he doesn’t really do much rapping — he’s more of a general musician.

Matt: He’s kind of a mastermind of sounds, using his voice and other varied sonic elements, but not much of rapper.

Marcos: That’s how he got popular. He came up with Rodeo which, at the time, was this new, innovative way to put sounds together. It sounded like a continuation of inspirations being Kid Cudi and Kanye West but more innovative.

Matt: He’s a circus master of current hip-hop flavor. He puts together so many things that tease the ears and he knows how to pinpoint what you want to hear and what you’re not expecting to hear.

Marcos: Lyrically, there’s not much to say about this project. “Stargazing” is a nice introductory sound to jump into. It leads very well for getting you into the feel of this album but I didn’t like that beat switch-up.

Matt: I didn’t mind it so much because I find that that’s more common in hip-hop now. Even Kenny does that — his songs might start off slow and then pick up. And the flow of the album is quite brilliant. I don’t think I’ve heard many hip-hop albums this year that flowed so nicely.

Marcos: On my first few listens, I absolutely loved this album and would have been willing to say it was close to perfect. That’s because of how well the album flows. There are so many different sounds throughout the album but they don’t ever feel out of place. You go from a song like “Carousel” and you can put that next to “Who? What!” at the end. Some of these other songs flow in that same way. You get this up-and-down of tempo and of sounds. You start with mellower songs and build up to more active instrumentation but it never feels out of place.

Matt: It’s by far his most polished work. His artistry and sonic identity are matured and solidified.

The Dave Meyers-directed music video for “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” featuring Philip Bailey, James Blake, Kid Cudi and Stevie Wonder on harmonica.

Marcos: I don’t necessarily like “Sicko Mode” but “R.I.P. Screw,” especially with that Swae Lee feature, and then “Stop Trying to Be God” — absolute favorite song on the album. That song is so perfectly crafted. There’s so much going on. I love that Travis brought in other artists on small features, like Kid Cudi shows up to hum on that song. You mention that to somebody and they may be like, That’s kinda dumb, why is Kid Cudi humming on this shit? But it fucking works!

Matt: That reminds me of Pharrell whispering at the end of SZA’s “Supermodel.” What I love about artists like SZA and Travis is that they can do literally anything and it actually sounds good! Like you said, it can sound like the most inane, random thing but it completely works sonically for them because they’re doing what black folks have done forever which is using your entire body and all of your abilities as music. Beat-boxing has been around forever so why not hum and whisper? I like “Sicko Mood.” It had, like, three different flows and beats on it which I thought was cool for a song that long and that had so much power to it. Drake’s verse reminded me of “Nonstop” which was a little lame but it worked. From there to “R.I.P. Screw” and “Stop Trying to Be God” is where my favorite part of the album picked up, through “Yosemite.” It was so tightly put together.

Marcos: I had three peaks on this album: “Stop Trying to Be God,” “Wake Up” and “Can’t Say.” Amazing in every way, I can’t take away from any of those and I love the way that these songs build up. Travis brings in features but they’re not fully fleshed out and maybe they come in on the next song, which is what happened on “Skeletons.” You have The Weeknd come in quickly and do some ad-libs and “Wake Up” is a Weeknd song. [Travis] molds songs that artists are gonna fit on. Drake, Kudi, Frank and Migos toward the latter part but the feature on “Can’t Say” — holy shit, the hook is insane!

Matt: “Can’t Say” is where I started to lose interest. It sounded like he was trying to go from a very high point and the last five songs felt a little wonky and slow but it still flowed well. One of the nice things about ASTROWORLD is that even if the songs feel a little unnecessary, it still goes. He still feels polished in what he’s trying to do.

Marcos: I’ll agree with that. Some of this could use a lot of work, like “Astrothunder” was so… eh, and “Yosemite” — such a good song but Nav shows up with this stupid-ass verse that you can barely hear. What was the point of that? Once you, as Travis, get this feature from somebody but the dude sounds like he’s 50 fucking miles away from the mic, why toss that on? It’s another trap song. I’m not gonna fault Travis for that — he’s got Migos on here, it’ll probably get a lot of play, but “Butterfly Effect” has been out for a while.

Matt: I was confused by that. I was wondering if he just needed a single cuz he didn’t release the album by surprise. We all knew about it. But I wonder if he threw it on there so it sells more. Let’s talk about “Stop Trying to Be God” for a second. It’s your favorite song, definitely one of mine. I love this whole pocket here — “No Bystanders,” “Skeletons,” “Wake Up” and “5% Tint.”

Marcos: The harmonica works perfectly. Kudi and Travis have these lower set voices so the harmonica adds this higher layer and, as you build toward the end, James Blake comes in. I love his voice.

Matt: He’s that white dude who every black person fucks with.

Marcos: He’s worked with Beyoncé, Frank — I’m pretty sure he’s worked with every major artist and they’re all black. There are so many pieces to this song and none of them feel overpowering.

Matt: My favorite part of this song was the lyrics. This song and “Coffee Bean” were the ones that were lyrically interesting. I’m all here for black artists talking about God in public. Chance, Beyoncé, JAY, SZA — they’re all acknowledging their higher beings and their higher sources of guidance and understanding and I love that level of vulnerability. And the incredibly poetic lyrics of the song:

Is it the complex of the saint that’s keeping you so still?
Is it a coat of old paint that’s peeling every day against our will?
Is it too long since last open conversation you had?
Don’t know

Marcos: This sounds like something Kanye would’ve tossed together.

Matt: It’s interesting to look at these two artists and where they are in their personal lives and how it’s reflecting through their music. Clearly, there’s something happening in their romantic lives that’s not all that kosher, through mental health and figuring out life as young black men and as artists and I love how that shines through “Coffee Bean.”

Your family told you I’m a bad move
Plus, I’m already a black dude
Leavin’ the bathroom, my hands is half-rinsed
If only a nigga just had sense

Marcos: I was surprised to see this deep, introspective lyrical content from Travis and he goes in here. I wanted to see more of this but it’s Travis. I come to him for the sounds and some of these sounds gave this sad, introspective feel even without him having to say that.

Matt: Even with Denzel, I love how they display their mix of emotions musically, not just lyrically. You can see how they feel through the sounds that they’re producing and it creates this wonderful bodily feeling where you can really engage with the music physically. One of my other favorites is “5% Tint.” The piano creeps into your body. One second, you’re lightly bobbing your head. Then the hook comes in and your torso is swaying to the beat. It wraps you into the song similarly to “NC-17,” which is an incredibly icy song. It drips with swagger and 21 Savage complements the crystal-clear effect of the guitar, these tricked out windchimes. It reminds me of Azealia Banks’ “Ice Princess.”

Marcos: I fuck with “NC-17” hard but that’s cuz I’m here for my boy 21. I’m never gonna say 21 is the best lyricist out here but he drops some bars. “Her new nickname Babyface” — it’s so dumb but I love that shit!

Matt: Ultimately, I appreciate ASTROWORLD in the way that I appreciate Young Thug’s Beautiful Thugger Girls. It’s an album that offers strong and more personalized sound with room for more emotive instrumentation and melodies that convince you that rappers actually feel what they are talking about. It doesn’t feel empty. You can connect with the artist.

Marcos: I could toss this shit on repeat and I just go with it. I fuck with this album so hard. At first, I would’ve been willing to say this album was a 9 for me and maybe it’s not that high anymore because I did read into the lyrical content. But you put this shit on. You have your sad moments. You have your sexy moments. You have these icy moments you’re talking about. Just, mmph!