Travis Scott’s latest album, Astroworld (review here), came out exactly five years ago – an endless amount of time in the modern world of hip-hop: there were big successes, but also a dramatic accident in 2021 in Houston during the Astroworld festival, which hosted ten people died in the stampede and more than 300 were injured. In addition, a few weeks ago, Travis Scott gathered 80,000 people to jump in the rain at I-Days in Milan, which became a kind of collective ritual to celebrate the energy released by the Atlanta rapper (Claudio Cabona, well described here).
For all of these reasons – and more – Travis Scott’s fourth album, Utopia, was eagerly awaited, also because in the meantime, rumors of collaborations, performances, and various events were racing and piling up. On July 28, “Utopia” finally came out and, after repeated listening, it remains for us to comment on it. .
Courage and bravado
If Astroworld was an ambitious record trying to get out of the trap of a list of collaborations from the pop world of the last century (Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Philip Bailey and others), then in this Utopia, Jacques Bermond Webster II (born Travis Scott) still expands the sound more without distorting it, but raising the stakes. First of all, in length and length (19 songs in almost 75 minutes – always too much for me), in artistic versatility, boldness and bravado and, above all, in collaborations with a Grammy-nominated partner: Beyoncé, Drake, The Weeknd, Bad Bunny, SZA, Kanye West, Future, Farrell, 21 Savage, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk, Young Thug, Dave Chappelle, Playboi Carti, Bon Iver, Swae Lee, Kid Cudi, Mike Dean, Metro Boomin, James Blake, Noah Goldstein, Hudson, to name but a few. However, in the band, Kanye West’s name should be given in larger letters than the others, not only because the Chicago artist released three tracks, but also because his influence is present throughout the album – often even in an embarrassing form.
Exactly ten years ago, “Yeezus” was released (reviewed here), which, in my opinion, is the most interesting Kanye West album since the award-winning maximalist and baroque “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”.
“Yeezus”, on the other hand, was dry, dry, punch to the stomach, full of electronics and industrial sounds. In a rare interview from that period, Kanye West said he felt “10 years ahead, but trapped in the present.” Here, today, listening to Utopia, this statement, which at that time could have seemed farcical and arrogant, takes on a new meaning. Yes, because Travis Scott’s fourth studio album is a complete reworking of “Yeezus” with a number of similarities pretty obvious to everyone, except for three songs in which Kanye West (who has always been sort of Scott’s godfather and former relative) co-wrote the script. and producer (“Glory to God”, “Country of God” and “Telekinesis”). .
The disc opens with the song “Hyaena” and samples of the voices of “Proclamation” by Gentle Giant and the speech of “Maggot Brian” by Funkadelic: a strong statement that wants to make everyone understand the “high” and experimental level of this record.
“Modern Jam” seems to have come straight from “Yeezus”, given the strong similarities to “On Sight”: the sound is less aggressive, but there are synths, vocal breaks and screams (also in God’s Country), just like West’s – here in Also credited is Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, who, along with his Daft Punk partner, created the beats of the first “Yeezus” tracks. “My Eyes” has Scott’s first coup when he pairs Justin Vernon (also co-producer) and Samfa for a great vibe that also features Buddy Ross, Frank Ocean’s historical collaborator, and you can hear it all. . Instead, “Sirens” has a lot of Africa, where Scott shows his great talent in one of the most original tracks on the record. Drake will also be featured on “Meltdown” for the next single. To continue with the guests (but never explicitly featured), “Fe!n” has Playboi Carti returning to the net trap and “Delresto (Echoes)” has Justin Vernon returning with HM Beyoncé taking over the entire stage . to a code that is pure Bon Iver. .
Other pieces worth mentioning are, of course, “Circus Maximus” with another heavyweight like The Weeknd, but with drums like “Black Skinhead” by the aforementioned “Yeezus”, and “Looove”, written and Produced by Pharrell Williams (and with input from Kid Cudi), you breathe the same experimental sound design as the decade-old record.
Another name that always appears in these operations is that of James Blake here on “Lost Forever” and on the final “Until Further Notice” along with 21 Savage co-produced by Metro Boomin’. In conclusion, the “K-POP” single, just released with The Weeknd and Bad Bunny, is just an empty piece on the same level as Fedez & Co’s summer chart-topping hits. So it will be a declared success.
The Other Side of the Medal
Along with all this collaboration and experimental musical approach – albeit somewhat derivative – there is a downside that has always characterized Travis Scott’s career, namely the lyrics.
It was believed that the weather, misfortunes and the dramas that occurred also influenced the content of the lyrics, perhaps somewhat more mature and appropriate to the sound. But unfortunately not: the recurring themes are always fame with its strengths and weaknesses, the women he sleeps with and other rather empty themes, to which is added an extremely cold approach, devoid of any drop of humanity (which the old Kanye has been plenty). .
Here, perhaps, the utopia of the album’s title refers to texts that, alas, do not exist.