Travis Scott’s Utopia: In With the Old and Out With the New

Music Reviews Travis Scott
Travis Scott’s Utopia: In With the Old and Out With the New

It’s been five years since Travis Scott released Astroworld. Since then, he released a collaborative project with his label Cactus Jack Records and a few random features and singles—but he seemed to be taking his sweet time with his fourth album. It’s not hard to see why, as Astroworld elevated him to a household name similar to the likes of Drake. He has a McDonald’s meal, a concert in Fortnite, became a “strategic creative partner” for the PS5 and even launched a hard seltzer called CACTI.

Everything about Utopia until the album’s release indicated that Scott was upping the ante after the five years since Astroworld. An A24 distributed movie to accompany the album, a now-cancelled performance at the Pyramids of Giza, teases of a stadium tour (almost unheard of for hip-hop artists) and even placing totems in the town of Utopia, TX—it proves Scott is one of the more ambitious A-list rappers, if nothing else.

Utopia is, in parts, as grandiose as the rollout would have you believe. It’s got a star-studded feature list (including Kid Cudi, Drake, Playboi Carti, Beyoncé and Young Thug, among others), varied soundscapes and the signature psychedelic sound that Scott is the forerunner of in hip-hop. Anyone expecting a direct sequel to Astroworld will be disappointed, as it is far moodier and more in line with his earlier albums, like Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. But past this opulence, the album is often shallow in the moments where Scott’s production can’t mask some of his lackluster writing.

The album opens with “Hyaena” which sees Scott name-dropping celebrities and bragging about money and various luxuries like private planes. The energy here blows anything he released in the gap since Astroworld out of the water, with his tight flows and cadences seeming to set the tone for the album.

It’s impossible to talk about Utopia without acknowledging the heavy Kanye West influence over the whole project. Some of the tracks could pass as Yeezus loosies with minimal changes—especially a song like “Circus Maximus,” which interpolates the drums from “Black Skinhead.” “Telekinesis” and “Modern Jam” are tracks recycled from scrapped Kanye beats. Travis wears his influences on his sleeve, but he does all of the beats justice.

The features on the album are great for the most part. “Fe!n” with Playboi Carti gives us a nice insight into the reclusive rapper’s new sound, featuring the addictive refrain of “Fein Fein” throughout the entire track. “Lost Forever,” featuring Westside Gunn’s signature nasally delivery and the ethereal vocals of James Blake, works perfectly. Scott’s ability to curate a feature list is undeniable, and it’s one of his greatest strengths.

But it doesn’t always work. “K-pop” features the Weeknd and Bad Bunny and is easily one of the dullest moments on the record. Its summery vibe, compared to the synth-laden darkness that permeates the rest of the album, makes it stick out like a sore thumb in the same way “Butterfly Effect” did on Astroworld.

The blockbuster production doesn’t mask the fact that Scott doesn’t have a lot to say on this album. It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that he hasn’t had an introspective song since “Apple Pie” back in 2015. I’m not expecting Scott to explain the societal implications of a utopia, but it is distinctly impersonal aside from his verse on “My Eyes” where he talks about the Astroworld Festival tragedy.

Even if the album sometimes feels thematically hollow, Utopia is still one of the most forward-thinking mainstream releases of the year. Scott is still pushing the boundaries of his psychedelic trap sound after ten years in the industry, and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.

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