2014’s ‘Days Before Rodeo’ was full of the post-‘Yeezus’ machinisms that Travis Scott himself was mostly responsible for engineering on West’s 2013 record. But where ‘DBR’ flourished, ‘Rodeo’ itself - Scott's first proper full-length - seemed to falter. It had all the ingredients to build upon ‘DBR’: the auto-tune, the glitched drum loops, the smoky atmosphere, the catchy half-sung, half-mumbled hooks, but for whatever reason ‘Rodeo’ felt half-baked.
After spending so much time working with West, a noted perfectionist, it was perhaps odd Scott’s debut album was so clumsy, and ham-fisted. Almost a year to the day after that release, the 24-year-old returns with ‘Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight’, and whether purposely or by chance it’s a body of work by someone who sounds like he’s scrutinised his own material and papered over the cracks.
In fact, that’s perhaps not giving Scott his due. He hasn’t just masked his missteps, he’s completely replaced them with a 53-minute record that rarely loses focus and constantly feels like something that is driving itself.
Lyrically, Scott is an undeniable sadboy and that rings true here in large portions once again. "Relieve my heart of malice,” he utters in the Kid Cudi-featuring ‘Through The Late Night’ or “I get those goosebumps every time when you're not around,” he says on ‘Goosebumps’. Both of these are so painfully high school that they'd be unforgivable if Scott wasn't so notorious for being a sensitive soul.
One of his biggest criticisms in the past has been that his songs are mostly about nothing (à la A$AP Rocky) and when La Flame isn't being emotional the same applies again here.
Luckily, ‘Birds…’ is peppered with guest spots left, right and centre, and that’s where it becomes obvious what Travis Scott’s real talent lies - as a platform for other artists to shine. Guests include The Weeknd, 21 Savage, Kid Cudi, Bryson Tiller — and that’s before we even get on to André 3000 and Kendrick Lamar.
The fact that the two latter artists are considered some of the best to ever do it probably says a lot about the regard others have for Scott. Both Lamar and André have a flow that most others can’t even dream of getting close to, so it goes without saying that in these instances the guests completely upstage the host.
That’s fine though, if you have 3000 and Lamar on your album you want them to sound at their very best. And they do. Kendrick’s vocals skip about on ‘Goosebumps’ in that way that Kendrick Lamar verses just do. Meanwhile, André delivers a new trap flow on opener ‘The Ends’ that reminds you that André Benjamin can still kill it two decades after Outkast put out their best work.
Although it’s now a few months old, it’s nice to hear The Weeknd-featuring ‘Wonderful’, and it thankfully sounds like Abel Tesfaye has largely left the watered down pop fodder that plagued the majority of 2015’s massively selling (but massively underwhelming) ‘Beauty Behind The Madness’.
It’s not faultless, by any means. The chorus of “Steady with the crew” from ‘Lose’ is surely destined to appear in 14-year-olds’ Instagram posts everywhere before too long. Hashtag rapping is an art that Drake has long perfected, so maybe it’s best to let him have that crown.
On the subject of Aubrey Graham, Drizzy famously avoids guest spots on his records. That’s understandable — the amount of albums that get bogged down with feature after feature is an endless list.
But on ‘Birds…’, Scott is in command and control of how everything and everyone sounds. Mostly, the album is about drug abuse in the early hours and the chaos that can ensue in the window between sunset and sunrise. While Scott might spend the 14 tracks telling us how incoherent he is, ‘Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight’ is anything but.
Words: Matthew Cooper
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