The Highs and Lows of “Astroworld”

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“Astroworld” is an Afro-futuristic, psychedelic-fueled journey through the mind of Travis Scott.

What is a song?

Travis Scott is not exactly John Cage, but he’s definitely pushing the limits of what is a hip-hop song. Of course he’s not the first rapper to push the boundaries of hip-hop…

You can definitely hear Kanye’s influence throughout the album (I mean I still think “Skeletons” is Kanye). “Astroworld”, in its own way, matches the energy of Kanye’s “Yeezus.” Relentless is a word that comes to mind when listening to the album. It doesn’t have the tempo of Ye’s shape-shifting album, but it switches pace and sounds consistently. There is very little space on the album for the listener to settle into and relax.

And at the same time there is tons of space on the album. There’s the on-the-nose space references like “Astroworld”, “Stargazing” and “Stop Trying to be God.” There’s also the space on each song that’s filled with reverb and vibrations. At times it sounds like P-funk or Prince Far I discovered Trap.

But then there are also schizophrenic flourishes presumably stuck on a loop in Scott’s mind and sampled for our listening pleasure. On “No Bystanders” there’s an homage to Waka Flocka Flame’s “F**k the Club Up.” On “Sicko Mode” Biggie’s immortal “Gimme the Loot” is briefly quoted.

All these sounds meld into a unique Travis Scott sound. Scott’s sound incorporates the aforementioned elements as well as Trap drums and autotune. It’s not difficult to imagine so many different influences sounding like a garbled mess or appealing only to hardcore Scott fans. “Astroworld”, however, manages to balance all of these sounds into a compelling album that will please fans and convert skeptics (talking about myself here).

What is rap?

As good as the album sounds, there are very few instances of what a traditionalist would define as rap. “No Bystanders” has a solid verse on it as does “Skeltons”, though the latter is clearly a Kanye imitation. Overall, however, “Astroworld” exists in an interesting grey area, part-rap and part-singing.

Regardless of the delivery (singing or rap or auto-tune) the album’s lyricism is weak at best. “Wake Up”, “5% TNT” and “NC-17” appear successively and each one has shallow, vapid lyrics that could easily be used as a parody of hip-hop in a comedy sketch. Fortunately “Astroworld” has plenty of bop. It also has a few songs with different subject matter. Just a few though, not very many.

“Astroworld”

The album opens with “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, got me stargazin’ (yeah)/Sippin’ on purp, feelin’ like the Barre Baby (it’s lit)/Whenever I’m down, it got me goin’ crazy (yah)/Psychedelics got me goin’ crazy (alright).” It’s pretty obvious from these lines that “Astroworld” owes some of its content to psychedelics and drugs.

The album’s Afro-futuristic sound and psychedelics would appear to be related. There’s nothing like weird noises reverberating around you as you wait for a substance to take hold.

That’s all well and good, but it would have also been interesting if Scott would have incorporated other aspects of Afro-futurism into the album. “Astroworld” sounds trippy but the lyrics are as basic as it gets.

Conceptually the album feels a bit like a trip, at least to me. The first half of the album is the come up and, naturally, the second half is the come down. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t pulse with the same energy as when Drake says “Gone on you with the pick and roll/Young La Flame, he in sicko mode.”

Still, the albums highs outshine its lows. It should be no surprise that the lows on “Astroworld” are mitigated by Travis Scott’s energy. That and the album’s unique, varied sound make for a great listen.

Grade: 4/5

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