PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Travis Scott: Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight

After impressing with the Gothic grandeur of Rodeo, Travis Scott tries to make a cocktail with the same drugs on his sophomore album but fails to achieve the same high.


Travis Scott

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight

Label: Grand Hustle / Epic
US Release Date: 2016-09-02
UK Release Date: Import
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Whether or not Travis Scott’s Rodeo was your cup of tea (or pint of lean more accurately), the craftsmanship that went into the record was undeniable. Instrumentals were massive, moody, and orchestral and on many tracks they even underwent several permutations. Scott, despite never being the most engaging MC, had a few quality verses and more importantly shined on hook duty, while the revolving door of A-listers (Kanye West, Future, 2 Chainz, Justin Bieber, etc.) picked up the rapping slack.

Scott’s latest, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (he explained the title to Billboard…it didn’t help) doubles down on the star power, but feels significantly more rushed, meaning that the final product is less like Scott bringing us into his perpetual midnight of drugs and partying as he did on Rodeo, and more like a Garry Marshall holiday movie where a bunch of famous people are gathered for no clear reason and serving no higher artistic purpose.

“Through the Late Night” is fashioned to be a nocturnal turn up anthem, but it is so flat and listless that it feels crafted by insomniacs. Kid Cudi, one of Scott’s idols, seems ready to wyle out, dropping a verse laden with LSD references and boasting of substance-fueled amnesia not witnessed since The Hangover. Scott, conversely, seems so awed by the presence of Cudi that he wastes the opportunity to go full “Antidote” and do what he does best. He starts by mimicking Cudi’s signature flow from “Day ‘N Nite” (a reminder of how impressive Cudder could be when painting with a similarly muted palette), then reels off bars that sound like they were written for a Lil B parody Twitter account. “Play no games like the NBA / Throwin’ checks like the NBA / You a ring, you a ring / We shootin’ shots like the NRA,” he raps. Scott coats the rest of the track in his trademark Auto-Tune moans, and after hearing his verse it’s hard not to wish he’d handled that the same way.

“Biebs in the Trap” works a tired white-pop-star-as-cocaine metaphor, with Nav guesting and making fueling a girl’s cocaine addiction sound as scandalous as a trip to the pharmacy. There’s nothing wrong with debauchery rap, artists like Danny Brown and Pusha T traffic in it flawlessly, and two of Scott’s best tracks (“Upper Echelon” and “Antidote”) fall into the category. The problem with “Biebs” (and much of Birds) is that the experience sounds absolutely joyless, and instead of taking the time to examine the fatigue associated with his lifestyle Scott plows stoically ahead, bleary-eyed and drained.

Fortunately, not everything on Birds lacks vitality. Quavo and Young Thug show up for “Pick Up the Phone", which is an absolute riot and plays like a promethazine-powered response to “Hotline Bling". Scott never sounds more juiced than when he’s working with Thugga, and the two have a natural chemistry that Scott has yet to mimic with any other rapper. Quavo’s 16s have been inimitable for years.

Cassie breathes life (and some much needed feminine energy) into “Lose", and the bombastic strings feel like a pointed and purposeful shift from the synth swirl that populates most of Birds. Scott uses the track to explore some of the anxiety that accompanies his success, which is a welcome thematic shift.

Opener “The Ends” features some of the best rapping of Scott’s career. He steps his game up, perhaps because of André 3000’s presence, and delivers some clever rhymes (“Fuckin’ out my room I been racking up incidentals / Cookin’ on a tune, I been cheffing up instrumentals”). Dre’s verse isn’t Valyrian steel sharp like his turn on Blonde, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.

Kendrick Lamar pops up on “Goosebumps", although his verse, which includes a funny but inexplicable falsetto breakdown, is one of the least memorable from his recent stretch of scorched earth rhyme spitting. If nothing else, at least “Goosebumps” is sonically unique in the canon of strip club suitable love songs.

Still, that leaves a lot of tracks (“Outside", “Coordinate", etc.) that neither cover new ground for Travis nor showcase him doing anything particularly well. Scott is perfectly capable of making decent filler, but there’s enough of it on Birds that listening straight through feels laborious.

Scott told Billboard that the album came to be amid frustrations over bureaucracy slowing his creative process. That’s a noble sentiment, but the results here are highly mixed, and he might simply be the kind of artist who should take more time on his releases, even if that extra time isn’t completely his choice.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.