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
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

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.