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

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image