Travis Scott announced his third album, Astroworld, back in 2016, before his second – the mediocre Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight – was even out. After a subsequent string of fairly bland features since then, it seemed as though the Houston rapper had moved more into the realm of a ‘pop-rap’ star, with many doubting he could produce anything akin to his fantastic 2015 album Rodeo again. Yet Travis’ recent growth in popularity meant that the hype for Astroworld was massive; its August release, therefore, was a long time coming, but the result is one of the most sonically impressive and unique albums of the year, cementing its place in our top 10 and re-asserting that there’s no-one like Travis Scott in hip-hop right now.
From the very first line – “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, got me stargazing” – of the futuristic opening track ‘Stargazing’, Travis invites us on an adventure to his fictional theme park of the title; it’s a place of organised chaos that’s drenched in a psychedelic atmosphere. With howling vocals littered throughout, along with the rapper’s signature spacey beats and distorted harmonizing, it feels like there’s something dark lurking just beneath the surface of Astroworld. Yet respite is granted by a number of more mellow tracks, like the cosmic sounds of ‘Astrothunder’ or the funky ‘Coffee Bean’, which sees Travis at his lyrical best, rapping about his relationship with Kylie Jenner: “your family told you I’m a bad move / Plus I’m already a black dude.” Astroworld also takes us on a sightseeing tour of some of music’s most exciting acts through the album’s features, all of which go uncredited – adding to the mystery of the park. Highlights include The Weeknd’s seductive vocals on ‘Wake Up’ and James Blake’s soothing melodies on the epic ‘Stop Trying To Be God’, whilst Drake brings an energy lacking from his recent solo work to ‘Sicko Mode’ – an exhilarating ride and surely one of the bangers of the year.
There’s a sense of Travis as the circus master on Astroworld, balancing a wide range of sounds from a vast number of collaborators to create one of the year’s most enjoyable and addictive hip-hop albums. It isn’t perfect – the ride peaks too early and trails off in its second half, whilst some of the randomly-placed beat switches feel like it’s trying too hard to be ‘experimental’ – but Astroworld is a big return to form for Travis Scott, and a place you’ll want to return to again and again.
Astroworld was released on 3rd August via Epic/Grand Hustle/Cactus Jack.