“Who put this shit together? I’m the glue” declares Travis Scott on Astroworld, and it’s hard to think of a more accurate summation of his aesthetic approach. The 26-year-old is an avatar for a generation of playlist-making curators who have positively embraced “creative” as a job title. He’s risen to mainstream rap prominence by way of pure tastemaking, exerting the au courant currency of borrowing exactly the right talent at exactly the right time since the hybrid hip-hop of his 2015 debut, Rodeo. Depending on a variety of factors—age, genre predilections, level of active investment in the myriad intersections between popular culture and social media—Scott’s artistic approach can come across as inspiring or infuriating, but it’s also proved undoubtedly successful.
He’s wielded his own influence over areas of pop culture—Drake’s 2017 “playlist” More Life was arguably as influenced by Scott’s revolving-door A&R approach as it was by the evolving fluidity of the album format—even as he remains indebted to mentor Kanye West, whose titanic 2013 album Yeezus (to which Scott contributed) was its own ultra-collaborative, cut-and-paste monster. If Yeezus embraced by-committee creativity as a means to an end, Scott has taken it several steps further by allowing such an ethos to define his very artistic being. This has, of course, made him a divisive figure in hip-hop circles and elsewhere. A 2015 Deadspin post titled “Travis Scott Is Worse Than Iggy Azalea” made the case for Scott as a canny cultural plagiarist—a notion that became somewhat more fortified the following year, when he was accused of essentially stealing the framework for the Young Thug and Quavo collaboration “Pick Up the Phone” from Thug himself.
The album that song appeared on, 2016’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, captured Scott in the process of refining the rougher edges of his sound, with bolder hooks and a slow tilt towards streamlined song structures. But last year’s full-length collab with Migos member Quavo, Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, felt driftless and tossed-off by comparison, suggesting a weird paradox embedded in his career thus far: For someone so reliant on others to properly perfume his own work, Scott seems to be most engaged when he’s able to solely take credit for it.
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