I hate Bryson Tiller’s music. I love Bryson Tiller on the new Travi$ Scott album.
I’ve had “First Take,” from Scott’s sophomore album, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, on repeat since its release last Friday. It pains me to admit that someone whose music I’ve ridiculed on wax has one of the most rewind-worthy moments on an overall enjoyable project. How did this happen?
Kanye West has directly mentored many rappers in the game and indirectly fathered more still, but Travi$ La Flame Scott, it appears, is his true protégé. Many have expanded on the middle-class content of Kanye’s raps. Further interpolated how he blends hip-hop with other genres both sonically and lyrically. Taken up his love for luxurious fashion. But the true keystone of Kanye’s greatness? His impeccable knack for curation and orchestration. He brings remarkable and unexpected people together to do great things. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the perfect expression of that ability, but really, it’s been there for the entirety of his career. Recall how, in 2004, it was a coup when he paired Freeway and Mos Def on the same song for his debut album. Fast forward to 2015, and Travi$ Scott has Justin Bieber rapping alongside Young Thug on his debut album.
Scott’s star-making mixtape Days Before Rodeo isn’t packed with features, but two of its best songs indicated the Full Curator turn he’d take on Rodeo one year later. “Mamacita” features A+ verses from Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, who, as Rich Gang, were the hottest things smoking in 2014. “Sloppy Toppy” features magically crass verses from all three of the equally buzzing Migos and their cohort PeeWee Longway. Travi$ contributes fine verses to both, but his rapping isn’t crucial to the overall temperature of the tracks. What matters is they’re among the best songs all parties were involved with that year.
Rodeo marked an aggressive expansion of Scott’s ability to coax high-caliber performances out of his guest stars and producers. There are fewer solo tracks and a supporting cast list that, while wide ranging—Quavo, Future, Bieber, Toro y Moi, to name a few—remains consistently A1. “3500” sparked the 2 Chainz renaissance. “Oh My Dis Side” furthered the legend of Quavo, the solo star. Chief Keef returned from the dead to wax poetic about Korean spicy garlic brunch on “Nightcrawler.”
The strength of Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight lies in a return to Scott’s DBR roots, meaning he handles the bulk of the rapping while still inspiring me to pay more attention than I ever have before to 21 Savage and PND-lite Young Tiller (to say nothing of tracking down André 3000 and Kendrick Lamar to do what they do best and cat burgle a song out from under its lead). I had no idea what a NAV was prior to this album, but he murdered shit on “Biebs in the Trap.”
Of course, other rappers in Scott’s class are putting together well-orchestrated projects. Chance the Rapper pulled the ultimate flex with a verse from the game’s great procrastinator, Jay Electronica. But on something like Coloring Book, a feature is just that—a feature in service of Chance’s project. All the artists on Coloring Book must conform to Chance’s palette. When Pablo or La Flame are conducting, there’s stranger alchemy at work, one that results in surprisingly listenable chaos. Like British pop band the 1975 randomly introing “Don’t Play” (still Scott’s best song to date) or the way Kanye’s “Send It Up,” from Yeezus, takes a sharp left turn into dancehall. Or how the likes of Kid Cudi (or a rando like Cassie) can pop up on any given track just for crucial background humming. There’s the feeling that every artists is working independently, and the glue holding it together is simply the sheer will of West or Scott.
How did Travi$ Scott projects gain the reputation for demanding excellence? How, after just four years of being down with the team, did La Flame leap-frog over every other Junior Yeezy to become the successor at assembling the best, brightest, and most promising? This year alone, Kanye gave Chance the runway to take flight with Coloring Book, made Desiigner palatable, put Post Malone on arguably the album’s hottest song, and got people upset over a missing Vic Mensa verse. Meanwhile Travi$ Scott is nowhere to be found on The Life of Pablo (save a very small credit on “FML”). But when the tracklist for Pablo was revealed, he tweeted his thanks to ‘Ye for putting “Feedback”—a clear standout, especially in terms of lyrics—”back on the album.” The student, advising the master.