Rodeo – Travis Scott
November 7, 2017
Despite its paltry offerings in the lyrical sphere, Travis Scott’s “Rodeo” remains one of the most artfully produced and sonically refined albums of the last decade, with Travis Scott bringing in scores of multi-instrumentalists and acclaimed producers to truly flesh out the sounds of Atlanta, Houston, and the South.
“Rodeo” is a truly artistic project. It is a 65 minute ambitious and boisterous amalgamation of high-paced Atlanta trap, woozy, chopped and screwed Houston sounds, and a new wave of auto-tuned crooning. The album, according to Travis, is an aural version of his wild lifestyle. It is important to keep this in mind while listening – Travis rarely says something of real value or intellectual importance. Lyrically, the album really never explores anything other than clichéd rap topics – most songs revolve around Travis’s love for women, drugs, alcohol, money, and success. Occasionally, Travis (or T.I, who acts as a narrator for the album) will write a couple of bars or spoken word lines that merit further analysis. However, upon further inspection, the lines make absolutely no sense and really have no place on the album other than to divert attention from some truly atrocious lines that could only have been written under the influence of some illicit substance.
This brings me to the raw musical side of the project. “Rodeo” makes up for its lyrical shortcomings with a sort of artistic flair and meticulous craftsmanship that is present on nearly every track. Travis virtually acts as an orchestrator, bringing a slew of producers and specialists to work on each song. There are between two and five producers on each song (compare to Madlib producing entire albums on his own), many of whom show up repeatedly throughout the tracklisting. Oftentimes, albums with many producers and writers sound messy and sloppily directed. On “Rodeo,” however, the producer credits shed light on the caliber of those behind the music – Travis brings in Atlanta trap specialists, talented multi-instrumentalists, and a few legendary record producers. Songs like 3500 prosper as a result; every element of the instrumental has been curated and sorted through, each instrument played to perfection, and each kick exactly on time. It is very evident that the instrumentals have been crafted with painstaking precision, and this is where “Rodeo” shines. The combination of producers who each bring a different sonic palette and the precise mixing, mastering, and production create some of the best modern instrumentals to date. No song sounds like a typical trap beat, no song suffers from being oversaturated, and no song is lacking in its instrumental. The careful examination of every instrumental on the album makes for one of the most well-produced projects of the last decade.
T.I is the first voice heard on the album, bringing forward one of his spoken word bits that truly makes no sense. Pornography is a spacious, airy opener that sets the tone for the album. Immediately, the production becomes the highlight. The constantly shifting beat is built off of the back of an electric guitar, with periods of beautiful, descending piano chords. Everything sounds slightly off pitch and heavily distorted, adding to already drugged-out ambience of the track. Travis’s auto-tune fits perfectly with the up-tempo, yet melodic instrumentals. Oh My Dis Side features one of the best instrumentals on the album, with a gorgeous beat switch towards the middle of the track. The first half features a dark, looped guitar-like sound that matches up perfectly with Travis’s distorted crooning and an occasional Quavo ad-lib. The second half seems as atmospheric as Pornography, with Quavo harmonizing perfectly with the less ominous, slower instrumental.
The third track, 3500, solidifies a phenomenal three track run to begin the album. 3500 (which features what is, in my opinion, quite possibly the best modern instrumental of the 21st century) was created by five different producers, and is a constantly maturing, seven minute long behemoth of a track that showcases the work of some of the best producers on the planet. Produced by the likes of Mike Dean, Allen Ritter, and Zaytoven, 3500 is a beautiful instrumental in every way possible. There is a distinct shift in the beat between the hook, pre-hook, bridge, the verses, the ending of each verse, and a one minute long instrumental outro. There are deep, orchestral strings that pop up at the end of each verse, along with a piano riff that echoes in different keys throughout the track. The track essentially boils down to a glitzy piano riff and heavy synths, with at least five different kicks and snares coming in throughout the track. The outro features what is basically a piano solo over some echoing drums and some more strings. The bass complements the light, uptempo beat perfectly, finishing one of the best instrumentals that I’ve ever heard. 2 Chainz and Future add signature verses that help make the instrumental fit within the context of the album, adding that trademark Atlanta sound.
The album continues in a similar vein, with Travis and other guests dropping mediocre verses over phenomenal, atmospheric production. Wasted is built off a woodwind sample, and features a harsh interlude from Juicy J that wakes the user up from the open, cavernous instrumentals thus far. The project takes a complete right turn on Piss On Your Grave, a Kanye West featuring track that sounds absolutely nothing like any of the tracks so far. The song starts off with a one-minute long psych-rock intro, slowly turning into an all-out, aggressive track with in-your-face verses from Kanye and Travis. Despite being starkly different from the album thus far, the instrumental’s slightly disturbing nature and electric guitar create a track that fits right within the “Rodeo” that Travis is theoretically taking us on. The album slowly returns to its large, chasmal sound over the next two or three tracks (including the smash hit single Antidote). Maria, I’m Drunk is a standout track. Young Thug’s yelp-like humming and a woozy, almost drunk, spiraling instrumental further the dark, large environment that the album builds. The song sounds like the acoustic representation of nighttime and even drunkenness. The album begins to close out on I Can Tell, a dark, heavy track featuring some of Travis’s best singing and his only truly good rapping on the album.
Apple Pie, another track with a beautiful instrumental, is a fantastic closer. Built off of a loop of five large piano chords harmonized with an electric guitar, the track shifts between a sparse, percussion based instrumental and a grand keyboard sequence. The album ends on another T.I spoken word bit that again, makes no sense until the end, where he asks the listener whether Travis has survived the “Rodeo.” It’s a valid question – lyrically, the album is the equivalent of overdosing on drugs fourteen times; sonically speaking, it is a constantly shifting, well polished juggernaut of truly great music.