travis scott divisive op ed astroworld
Getty Images / Kevin Winter

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.

There hasn’t been an artist since Kanye West that has ignited the sort of social media furor that Travis Scott has riled up in recent years. His every move is scrutinized, his every fit analyzed, his every performance, album, and single the subject of unparalleled, polarized opinion from every chasm of the Internet.

Under every Facebook post with his name in the headline, a select bracket of the world wide web takes their chance to wax poetic with comments like “Ermaaghheerrdd 10-15 years ago we had the golden age of hip-hop with Biggie and Tupac and now we have this” or “How is this dude getting props but my boy J.Cole…” This all points to the fact that La Flame is one of today’s most talked about musicians, and undoubtedly an incredibly argumentative figure as a result.

But is Travis Scott really worthy of all this constant discussion and dissection? Isn’t he just a poser who is lyrically limited with a stagnant sonic progression? Is he just some “turn up rapper” that gets fans to hurl themselves off balconies whilst playing the same song 15 times in a row at gigs? Fundamentally, the question that still remains is: just how exactly did a middle-class kid from Missouri City, Texas, go on to become a trend-setting powerhouse, a millennial figurehead, and one of the most divisive artists in popular culture?

The story begins, as it does with a handful of emerging stars, with Kanye West. Birthing the careers of a plethora of artists, Yeezy has been responsible for bringing some of the biggest acts in hip-hop up through the ranks. Travis idolized Ye growing up; he fulfilled a lifetime dream when he first linked up with him on G.O.O.D. Music’s 2012 album Cruel Summer, going on to help produce Kanye’s most sonically experimental album to date, Yeezus, as well as rap alongside him on his own Rodeo track “Piss On Your Grave.”

The two clearly have a lot “in common.” Ye’s influence is strongly felt throughout Scott’s work and style. On the fashion front, Scott has walked in Ye’s fashion lines and reportedly “spat” at fans who have tried stealing his Yeezy Boosts. He also goes to bat for another G.O.O.D. Music protégé, Kid Cudi, and – just like Scott’s Ye appropriation – you can definitely hear him imitate Cudi-esque vocal lilt; his doleful, auto-tuned cries that even his flow on a number of tracks. The critique of his music being derivative of other artists has been as fiercely contested as Drake’s copy-cat antics in recent times.

A Complex article correctly argued that the biggest thing that Kanye West and Travis Scott have in common is their unparalleled skills in artist curation and orchestration on their projects, which is exactly what he has done on his two studio albums.

Rodeo let a lot of fans down, despite the rampant hype his debut received prior to its release. Scott was barely distinguishable from the stacked list of collaborators he had on the project; inevitably, he was far too reliant on these features to hold up his first studio album. Getting Future, Young Thug, 2 Chainz, Chief Keef, Kanye, Juicy J, T.I and Schoolboy Q on Rodeo was impressive to the point of unbelievable, and the result was that he often sounded lost among the artists he rapped alongside. Furthermore, his relationship with the album’s iconic producer Mike Dean has been important in his come up and has long been scrutinized as perhaps the only reason behind his rapid breakthrough into the game.

travis scott divisive op ed astroworld
Getty Images / Randy Shropshire

On the back of Rodeo, Travis then recruited another impressive arsenal of artists for 2016’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. André 3000, Blac Youngsta, Nav, Kid Cudi, Bryson Tiller, 21 Savage, Young Thug, Quavo, The Weeknd and even Kendrick Lamar are all used to prop up Birds. Travis incorporates a lot of elements of the featured artists’ music in a Drake-esque, More Life playlist-y fashion. Fractionally augmenting the styles of all his peers and forging it into his own sound has become Scott’s hallmark, who is often accused of making watered down imitations at the best of times.

Travis’ heavily autotuned cadence and timbre has remained very similar throughout his career – be it on features or random tracks uploaded on to his SoundCloud. While he shouldn’t be held in the same stead as the likes of Kendrick and Vince Staples, his overall sonic progression undoubtedly remains pretty static (unlike the aforementioned duo, who seem to propel themselves leaps and bounds forward on every project they drop).

The new singles Scott has spontaneously dropped in the very long lead-up to Astroworld were greeted with delight by a lot of fans, but could easily be dismissed as loosies that didn’t make Birds. Travis remains pretty one-dimensional and predictable lyrically, sitting firmly in the same school of rap as the current influx of “Lil’ (insert random noun here)” rappers.

His behavior has also been distinctly questionable over the years. From hilariously falling through stages through to his more abrasive instances of fighting paparazzi and fans, Travis definitely has a lot of rougher attributes to iron out in his personality that continues to taint his public perception. He’s been criticized for being “too turnt up,” inciting riots, asking fans to jump from balconies and generally getting way too carried away at gigs – even his most devout fans who paid money to go and watch him on his ‘Birds Eye View’ tour would argue playing “Goosebumps” 15 times in a row is fucking ridiculous.

So why is it that every single article, photograph, or tour video blows up instantaneously on sites like this one? Not even Kanye can match La Flame’s rampant click-baiting prowess of late.

While he might not be a lyrical rapper, Travis is very musically talented. His ability to cull such a vast amount of his idols is amazing for a man with such a short tenure as an established musician. And in so doing, he was able to involve himself in some of the biggest albums of this decade: Rihanna’s Anti, and Kanye West’s Yeezus and The Life of Pablo to name but a few. He actually keeps very humble about his side of the deal on this front: “I was on mad platinum albums… I produced and wrote on them,” he said, “but I don’t talk about them.”

His maturity doesn’t stop there. It seems he may finally be growing out of his petulant reputation; he’s shrugged it off by engaging with his fans, who he now has an endearing relationship with. He often gives away jewelry, money, and clothes to his reverent supporters to give thanks, getting stuck among them at his notorious live shows and treating them to unique, pulsating performances each and every time he steps on stage. This has made his fans some of the most obsessive in music, aiding his ascent to the top of the music game.

And ultimately, Travis’ music has the ability to both pop a club off and instill lasting, sonic longevity – people keep coming back to listen to La Flame. He makes music that is incredibly addictive, if inoffensive. He sits on the cusp of mumble rap and infectious turn up music, but his work sits well on the ears. After Birds and his latest drop of singles, it’s safe to say he has a sound distinctly his own. And lest we forget, he’s actually a very talented producer, who now can call up Murda Beatz, Metro Boomin, TM88 and in a heart-beat.

He’s also slowly showing a newfound versatility in addition to becoming more attuned to his superstar status. It’s why Frank Ocean and Rae Sremmurd are calling him to remix their tracks, knowing that he’ll add to the overall view count and hype around their singles. He certainly now has the statistics from his albums to back up the fact he should be respected. Both his studio full-lengths are now certified platinum, as are a host of singles such as “Pick Up the Phone.”

We asked last year whether La Flame is a bona fide style icon – the answer now is a definitive yes. He’s become a street style sensation; stunting in head-to-toe Louis Vuitton & Supreme – the most hyped collab of the season – before anyone else, working with the iconic Helmut Lung and Ksubi on capsule collections and becoming one of the main poster boys for Nike’s Vapor Max range. He’s now firmly trap’s taste-maker in chief alongside the likes of Rocky and Kanye, curating a solid line of tour merch and blending a host of coveted street and luxe brands alongside his “nike boyyyzzz” aesthetic.

For all his flaws, Travis Scott deserves to have his current standing. With Astroworld self-proclaimed to be “the best work of his career”, he’s set to ascend to new levels of superstardom. But while he continues to become more cohesive in his projects as he progresses his still fledgling career, it’ll be fascinating to see if he can hold his own by himself, or still be reliant on the slew of artists he collaborates with. One thing however is not in doubt – Travis Scott isn’t going to stop getting talked about any time soon.

Need more La Flame? Read our list of the 20 Best Travis Scott Songs right here.

Words by Jacob Davey
Music Editor