The 2010s brought many genre-altering changes to hip-hop, but the reinvention of rage was one of the most salient.
It’s arguable that hip-hop was born from a state of rage; in fact, it’s pretty much undeniable. It’s also undeniable that rock-and-roll is deeply embedded in the DNA of hip-hop.
Rock-and-roll energy in hip-hop music subsided for a number of years, but was boldly brought back this past decade by an artist known as Travis Scott.
The Houston born-and-bred talent has been a “by the youth, for the youth” artist since his earliest days - a philosophy perfectly in tandem with rock culture. His discography and live performances embody raw emotion and free creative expression at their finest. Referring to his fans as “ragers” and his unscathed concert-goers as survivors of “the rodeo”, a Travis Scott performance is closer to Metallica than Migos. His music, however, straddles the line between those two extremes.
While there is a definite rock-fueled spirit behind his art, he is one of the most notable and versatile rappers in the industry. He can spit and sing, incorporating elements of alternative, electronic, R&B, and pop into his craft when seen fit. He also hits all of the bases of contemporary hip-hop, even conscious rap at times. While many might try to box him in as simply a “mumble” or “pop” rapper, he is truly one of hip hop’s most unique, creative, and refreshing talents. Every project that Travis releases shatters genre and artistic confinements in a different way than the last, likely explaining why very few listeners seem to get tired of the multifaceted Texan.
For hip hop’s most drastic decade of evolution, Travis Scott was one of the most fitting leaders we could have asked for.
Fellow rager Ralph Compiano and I have decided to honor Mr. Scott as the November Genius of the Month. As usual, we will tell his incredible life story and break down the highlights of his career and his contributions to contemporary music.
Travis Scott was born Jacques Berman Webster II on April 30, 1992 in Houston, TX. He spent most of the first six years of his life living with his grandmother in the South Park neighborhood - one of the city’s most violent areas. However, he later went on to claim that the neighborhood’s tough environment made him into who he is. He eventually moved back in with his parents in Missouri City, a middle-class city bordering Houston. His mom worked for Apple (big flex) and his dad was an entrepreneur. Travis comes from a line of musicians; his dad was once a soul musician and his grandpa was a jazz composer.
His earliest musical endeavor was with a group that he formed with close friend Chris Holloway in 2008 called The Graduates. Their first EP was untitled, released exclusively to Myspace. Following the short-lived stint of The Graduates, Travis and artist OG Chess formed the group The Classmates (real creative). However, it’s fitting that Travis and OG Chess were actually classmates. The Classmates had more success than The Graduates, releasing two projects - Buddy Rich (2009) & Cruis’n USA (2010). On both of their projects, Travis handled the majority of the production. The Classmates broke up in 2012 following personal disputes.
Travis graduated from Elkins High School in Missouri City and went on to attend the University of Texas San Antonio. However, Travis’ college days were numbered; he dropped out during his sophomore year in order to put 100% of his attention and effort into his music career. This move was a huge leap of faith for Trav; his parents cut him off financially and he had very few options to fall back on. In fact, he practically had nothing. Following his decision to drop out, he relocated from Texas to the Big Apple, briefly residing in the city’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Travis spent four months in New York, sleeping on floors and spending hours upon hours in the studio. After his short time in New York drove him to frustration, he moved to LA to try his luck there.
Similar to many others that have pursued a career in show business, LA proved to be cruel and unfruitful for Travis upon his arrival. He banked on living with a friend who offered to provide him a place to stay. However, that “friend” essentially abandoned Travis and left him with nowhere to go. Following this backstab, Travis returned home to Houston where his parents eventually kicked him out. With no other option, he returned to LA for the second time.
Travis’ second move to LA panned out much better than the first. He found a place to stay - a friend’s couch at the University of Southern California. A full-fledged producer around this time, Travis eventually managed to get some of his beats into the hands of T.I., a trap music music legend. Travis was invited to attend a studio meeting while T.I. happened to be in LA. At that meeting, Tip freestyled over one of Travis’ beats entitled “Animal”. Following this fateful encounter, Travis became a part of Grand Hustle - T.I.’s label.
RALPH COMPIANO ON OWL PHARAOH
Fuck. I genuinely don’t know where to begin here. I could talk about how Owl Pharaoh introduced me to one of my three favorite artists of this century. I could talk about how the project filled me with so much adrenaline and teen angst that I started to think Tyler, the Creator’s Bastard was actually my second favorite debut mixtape. Instead, I think it’s important to start here: Owl Pharaoh is the most cathartic piece of music that Travis has ever created.
“Meadow Creek” is good and fine and all of that. It’s a decent introduction, probably my least favorite out of the five intros in his discography. But the second track? Well, that’s a whole different discussion.
“Bad Mood / Shit On You” was and still is the epitome of Travis Scott. The first half of the track “Bad Mood” is filled with innate rage against the world and society, intense anxiety, and rambunctious verses that disregard the typical hip-hop convention of “everything must rhyme OR ELSE”.
Notice that I said all of that is contained within the first half alone. That’s one of the keys to Travis’s genius, much like many other artists, you can’t have a first half without the second.
The second half, “Shit On You”, is the song you turn to after you’ve been dumped by the girl of your teenage dreams and are in desperate need of a pick-me-up in order to inspire some motivation to grow. At least that’s how I interpreted it. Travis could be delivering it in an entirely different context, like how he wants to shit on the rest of the industry for not having recognized his talent until this point in his young career. The track that came next was the one that would change Travis’s career and life. “Upper Echelon” featuring T.I. and 2 Chainz (the artist formerly known as Tity Boi) is the first result that comes up when you type in the word “banger” on Google. Trav still performs the anthem at concerts, and I can testify as a first hand witness that to this day it still goes hard as hell. “Chaz Interlude” serves as a groovy little interlude that features the now legendary alternative artist Toro y Moi. Travis and Toro later collaborated on “Flying High” on Rodeo. However, the bond was initially built here. Okay, now that we got the mood-altering interlude out of the way, let’s talk about bangers some more; which is what Travis is known for at the end of the day. I vividly remember involuntarily having a permanent stank face the first time I heard “Uptown” featuring A$AP Ferg. It made me feel like I was on zooming on a motorcycle in the middle of downtown NYC in an all black outfit with leather on my back and spikes at the bottoms of my kicks. I’m like 80% positive that this was actually my first introduction to Ferg, so it holds a special place in my heart for that reason as well. And the last 45 seconds or so of the song was definitely my first introduction to EDM, so I guess that meant something to me too although I’m still definitely not what one would consider a “bass head”.
YES! We made it! My personal favorite song on the mixtape. “Hell of a Night” is the only song on this mixtape that’s guaranteed to make your mama get out of her chair and start grooving. I honestly don’t believe that my language can do this song justice, so just do me a favor one time and listen to this song right now. You can thank me later.
Damn, I just realized that I’m quite literally doing a track-by-track breakdown of Owl Pharaoh. If I were to stick to this style then we might be here awhile because I think I could type an entire essay on the remaining tracks, “Blocka La Flame,” “Naked,” “Dance O