The majority of Travis Scott’s fanbase has likely assembled thanks to his work in the past three years, namely Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight and Astroworld. The base for who Travis is and how his music has grown to what it is can be seen on his two mixtapes, Owl Pharaoh and Days Before Rodeo.
But the best work Travis Scott has put out to this day comes sandwiched between all of that on his 2015 debut studio album, Rodeo.
Going back in time and listening to Owl Pharaoh, which released in 2013, you see the early makings of a producer-turned-rapper, placing heavy emphasis on the sonic experience of a song rather than one takeaway line or verse. “Bad Mood/Shit On You,” the tape’s second track, is Scott’s first effort at the intra-song beat switch his fans have come to expect in his following projects.
The song’s opening verse lays the groundwork for the “Bad Mood” segment of the song, describing his lack of care for going against the grain and doing things his way. This is not the only verse in Scott’s discography with this theme.
(I just have one question) Fuck outta my business
I did things that most men will ask forgiveness
Broke the code, the commandments from my descendants
Who gives a fuck? New children in the buildin’
We ride with no limits
Shut the fuck up, don’t you hear me tryna finish?
I’m in a bad mood
The following three verses of “Bad Mood” essentially read as Travis walking into a house with a sledgehammer, tearing stuff up, and making it his own. He doesn’t want to follow the status quo; he’s different and he’s not afraid to show you.
“Shit On You” is one verse, 12 lines long, and a chorus that rides a new beat with a little more bounce — describing his distaste for haters and frauds and why he can’t wait to, well, shit on them.
The rest of Owl Pharaoh is a fine listen. “Upper Echelon” features T.I. and 2 Chainz, who Travis has worked with since. “Hell Of A Night” contains two extended verses with a light-to-dark beat switch slammed between, another solid building block for a young rapper trying to burst onto the scene.
Perhaps the greatest display of Scott’s rapid growth came from “Quintana Pt. 2” off of his second mixtape, Days Before Rodeo, which released in 2014. This was a follow-up to Owl Pharaoh’s “Quintana,” where Travis spits some average lines over a boring beat.
“Quintana Pt. 2” grabs you instantly, with a bouncy beat and catchy hook. The introductory verse showcases Travis’s improved ear as far as ad-lib placement (straight up!) and auto-tune. This first verse and chorus is followed by a beat switch that leads nicely into a T.I. verse, which is then followed by a switch back to the original beat.
This is the second key building block to what has become a mighty castle of a career for Travis Scott. Many critics of Scott claim that he always falls short to the features on his tracks. To me, this is not a criticism. This is a credit to Scott’s production genius and ability to create a song that emphasizes the strengths of himself and his features. This truth rises to the surface and bursts through on Rodeo.
Rodeo is a project of depth, full of insightful perspectives into the rapper’s mind, unique sounds, incredible features, and most importantly, beat switches.
The record kicks off with “Pornography,” with a T.I.-narrated introduction that carries over the theme of “Bad Mood” to headline Scott’s first album.
We find ourselves consumed and utterly mesmerized
With a story of a young rebel against the system
Refusing to conform or comply to the ways of authority
He chose the mood of “Fuck this shit”
At that moment, the one known as Jacques turned to Scott
Chose to jump off his mama porch leading the stampede of lost souls
In the middle of their metamorphosis, not quite through with their journey
Ain’t made it to wherever the fuck they gon’ be in life
But wherever it is, it’s better than here, so fuck you, and fuck this
The album’s opener smoothly transitions into “Oh My Dis Side,” the first of many story-telling hits on Rodeo. In the first segment of the song, “Oh My,” Travis discusses run-ins with the law and his mom kicking him out before long nights and couch-surfing in L.A. eventually led to success in the music industry.
I’m on a flight now (Yeah), oh my
L.A., at another couch now (Uh), oh my
I’m counting up nothing but Benjamins right now (Money)
I’m on a flight now (Woo), we so high
‘Bout to get some cash now (Cash), oh my
Got my momma that new house now (Momma), oh my
Now she cannot kick me out now (No), oh my
I’ve been up for a long time (La Flame), oh my (Oh my)
The other side of the track, “Dis Side,” features both Travis and Quavo discussing life before the fame and while they miss it sometimes, they wouldn’t go back (I came from the bottom
And now I’m on top, that’s phenomenal (Phenomenal).
From there, we’re hit with “3500” and “Wasted,” featuring undeniable verses from 2 Chainz and Juicy J. Then it’s “90210,” opening with a slow pace that is complemented by the soothing melodies of Kacy Hill. Unsurprisingly, the pace picks up dramatically in the song’s second half, with Scott continuing to describe his come-up and his mother’s impact on it all.
Songs such as “Pray 4 Love” and “Nightcrawler” further display Scott’s ability to mismatch sounds and produce a great listen. “Impossible” is held together by a disorienting beat and carefully-plotted bass, with Travis describing some of the downsides of being rich and famous and the need to escape. The track opens up with one of the more memorable verses of the record.
Split a pack of the woods down
Ride with me, yeah, you wish you could now
Always come and go and never fail
It was never love, I could tell now
She pop ’em up, Blue Chanel just to get it up
Parking lot full of foreign hoes on the regular
With them painted toes in them heels
Let’s go find a place that’s far from here, for real
Then comes “Maria I’m Drunk,” another rather disorienting beat that reflects the theme of the song (partying in L.A.). Scott and Young Thug further solidified the excellent chemistry they showed on Days Before Rodeo’s “Skyfall,” and Justin Bieber’s verse is a perfect match for the song, too.
“I Can Tell” is one of Travis’s most put-together songs of his career. Bass will ooze out of your speakers no matter how low the volume is. Travis adds more context to his come-up, outlining the early days of creating beats in his attic and facing doubt from even the people closest to him. From flow to lyricism, “I Can Tell” is Travis at his best.
Scott then moves into “Apple Pie,” featuring more well-plotted bass with a nice piano mix, telling his mom he needs to do this on his own now.
I don’t want your apple pie no more
I need my own pepper pepper, please, pepper, pepper seeds
Need my own reme-remedy, my own legacy
Yeah, I don’t want your apple pie, mama
I need my own pepper please
My own legacy, my own recipe
On Rodeo’s second-to-last track, “Ok Alright,” Travis assembles a dream production team of Sonny Digitial, Metro Boomin, and Mike Dean to build an incredible sound around the talents of himself and ScHoolboy Q.
The song’s first half, “Ok,” features two hard-hitting verses from Scott and ScHoolboy Q that pounds the grimy beat into the ground. It then shifts into “Alright,” exchanging hard and grimy for low and soothing (with heavy bass, of course). Here, Travis talks on the struggles in his household growing up and his need to look for exterior sources to show him things would be “alright.” But he doesn’t fail to leave out that his mother knew he’d be something special from the jump.
“Never Catch Me” perfectly sums up the intent of the album, which is not only Travis telling you how and why he's here, but showing you.
Picture being locked in a box
Selling beats ’cause you need dollars
They say I can make it to the league, mama
500 dollars all we need, mama
Then we gon’ be on
Tired of seeing the lights off
Pops heatin’ up the stove
Was close to stealing and killing, now just to get ’em on
Couple drinks down of Rosé
I’m tipsy, y’all faces done look like an emoji
The RAV4 turned into a Rover
’Til it took flight and ended up on the shoulder
Now our money a little longer
Rodeo isn’t perfect. Songs such as “Piss On Your Grave” and “Flying High” aren’t bad but diverge a little too far from the rest of the record’s sound. Astroworld may be Scott’s best sounding album, and it does just as good a job as Rodeo at showcasing his ability to mix well with an array of other artists. But for a music fan that wants to really sit down and analyze a song or album as a whole, Rodeo tells the story of Travis Scott, giving you access that his other projects have not allowed.
To the average fan, everything Travis Scott did leading up to 2018 was in preparation for Astroworld. And maybe even Travis would look at it that way. But to me, Travis Scott’s quintessential album is Rodeo, where story-telling meets production genius to create a project that will never die.