Chances are most people would be unable to recognize Travis Scott’s name, but one would be hard-pressed to find any music fan who has not heard at least one of his productions. The 24-year-old hip-hop artist has helped produce albums for some of hip-hop’s biggest titans, including Jay Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail and Kanye West’s Yeezus. Scott’s second album, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, follows his critically acclaimed debut Rodeo and is a continuation of the young artist’s attempt to bring himself into the forefront as a performer. Unfortunately, the results are decidedly mixed.
As listeners of Kanye West’s “New Slaves” and Rihanna’s “B*tch Better Have My Money” can attest, Scott primarily produces dark, minimalistic beats. Birds continues this tradition and revels in eerie instrumentals and heavy, auto-tuned vocals. In several of his tracks, Scott’s style shines through, such as in the catchy, well-produced beat of the moody “lose.” However, many of the beats feel surprisingly rushed. Prime examples of this include the plodding and downright unpleasant train-whistle beat of “sweet sweet” and the strangely skittish and discordant instrumentals of “guidance.” Furthermore, unlike in the more instrumentally experimental and varied Rodeo, Scott does not make much of an attempt to introduce variation into his songs, resulting in most of the album having a static sound.
Bird’s vocals are also very mixed. Scott’s voice is not particularly distinctive, and his lack of range and inflection in his delivery makes many of his songs sound monotonous. Perhaps the absence of emotion in his performance is an attempt to reflect the dark background instrumentals, but the performance ends up sounding robotic and indifferent, as exemplified in the auto-tuned slurring of “way back.” Moreover, when Scott attempts to insert some more experimental vocals, such as his imitation of a phone in “pick up the phone,” the effect is grating rather than intriguing. In an attempt to cover up for the lack of energy and intrigue in his voice, many of the tracks utilize pre-recorded chants of exuberant men in the background yelling things such as “Straight up!” “Yeah!” and “It’s lit!” In “first take,” the background singers even chant random words from Scott’s rhymes in a vain attempt to energize the track. The effect is jarring and only increases the listener’s awareness of Scott’s vocal deficiencies.
Due to his desire to increase visibility and perhaps, an awareness of his own lack of vocal intrigue, Scott employs no fewer than 16 guest verses to prop up his 14-track album. Many heavyweights are present, including Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, the Weeknd and André 3000. None of these artists deliver career-high performances, but they do add some much-needed variation to Birds and have some genuinely great moments. “through the late night” is a good match for Kid Cudi, whose dark style complements Scott’s well; André 3000 energizes “the ends” with his lively delivery, and Lamar’s well-constructed verse on “goosebumps” is easily one of the greatest moments in the album.
Unfortunately, the high number of well-seasoned and distinctive guest performers on Birds also highlights Scott’s serious lack of personality. The lack of introspection and obsession with sex, violence, women and drugs on virtually every track makes it emblematic of the “bling and bitches” style of rapping, and Scott’s adherence to these topics turns him into a caricature. “coordinate,” “outside” and “beibs in the trap” are just three of these songs, and they say virtually nothing that hasn’t been said in more interesting ways by hundreds of rappers before. Lines like “shout my jeweler, made my chain look like Froot Loops” in “sweet sweet” and “work it like a stripper, yeah, but you not a stripper, yeah” in “wonderful” seem almost satirical in their triteness, and the album suffers accordingly; “guidance” is entirely about grinding on a girl in the club, and “sdp interlude” repeats the line “smoke some, drink some, pop one” 32 times. With the exception of the more introspective “the ends,” none of the tracks make Travis Scott stand out from the crowd or make the listener want to learn more about him as a stand-alone artist.
In the end, Birds does not make much of a case for Travis Scott to have a solo career. The lyrics are banal, the vocals are boring and even the production seems rushed, though there are a few standout moments. Scott is a talented young producer, but as of now it does not seem that his talents as a vocalist and lyricist are developed enough to properly showcase his skills. Hopefully he will reclaim the momentum from his debut album Rodeo, or else it may be best for his production talents to be showcased behind the bigger personality of a Jay Z or a Kanye West.