Although Travis Scott has gone against the grain of current trap artists, his most recent album, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, is an underwhelming and all-too-generic record.
Travis Scott is a 24-year-old hip-hop artist and producer from Missouri City, Texas. During his few years in the industry, Scott has been a featured producer on several Grammy-nominated albums (Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and Kanye West’s Yeezus) and has created platinum singles, such as “Antidote.” His previous two projects, mixtape Days Before Rodeo (2014) and album Rodeo (2015), were met with critical acclaim and popular success, premiering at No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the Billboard Top Rap Albums, respectively.
The sound that Scott has crafted throughout his career is grungy, distorted and decidedly different from more mainstream song structures. Days Before Rodeo is filled to the brim with beat changes, rattling high-hats, auto-tune and synths — all of which have been processed beyond recognition. It’s a sound that really shouldn’t work but somehow does. Rodeo refined this sound, making it less abrasive and more pop-friendly, creating a project which maintains Scott’s originality while keeping him from falling too far off-the-rails. However, Scott’s latest studio album, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, lacks almost all of the qualities that have made his music enjoyable, resulting in a generic, monotonous flop.
One thing to keep in mind about Travis Scott is that he is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good lyricist. Rather, Scott finds his success in his immensely inventive musicality. Manipulated and distorted, his voice sounds like another instrument layered over the track. Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight feels neutered, dirtied with the hands of record label executives who desperately want a repeat of the Rodeo platinum smash hit “Antidote.” Where Scott’s previous records felt personal and unique, Birds feels average at best and too similar to the current trap-inspired Billboard Top 40 artists. Even the album’s name, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, is impersonal, as it stems from a line delivered by one of the tape’s many guest features. The title lacks real connection to the album or even the rest of the song that it comes from, “Pick Up the Phone.”
Regarding guests, Birds’ tracklist is stuffed to the brim with them. In fact, only one song, “Sweet Sweet,” has no features. As a result, Scott becomes almost an afterthought on his own album. The André 3000 feature on the opening track sets a wonderful tone, his energetic delivery contrasting the ominous and brooding instrumental. The following track, “Way Back,” is a high-energy banger with a cascading bass riff and crisp 808s, but it is characterized by distinctive ad-libs and backing vocals from Kid Cudi and Swizz Beatz. Even my favorite song on the album, “Pick Up the Phone,” is co-headlined by Atlanta rapper Young Thug and was a single for his recent mixtape Jeffrey.
“Pick Up the Phone” is one of the few successes of the project, a bittersweet reminder of Scott’s potential. The beat is tropical, almost flowery, with a steel drum crescendo that powers throughout the entire track. Young Thug’s signature shrieking vocal delivery complements the production perfectly as he weaves effortlessly in and out of the pocket. A line like, “I need all this cash, I got hella kids,” would sound ridiculous from any other artist, but Young Thug’s delivery is genuine (Young Thug has 12 kids — hella kids indeed) enough to lend it perfection. What’s painful about this song, however, is Scott’s refusal to rise to the occasion on the rest of the album and harness its great potential; instead, he settles for mediocrity.
So much of this album seems like an attempt to shoehorn Scott’s talents into what record executives would deem marketable. The track “Wonderful,” featuring R&B crooner The Weeknd, was originally released on Scott’s SoundCloud in December 2015 to viral success. The polished and upbeat production clashes with the tone of the album, yet, stands as the album’s closer. Songs like “SDP Interlude” or “Beibs in the Trap” are forgettable, and even when Scott recruits critical darling Kendrick Lamar on “Goosebumps,” it’s in an underwhelming and dissatisfying verse, a feature that seems to be included simply for name value.
Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight’s fatal flaw is its mediocrity. Within modern hip-hop, the sub-genre of trap is becoming quickly oversaturated. Scott was a breath of fresh air, a musician who thrived in his originality and succeeded massively because of it. But if Birds is any indication, that spark faded just as quickly as it began. A pop-rap project with trap stylings, Birds is just okay. For a Travis Scott project, it’s a massive failure that does not showcase the uncaring and fiercely innovative attitude that made Scott so valuable to this industry.