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Travis Scott’s “Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight” Fails to Spread Its Wings


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Although beyond hackneyed at this point, the sentiment of “Actors always want to be comedians, comedians always want to be actors” applies to Travis Scott now more than ever. In Scott’s case, it seems to be his oversized rockstar ambitions inhibiting his abilities as a rapper. Since the release of Rodeo, Scott’s maximalist goth-trap manifesto, he began to place himself more in the zeitgeist of celebrity than artist, hanging on as an opener for The Weeknd’s pop breakout stadium tour and a brief fling with Rihanna that only produced a lyrical subtweet. Although Rodeo was a supremely listenable work in its own right, it still did nothing to silence the doubters of the lot. The LP’s greatest chart success, “Antidote,” somehow managed to double trigger the keyboard warrior brigade by both failing upwards (Scott himself claimed the song to be a throwaway upon release) and openly cribbing stylistic approaches from more popular acts (an unmistakably subpar Swae Lee impression looms throughout the track). Meanwhile, the record’s more artistically successful moments such as the supremely quotable trap epic “3500” flopped in terms of pop success and the “Family Business” meets 808s and Heartbreaks of “90210” was too bizarre for its own good.

After a summer of blue balling his fan base with cryptic tweets and Backwood-clouded Mike Dean Periscope streams, Travis Scott has Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight to show for it. The project seems to be unintentionally split into a side A/side B format, with side B being an unashamed plea for pop acceptance. Although Travis has always been dragged for trying too hard with his (often mediocre) rapping, a large portion of Birds does away with traditional 16 bar verses in favor of the melodic autotuned delivery that made “Antidote” so popular. “Guidance” is an in bad taste dancehall pastiche that has even less justification for its unashamed wave riding than post-VIEWS Drake. “Lose” is a meandering train wreck that barely even is able to contain a verse-hook-verse structure while still somehow managing to stuff in cringeworthy Big Sean-isms like “We go back like croutons and coupons.” While Rodeo managed to craft Russian nesting dolls in song form where bridges morphed into 8 bar verses that contained embed hooks of their own resulting into a trap Frankenstein’s monster, BITTSM is mostly incoherent, stumbling from track to track. The lone pop success in the back half of the record comes in the form of single “Pick Up the Phone,” where Scott relegates himself to the spotlight and hands the spotlight over to the far more charismatic and technically gifted likes of Quavo and Young Thug.

While Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight ends on a weak note, side A of the album is a different story. Opener “The Ends” blends together all the aspects that made Scott intriguing early on, presenting an apocalyptic interpolation of Kanye’s “five beats a day for three summers” mentality. “Coordinate” is one of the few times he is able to reconcile his maximalist desires with his original aesthetic, taking manic synths to present a portrait of tortured excess that results in peak-Batcave Ollie Wisdom meets Xan-fueled Soundcloud rap. This theme of existential dread triggered by exorbitant hedonism continues into “Beibs In the Trap,” which spins an all too familiar tale of late night apartment gatherings all tied together by Nav’s pseudo-Faustian warning of “Are you ready to party with the demons?” While on Rodeo Scott was all too joyful to call groupies into the studio for a night of debauchery, Birds paints him as someone far more exhausted with the charade of it all than anything else. When Scott growls “Would it be unlawful to spend a Sunday moon in a brothel?” he is not curious, leaving ample space between words to be rejected, hoping to recede into quiet once and for all. Lone stinker of the front half “Through the Late Night” (which gives the crucial mistake of giving the inexorably washed Kid Cudi more than 3 bars to moan vaguely narcotic-based nonsense) begs the audience to “relieve his heart of malice” without any greater clarification, a painstakingly clear declaration of weight casting Scott down.

While casting Birds as some grand declaration of emotional distress may be a bit of a reach, the record more than anything is a transitional one, the chronicle of a man finding himself in the wake of newfound fame. “Sweet Sweet” plays a quite interesting counterpoint among the hollow devotionals of  “Lose” and “Goosebumps,” finding Scott realizing the objects of his affections are the same ones holding him back from the tranquility he searches desperately searches for. “Outside” is the reconciling of his past with the present, presenting the mythologized concept of “the hood” as a living organism that can never be escaped, only perpetually outrun. Whenever Scott proclaims “We been hanging outside, never going in,” it calls to mind a far more militarized equivalent of the Lost Boys with Scott acting as their de facto Peter Pan. This particular idea of forward movement in personal progression becomes particularly clear through a cloying Blacc Youngsta voicemail, offering Scott reassurance that his wave will live on no matter what detractors may say. However, all this talk of Travis Scott’s artistic as well as personal progression in the lyrical content (as well as subtext) falls flat when the end product is so regressive in nature. Even in his inarguably derivative early work, Travis Scott was all about the refinement of pre-established ideas, contextualizing well worn ground into a completely foreign schema of his own creation, making a product that could be seen almost as a new branch on the phylogenic tree. With Birds, there is no such evolution, with the few moments of originality being marred by the likes of the subpar Bryson Tiller impersonating “First Take” (with Scott abandoning all shame by grabbing Tiller himself as a feature). While Travis Scott may attempt to coordinate while in his rockstar skinnies, it seems as though he may have to realize artistic clarity and the rockstar persona are mutually exclusive in his case.

Rating: 3.5/10

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Travis Scott’s “Birds In the Trap Sing McKnight” Fails to Spread Its Wings