Just how important is substance to music? How important is originality? Performing skill? Listening to a lot of music, one develops a set of criteria by which they judge it, like looking for depth of emotion, or creative soundscapes. Frustratingly, there exists music which challenges the effectiveness of this criteria, somehow managing to be strong and entertaining without fulfilling any of it. Travis Scott is one such challenge.
Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is Scott’s follow up to the incredibly divisive Rodeo, which mixed luxurious, gothic beats with robotic, autotune rapping to surprisingly entertaining effect. The album wasn’t without its share of detractors however, and said detractors will likely have the same issues with his new one. His beats, whilst enjoyable and distinctive, are generally very derivative, and Scott’s lyricism and rapping abilities are questionable at best. Luckily for Scott, he dedicates enough to his sound, and he has a strong enough melodicism that he just about gets away with the album’s issues.
Scott’s main strength is his ability to wrangle numerous different producers into one coherent sound. His style is essentially a roided-up version of Lex Luger’s thumping menace, filtered through Kanye West’s maximalism. The beats take what should be a refined, subtle sound and turns it up to 11, caking everything in clipping distortion and compression. It shouldn’t work, but through a decent pair of headphones, Scott’s world envelops you, and creates a truly immersive sensation. The production on the ends conjures up images of storm clouds and gothic castles, imposing sonic architecture for Scott to hang his stories of hedonism on.
Those stories are where the album falls down, unfortunately. It really has to be said that Scott is a pretty terrible rapper. Here’s a sampling of some lyrics from Scott’s verse on beibs in the trap: “bite me, ride me, strike me, indict me / snipe it, swipe it, rapper, trapper”. The words rhyme appropriately, and there are some hooky pronunciations hidden in there, but the lines are essentially meaningless. Furthermore, Scott’s delivery is so laid back and distorted that it’s near-impossible to find any humanity in it. His guests perpetually show him up, as well. Young Thug shows up on Pick Up the Phone, and whilst his subject matter is no more innovative, his delivery is so much more creative: “got screws in my mouth, I’m just preppin’ it / I’m f***ing this cash up, I’m not celibate”.
Even then, in spite of its problems, there’s an intangible “something” about Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight that makes it more of a success than Rodeo. Scott has embraced his style, warts and all, and his go-for-broke energy actually makes this a pretty great rap album. It’s the kind of music that is all about mood, and atmosphere, and if you are able to push past the content to the feeling it evokes, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is worth the time.