The RX is Uproxx Music’s stamp of approval for the best albums, songs, and music stories throughout the year. Inclusion in this category is the highest distinction we can bestow, and signals the most important music being released throughout the year. The RX is the music you need, right now.
AstroWorld was a theme park owned and operated by the Six Flags Corporation in the Houston area, near where rapper Travis Scott grew up. It’s notable for being the first park the company purchased rather than built outright. Astroworld, the new album from Travis Scott, is notable for similar reasons; Travis’ gift is in homaging, dabbling in, and sometimes outright appropriating the styles of his various influences. Unlike the theme park, which closed in 2005 (after the original AstroWorld was shut down before the Six Flags purchase in 1999), Travis’ Astroworld largely builds on the success of its inspirations, making it not just more successful than its namesake, but an enjoyable, endearing ride all its own.
Ever since his introduction to the rap game on a debut 2013 mixtape, Owl Pharaoh, Travis has fashioned himself a sort of post-Kanye West figure, a master collaborator drawing inspiration from a laundry list of creative confederates, more director than producer. His mission statement is right there in the final bar of his Drake collaboration, “Sicko Mode”: “Who put this shit together? I’m the glue.” In the past, this sometimes worked to his disadvantage; with so many contributors on previous albums Rodeo and Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight and Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho actually a joint album between Travis and Quavo of Migos, Travis’ own creative voice can often wind up getting lost in the sauce.
However, that never happens on Astroworld. Even when the album runs the risk of imploding on itself and becoming a parody of a Travis Scott album (“NC-17”), it pulls off the trick with a timely appearance from a savvy 21 Savage guest verse. It says something that Travis now has enough of his own established sound that the words “parody of a Travis Scott album” even make sense. Before, Travis sounded like everybody else. Now, Travis sounds like Travis, and Astroworld is all the better for it.
It’s not autobiographical in its content, not in the way we’re used to rappers endlessly reeling off intricate and exaggerated narratives of their experiences in the streets (or in retail, in the case of early Kanye). Instead, Travis’ love for his home state permeates the album in the use of clever samples (Lil’ Keke’s “Peepin’ In My Window” on “5% Tint,” Fat Pat and Keke’s “25 Lighters” on “Can’t Stay”), guest appearances from Texas artists like Dallas rapper Big Tuck (“Carousel”) and rising Houston star Don Toliver (“Can’t Say”), interpolations throughout from underground legends like Big Moe and Pimp C, and of course, the Screwed Up Click homage, “R.I.P. Screw,” which could very well be the best song on the album.
Meanwhile, the collaboration is balanced in a way no other Travis Scott project ever has been. The big names that often overwhelmed him on previous work — Pharrell, The Weeknd — are not so much downplayed here as given strategic significance. They don’t need full songs, where their own artistic proclivities derail Travis’. Instead, their presence on “Skeletons” is like a thin layer of icing on a cake — just enough to make the track sound sweeter without overpowering it. Travis also gives prominent placement to up-and-comers like the aforementioned Don Toliver, along with Sheck Wes, Juice Wrld, and Gunna, working well with all of them.
The crown jewel is “Stop Trying To Be God,” where a quick glance at the liner notes may elicit a double take or two, as Travis boldly sticks James Blake, Kid Cudi, and Stevie freaking Wonder on the same track, and one about remaining humble and being yourself. It’s like he’s talking to himself and taking his own advice at the same time. The result is an uncharacteristically confessional song from a rapper who’s remained emotive but elusive in revealing just what makes him tick over the course of his career. On Astroworld, he begins to reveal the inner workings of his thought process, just as he begins to refine it into the best version of itself.
Astroworld is out now. Get in here.