There’s no such thing as a Travis Scott project without a little bit of a delay. After his website supposedly crashed, Travis Scott finally has blessed the universe with another offering in the form of a project appropriately named Days Before Rodeo, a free album of sorts leading up to his highly anticipated debut studio album, Rodeo.
The circus that was the release of his debut mixtape Owl Pharaoh in 2013 had early fans of Scott being dragged through supposed release date after release date, yet when it finally dropped, it’s effect was felt. Tip-toeing the lines between several influences, Owl Pharaoh was trap-heavy but ambient, intense vocally but at points soothing with melody, and sonically was littered with an array of futuristic synths and muddy, distorted bass lines. Owl Pharaoh not only served as an impactful introduction to the previous enigma of Travis Scott, but it also proved to be a shapeshifter of sorts for hip-hop and impacted the culture heavily in 2013. This sort of gothic, futuristic trap music had it’s influence spread to the year’s biggest projects like Yeezus and Magna Carta Holy Grail, but also indirectly set up the spike for artists like Young Thug, Metro Boomin, and even Migos to push their sounds towards sonically similar boundaries. After the abrasive, intense sounds of Owl Pharaoh, not only did it make the culture support it as one of the best mixtapes of the year, but it left everyone wondering what would come next.
With Days Before Rodeo, that question finally has an answer. Travis Scott’s latest project wastes no time picking up where he left off, as “The Prayer” starts with a skin-itching, eerie, sonic landscape as he slaps us with an array of intense, intricate bars. It’s this infectious, brain-scrambling instrumentation that bleeds through the whole project, such as the Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan assisted almost-western anthem “Mamacita” and the Big Sean flanked banger, “Don’t Play”. The latter includes a flawlessly integrated 1975 sample that sets up the hook perfectly, as the beat swoons and sways to match the tempo of Travis’ and Sean’s verses. It is early into this project that the tone is established, and it’s hit after hit after hit. “Quintana Pt. 2” is an excellent sequel to it’s predecessor, with a beat switch midway through the track just to make way for an incredible T.I. feature verse. However, Travis likens back to his older, pre-Owl Pharaoh sounds in tracks such as “Drugs You Should Try It”, where he is crooning and echoing sentiments over stiff, crispy snares and deep bass lines.
“Skyfall” is simply one of the biggest gems on this project. It is one of the most unique songs i’ve heard this year, with a spaced out synth and hard drums slamming this into the dirt. At this point in the record you’ll really appreciate Travis’ new nose for melody, as on almost every song you can’t help but jerk your neck to the way he’s bobbing and weaving through the chords he’s crafting himself. Young Thug again makes his presence felt here, not overshadowing Travis at all, but complementing the weird, spooky aesthetic of the track. “Zombies” also has a unique arcade-synth buzzing in the background under ethereal baselines and hard trap-inspired drums. It adds to the cohesive, almost intangible spooky feeling of the entire project while contributing a completely different experience. This realm, this pocket of sorts, is ultimately what Travis has mastered with this release. To create an album seamlessly cohesive without sounding repetitive is something most artists have trouble with, yet Travis hit a home-run with that in all aspects.
As previously mentioned, Travis is never really overshadowed by any features here besides the Migos and Peewee Longway featured track, “Sloppy Toppy”. La Flame takes a backseat after the first verse and lets Migos and Peewee shine on this twitchy, spasm of a track. Besides this though, simply put, Travis himself has gotten noticeably better at rapping. Tracks like “Backyard” showcase his ability to just flow, and he has this Drake-esque cadence spitting quotable, clever lines like “Momma work for AT&T and we still ain’t get that service” while stopping to breathe between verses by layering his vocals in harmony for a very airy, melodic hook. He finds a similar pocket again on the very next track, “Grey” while boasting a reggae-like melody after an instrumental reminiscent of a xylophone’s percussion, of all things. At this point, though, being surprised by Travis’ uniqueness is just redundant.
Days Before Rodeo was far from expected. Travis Scott has found a way to give fans what they didn’t know they wanted to hear, all of this while emulating his influences and crafting it into a masterful, album quality project that lacks a terrible song throughout. He has not only fashioned an appropriate response to 2013’s Owl Pharoah, but he was continued to innovate and surprise the ears of many by twisting and churning familiar elements of music into entirely new sounds and spaces. Travis Scott has not only continued his legacy of innovation and pioneering a very specific, new sound, but he has dropped one of the best releases of the year, by far. Travis proclaims himself on the distorted, warping “Basement Freestyle”, “It’s my year/I got it now”, and i’m finding it very difficult to disagree.