Acclaimed rapper and producer Travis Scott has released “Utopia”, his first album since 2018’s “Astroworld”, and one that puts his masterful abilities as a producer on full display. Nevertheless, while this album bolsters Scott’s reputation and overall aura as an instrumental craftsman, it also showcases multiple examples of his deficiencies as both a lyricist and a project manager.
Since the early days of Scott’s artistry, with records such as “Rodeo” and its murky, daze-inducing follow up “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight”, Scott has demonstrated that he is not only a skilled producer, but also one whose capabilities continue to grow extensively with time and experience. These strengths are shown frequently on nearly every track he puts together, whether by their tightly-blended, rich tones, or by the striking and alluring moods those tones create.
The beats of “Utopia” vividly showcase the continuation of Scott’s mastery building on the boards and leave little room for doubt that he is currently one of the top producers in Hip-Hop. Tracks that under perform in nearly any way on this album do so only because Scott has set the bar so noticeably high for himself.
“My Eyes”, a track that is a particularly moving listen is a tonally rich and as emotionally captivating as it is light and airy holds fast the first part of the song and carries it into a beat switch that demonstrates signs of heavy intention as well as leveled restraint in spots that many other producers might be tempted to let fly into a state of sonic saturation.
Other cuts portray similar levels of experience, discipline and strategic arrangement, whether it be in the form a sequence of notes tweaked with precision or drum patterns set with such attention to detail that they sound effortless and exceedingly bountiful at the same time, such as they do on the album’s opener, “Hyaena”.
As Scott’s production prowess hits its pinnacle on “Utopia”, it’s all the more difficult to ignore how detached several of the album’s other fundamentals are. On the mic he raps with enough energy and vocal dynamics to keep the ball rolling (perhaps best shown on “Modern Jam”), but there is little to be said for his lyrics. While his raps are not plain or devoid of presentation, in multiple instances they simply feel hollow. This lack of interior meaning causes the passionate exclaims and refined instrumentals to feel more like encasing for the tracks they layer rather than essential pieces of a whole.
On “Circus Maximus”, a track with drums, synths and even screams which spur great haste and in many ways some sense of impending doom, a potent mood is all but complemented by lines such as:
“Gotta know that it’s time
I’m excited to jump in
So much that I’m flyin’
Put you right in the function
Took you right off a vine
Got this shit in a bind”
These bars cap off a verse that begins in particularly shallow waters, but are more notable only because of their entirely unremarkable and conceptually empty. This is how much of the lyrical work on “Utopia” begins and ends.
Nevertheless, while it’s difficult to get past the wording of Travis Scott’s “Astroworld” follow up, the instrumental completeness and overall energy is difficult to forget.