Travi$ Scott Aims High With Owl Pharaoh Debut EP
There's a methodology about Travi$ Scott (neé Jacques Webster), the 21-year old Houston rapper who bolted to Los Angeles following a short stint at the University of Texas-San Antonio. It revolves around muddled synths and drums that sound buried below the earth, both of which he uses to tinker with his voice, delivery and flow. He may never be considered one of the greatest pure rappers in the history of the genre, but he dabbles far more in performance-rap than anything else.
A lot of Scott's appeal deals with that performance side, at times abstract, with hints of Kanye West's languid circa 808s & Heartbreaks period and tiny stretches of of Houston's syrupy G-funk, which bends more upon church organs and distorted vocals than anything else. It's what made Scott a commodity on Tumblr following his split from OG Che$$ and under the tutelage of Mike Dean, among others, and what makes his new Owl Pharaoh EP pretty damn hard to decipher.
Scott doesn't dig too much into his past, aside name-dropping "59" and "slabs" on the James Fauntleroy-fixated "Ride" and his Missouri City stomping grounds of "Meadow Creek" on the EP's opening track. His rhymes' grit and headiness don't stick immediately like his mentor Kanye's cocksure everyman appeal on The College Dropout, nor do they snidely objectify his newfound fame like Late Registration did.
However, it's Scott moving in his own way -- only allowing you in with a plethora of high-fashion name-drops, yanking Young Chop's syncopated bombast from Pusha T's "Blocka" and refitting it as "Blocka La Flame," and generally snapping off vague lyrics about life and his journey through the world.
Sonically, it's mostly Scott's show, a waltz around staccato screeches and drums with mumbling KiD CuDi-like reverb elsewhere. It's not abrasive or even harsh, but when it flows right, it just sounds different than anything else being crafted in the trap-style genre. "Dance On The Moon" cranks up the synths to near rock-gospel heights with shouting "heys" and Theophilus London's warbling voice delivering an addictive chorus, "let's get high and go dance on the moon."
Paul Wall appears on the back end, doubling up on more elixirs and uppers to push the trip up even further past the stars. That sentiment pushes further on the T.I.-assisted "Upper Echelon," which lets an air horn slingshot your ears into an avalanche of snares and Hulk-sized 808 drums. Scott knows merely tossing fly shit can casually work, and with a more-than-capable King of the South ready to empty out more shit-talk, he can do no wrong.
On "Bad Mood/Shit On You," Scott brushes off the aspirations of a college kid who settles for a mid-grade job for a shot at stardom. "Government threw us in a maze/ Had me trickin' 40K for some grades/ Just to make 40K for the wage/ Dropped out and made that in one day." It's far more an accurate assessment of where his mind is now as opposed to some years ago, when his father spent more time yelling at him to rile him out of his sleep in Missouri City.
It might be the only definite sense of continuity here, as the distorted vocals that represent his parents show up twice -- on the album's opener and "Ride," a swaying midtempo crest through city lights and warm vibrations. Scott's verses don't last for much longer than a minute, far more built to allow James Fauntleroy to coast over a track that gets led in with cuts from Lil Flip, Z-Ro and DJ Screw.
In Scott's world of physics, everything is either weighed down by relationship issues or climbing up from obscurity to land work with his heroes. "Hell of a Night" might be the lightest composition in his arsenal, but it's also the best put-together song. A simple drum pattern leads to Scott's positioning himself behind some Autotune on a love story that veers a bit to the left thanks to his obsession with mutated synths and goth-like transitions. It speaks small volumes about Scott as a composer, but elsewhere it shows that Owl Pharaoh is indeed a work made in different time periods and aspects, few of which tell you who exactly Travi$ Scott is as an artist.
If Kanye was overbearing and thumping with his boasts and CuDi rolled about the innermost banks of his mind in a haze, then Scott is somewhere in the middle -- a capable musician and serviceable rapper. His debut tape rolls around multiple thoughts, many of them repetitious, yet they're masked around clever phrasing.
The faux-Jamaican warble ultimately leaves some things to be desired, such as the album's near-closer, "Quintana," and a slightly out-of-sequence "Bandz" with Meek Mill, which is busy when simplistic could have won out.
But it's early for Scott. He's ambitious enough to tinker with new things and raw enough to think that everything can simply work. Like anybody with a little youth attached to him.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.