Review: Travis Scott’s Return on ‘UTOPIA’ is Everything Rap Needed, and Then Some

Travis Scott
4.5 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

If you clicked on this story to read some thoughts on Travis Scott’s new album UTOPIA, odds are you’re caught up at least a little bit on his sporadic rollout in the weeks leading up to the project. The announced, then cancelled, then revived, then re-cancelled album party at the pyramids in Egypt. The listening sessions with athletes like Tom Brady and the Houston Astros. The billboards. The briefcases. The movies. Surely you’ve caught wind of most of this.

So, under this assumption, we are going to zoom right past all the introductions and get right into UTOPIA. At its core, the 19-song, hour and 14-minute-long redemptive return of Scott is through and through, just another Travis Scott album, which is a good thing. As a matter of fact, it’s a great thing. A terrific thing. A much-needed thing for hip-hop.

In late 2022, in the midst of a horrific tirade where he singled out several of his peers and blurted out several antisemitic thoughts, Kanye West told N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN of Drink Champs that Scott, an artist he has mentored and collaborated with frequently, was purely an amalgamation of his idols and influences, including West, Kid Cudi, and A$AP Rocky. And, while many of the remarks West made during that time period were objectively abhorrent, he happened to be correct in this assertion. Again, though, this is not a bad thing.

Since helping produce West’s 2013 groundbreaking studio album, Yeezus, notably earning credits on songs like “Guilt Trip” and “New Slaves,” Scott’s solo catalog has seen him use his intensively-produced albums to show how much of a hip-hop historian and enthusiast he really is. And with UTOPIA, it’s clear that the artists he studied and emulated most during the LP’s creation were his aforementioned, essential music professor, Kanye West, as well as younger versions of himself, particularly from the early to mid-2010s.

The Kanye Protegé

Most evident and easy to acknowledge, UTOPIA boasts three production credits from West on the second song, “THANK GOD,” as well as the fifth and penultimate songs, “GOD’S COUNTRY” and “TELEKINESIS,” both of which were meant to land on West’s 2021 album, Donda, and now exclude West’s vocals heard on previously leaked or teased snippets. Also clear as day, it’s evident Scott still supports West through all the recent turmoil, rapping I’m loyal, bitch, I got Ye over Biden on “SKITZO,” referring to West’s constant presidential pursuits. However, digging a bit deeper, listeners will begin to appreciate how graceful and respectful Scott salutes West all throughout the July 28 release.

Whether it be his exclamatory tone similar to West with the Wakin’ up, I see the light/ I been drunk and it’s alright lyrics on “GOD’S COUNTRY,” or the drums on “CIRCUS MAXIMUS,” eerily similar to those on West’s Yeezus hit “Black Skinhead,” Scott finds ways to assimilate West’s, at-the-time forward-thinking approaches into the modern rap landscape, which Scott often molds and shifts with each new LP release.

For the Fans

Aside from West’s impact, though, Scott’s reinventing of himself by way of enhancing traits from his older music provides an experience that will connect intimately with his most loyal, longstanding fans. Mentioning just days before Utopia‘s release that it reminds him of his debut mixtape, Owl Pharaoh, and his debut album, Rodeo, Scott’s sparse use of autotune on this latest effort, which he honed in on during later albums, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight and Astroworld, helps him deliver more raunchy, raw, fiery verses as he used to a decade ago, most notably on “HYAENA,” “SKITZO” and the second half of “MY EYES.” And, while Scott’s raps have never been the most substantive or introspective, the chemistry he finds with the immensely impressive production allows him to fit his voice perfectly into the pockets of his beats, displayed best on “SIRENS,” “I KNOW ?,” and the outro “TIL FURTHER NOTICE.”

With this, many of the songs on Utopia eclipse the four-minute mark, an increasing rarity in today’s mainstream hip-hop landscape. Lengths like these allow not only for the aforementioned, long-winded verses, but also for Scott to majestically employ one of his favorite production tactics: beat switches.

In some of his most recent feature verses he’s given leading up to UTOPIA, whether it be Young Thug’s “Bubbly” (2021) or Drake and 21 Savage’s “P***y & Millions” (2022), Scott’s verses would usually require a separate instrumental from the one the song’s primary artists would rap over. While this approach led to, at times, awkward collaborations and mixed results, practically every beat switch on UTOPIA breathed new life into a song and added fascinating facets to seemingly one-dimensional cuts. The best examples of this are “MY EYES,” the Drake collaboration that feels like “SICKO MODE” part 2 on “MELTDOWN,” and “SKITZO.”

An Elite Club

Additionally, much like every Scott album up to this point, the list of guest appearances is both lengthy and esteemed. While including familiar faces from prior albums like Drake, 21 Savage, The Weeknd, James Blake, Young Thug, Kid Cudi, and Future, he also brought on superstars from other genres like Bad Bunny, Bon Iver, Beyoncé, Sampha, and SZA, as well as ascending faces in rap like Rob49, Teezo Touchdown, and KayCyy. Ultimately, if you have any remote knowledge of the genres hip-hop, R&B, or pop, you will be able to find a voice that resonates with you on UTOPIA.

Overall, arriving nearly five years removed from his prior studio album, UTOPIA sees Scott stay true to his style, his preferences, and his principles, going against the grain of the tendencies in the viral-hungry world that is 2023 rap. Luckily for him, though, his formulas for building track lists, assembling memorable collaborations, and delivering adrenaline-upping flows were sorely missed, and will be soaked up as much as possible by his fans until his next full-length offering.

Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for E11EVEN

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