Travis Scott – Utopia
Gavin Montgomery October 2, 2023
Utopia Review by: Gavin Montgomery
It has been five long years since Travis Scott’s last studio release in 2018’s Astroworld, and in that time, fans of Travis Scott have stuck by his side amidst controversy and countless months awaiting in transit for 2023’s brand new album, Utopia.
Upon first listen, you might notice how Travis Scott enjoys wearing his influences upon his sleeve, especially when it comes to former mentor Kanye West. Travis Scott worked very closely alongside Kanye in 2013 during the creation of his sixth studio album Yeezus, an experimental hip hop journey that takes the listener through a mostly harsh and abrasive futuristic sound accompanied by adequate production from Kanye himself and Mike Dean. Throughout Utopia, you can hear many close sample, structural, and production choices that mirror very closely what Kanye had done ten years prior on Yeezus.
With that being said, the production on Utopia is nothing short of intuitive, futuristic, and oftentimes bombastic; opting for very unconventional song structures filled with numerous beat switches throughout. Here in lies one of the glaring issues with Utopia however, and is that due to the very many unexpected beat switches, which often times makes for a song where one half is particularly better than the latter. A classic example of this would be the song MY EYES – which essentially see’s Travis Scott attempting a more Frank Ocean type of feel for the first half. This portion of the song takes up a whole 2:25 (nearly 2/3rds of the whole track) and is extremely drawn out and acts as a halt to the momentum built up by the first previous three songs. Yet, as soon as the beat picks up to match more of the psychedelic trap sound that you might expect from a Travis album, Travis delivers one of the best verses on the entire project by being very introspective through his subject matter as he raps about his ex-wife Kylie Jenner.
As previously mentioned, the first three songs of Utopia all indulge in the hard, anthemic psychedelic trap sound. HYENA serves as a perfect opener to the project, with the opening segment of the track being a sample of Gentle Giant’s, “Proclamation”, from 1974. Even though the last 40 seconds of the track may not have been necessary, the song straps you in for the journey Utopia is about to embark on. Another highlight is track three with, MODERN JAM, which includes a stellar feature from up and coming artist Teezo Touchdown. Teezo’s smooth and lofty vocals on the back half of the track provide a great contrast to Travis’s more gritty signature sound, and truly is one of the best guest verses on the project.
Speaking of vocals, I noticed that Travis tends to play with his vocal inflections throughout the album (such as he does on the tracks THANK GOD, GOD’S COUNTRY, and SIRENS), which is great to see him trying new things. MELTDOWN featuring Drake is a trap anthem which draws parallels to their 2018 mega hit Sicko Mode from Travis Scott’s previous project. Drake begins the track by dropping slight disses to Pharrell Williams and Kanye West provided via an overly aggressive delivery that adds to the hype of the track. With this being said however, Drake’s verse massively pales in comparison to Travis’s melodic flows that he employs as he rides the beat masterfully. Despite both artists performing well throughout both of their respective parts on MELTDOWN, it is clear that Travis and Drake were trying to capture “lightning in a bottle” once again, and the result is a far cry from what we once heard from the duo on Sicko Mode.
The same cannot be said for the next track FE!N featuring Playboi Carti however, as this song just radiates that “rage” energy that has become so familiar to both of these artists. While simplistic, yes, Playboi Carti delivers one of the absolute best hooks across this entire album, and Travis is able to carry that momentum through his verse. The song does dip in quality a tad bit when it finally comes time for Playboi Carti to deliver his verse, as he employs this Future-esque deep voice backing that does not bring the same energy as a normal Carti verse would’ve.
While it is super cool to see Travis Scott team up with a legend such as Beyonce on the track DELESTRO, I personally believe she does not fit whatsoever on such a dark and atmospheric trap beat such as this one. I have a hard time determining what this song is going for, and it more or less falls flat on its face halfway through on what otherwise would have been a fantastic collaboration.
After a rather disappointing Beyonce X Travis Scott song, the album does pick up with what I believe to be the best song across the entire hour and 14 minute run time in I KNOW ?. What makes this song so great is that it doesn’t try to be more than it has to be, which is not so much the case with the majority of other songs on this project. There are no crazy beat switches, unnecessary features, long drawn out bridges, or points where Travis is trying to be overtly experimental. I KNOW ? is a simple 3:30 long track over these plucky and elusive piano chords that pair gracefully with the trap drums. The hook is simple, yet introspective, as Travis details his qualms with drinking and his relations with women; not to mention that his flow throughout the first verse is the smoothest, and hands down the best on the entire project too. I KNOW ? is practically the simple Travis Scott formula we’ve all come to know and love done to perfection.
TOPIAZ TWINS featuring Rob49 and 21 Savage is a song you would just want to blare as you skip across the water going 30mph on a jet ski. With that being said though, the song does kick off with a fairly weak Rob49 verse, but once you make it past this, TOPIAZ TWINS is clearly just 21 Savage and Travis Scott having fun together on this summer anthem of a track. While maybe not being anything too special, the track still is a very flashy and fun listen.
After this set of songs, the tracklist hits a bit of a lull with CIRCUS MAXIMUS featuring The Weeknd and Swae Lee, PARASAIL featuring Yung Lean and Dave Chappelle, and SKITZO featuring Young Thug. Yet, all that can be made up for with LOST FOREVER featuring Westside Gunn. Similarly to Beyonce on DELESTRO, Westside Gunn is an artist that differs from Travis Scott in nearly every category. Being a “coke rapper”, Westside Gunn of Griselda fame typically makes his living over distorted and dark boombap beats, and that is exactly what we get here on LOST FOREVER. The beat (which is produced by famed boombap producer The Alchemist) sounds drastically different from the Yeezus inspired psychedelic trap sound we have received thus far. It is far more stripped back, and Travis comes through with a superb and very raw rap verse to match Westside Gunns style. Travis’s pen game is noticeably better on this song too than it has been on other cuts on this album (“I’m just one chain away from goin’ heavy metal//I’m just one angel away from blockin’ out the devil) – but once Westside Gunn comes in, the track is all his. Westside Gunn’s verse is nauseating grim yet excellently crafted as his higher pitch delivery floats over the track’s main frame.
All in All, Utopia is a true testament as to why Travis Scott has been able to capture the ear of the mainstream for the better part of the past decade, and as to why he remains one of the most talked about artists of this generation. While at times Travis does venture a bit too far down the avenues of experimentalism for his own good, the highlights of this album create a formidable and memorable experience that lives up to all the hype that this project has received.
OVERALL RATING: 7.1/10
BEST SONGS: I KNOW ?, MODERN JAM, FE!N, Second half of MY EYES, LOST FOREVER
WORST SONGS: DELESTRO, K-POP, PARASAIL