A great deal obviously occurred in the five years between ASTROWORLD and UTOPIA, Travis Scott’s third and fourth solo studio albums, respectively.
Still, looking at hip-hop and rap music specifically, few could deny the extraordinary impact his music had on a young generation of emerging artists, their radical vocal and production style choices so overtly informed by his own vision.
His commercial success at least partially hinged on the futuristic, otherworldly sound and image he cultivated, with listeners tuning in just to hear what fresh level of the game he’d unlocked.
Thus the collective anticipation for UTOPIA could not have been higher. Without fail, Scott delivers something only he could have delivered, a thoroughly riveting album that transmutes star power and experimental artistry into a marvelous musical monument.
The opening boom-bap bombast of “HYAENA,” the funkadelic crunch of “MODERN JAM,” and the proggy thump of “CIRCUS MAXIMUS” are just a few examples of how he has so lavishly expanded his sonic universe with this record.
He now seems to enjoy a certain austerity, as on “I KNOW ?” and “LOST FOREVER,” but remains incapable of completely escaping the maximalist thrills of his past.
The deliberately concealed guest list contains quite a few stars and superstars, and shrewd listeners may enjoy trying to identify them all without a cheat sheet. Drake’s unmistakable baritone leads the shape-shifting “MELTDOWN,” while Playboi Carti unspools his magnificent mumble over the buzzy “FE!N.” But when Beyoncé arrives for “DELRESTO (ECHOES),” its muted club contents echoing her own dance music renaissance, she provides a big diva energy that luxuriates amid Scott’s cutting edge.