By bringing together the cream of American producers and rappers, the Texan intends to silence the critics after the drama of his Astroworld festival two years ago. If the work is colossal, the result is mixed.
Published on August 28, 2023 at 10:00 am
Record of listens on Spotify in one month, number one on the charts in the United States… Five years after the success ofAstroworld (2018) and a month after its release, Travis Scott’s fourth album is indeed the expected blockbuster: massive in its form (nineteen tracks, never below two minutes) as in its marketing (the rapper promotes the arrived for a good year). A colossal, collective work, where an army of producers rub shoulders, including his faithful sound director Mike Dean, but also Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, The Alchemist, and even the ex-Daft Punk Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. Add to that an even larger list of co-authors, bringing together the cream of rap and pop (The Weeknd, Beyoncé, Bad Bunny, SZA, Young Thug, Playboi Carti, James Blake, Drake, 21 Savage…), and you have a peplum disc.
The Houston rapper also accompanied his release at the end of July with a monster concert at the Circus Maximus, the largest public building in ancient Rome, and a film of the same name, half-clip half-fiction, shot in part in the ruins of Pompeii and also endowed with a team of handpicked directors (Gaspar Noé, Nicolas Winding Refn, Harmony Korine…). The madness of grandeur of Travis Scott seems to know no bounds: the rapper also aspired to perform at the pyramids of Giza, in Egypt, before the project fell apart.
Launched like a Roman chariot in the heart of summer, Utopia is therefore a work beyond the measure of Travis Scott’s aura and ego, but also that of redemption and atonement. Because Astroworld, released in 2018, a huge success that propelled him to the forefront of world rap, remains marred by a tragic event: on November 5, 2021, ten people lost their lives in a stampede during the Astroworld festival organized by the rapper on his land in Houston.
Without contrition, Travis Scott pulls his hat out of his Utopia, five hundred years after the work of the same name by the English humanist Thomas More. No link between the two men, if not a secret desire for canonization in the Texan? “My utopia is not a pretty world, there is competition”, he confesses to producer guru Rick Rubin at the start of the film Circus Maximus. “But you can achieve peace by transferring energy. This disc is an attempt to create a circle of energy. » Checked on stage this summer at the Rolling Loud festival in Rotterdam, Travis Scott’s ability to deploy a unifying force remains undeniable.
But his Utopia has nothing to do with a political work and continues the path taken by Travis Scott so far, halfway between the eternal quest for “banger” and the experimental and psychedelic sounds he loves. Opening with a sample of Gentle Giant, an English progressive rock band, Hyena (the hyenas), with its boom bap aesthetic, instills a change of direction. “I walk through hell and I brought snow / To the light here I brought a little sparkle”, sings the one who is also nicknamed “the rager” or “the flame”. For the ardor, Travis Scott substitutes an implacable and icy tempo, as if to silence the voices that would say he is out of breath. Punchy entry, to recall his stature as a pillar of world rap, alongside Drake and Kendrick Lamar, while shining the spotlight on what crosses the album: the other side of his life as a star, and the ordeal who is watching. No intimate unpacking, rather a show of strength in the face of adversity.
Above the fashions
Faced with so much power, the following seems almost timid: Thank God and its languid rhythm, Modern Jam and its skeletal beat recall Scott’s attraction for romantic-sticky atmospheres and coldness as a prism, without really transcending his habits.
The multitude of speakers results in a production teeming with details, atmospheres and registers, trap, industrial, electro, autotuned… And ends up causing trouble. By gathering around him a gathering of celebrities, the Texan with crazy braids, who is neither the best flow technician nor a genius producer, tries to place himself above the fashions. It aggregates currents and names, as a demiurge of rap game he wants to be. How to hide the beginning of negligence or his fear of risk? No coincidence that one of the key pieces of the disc, Circus Maximus, monkey the Black Skinhead of Kanye West, his model… You have to take Utopia for what it is: not the major work of an artist above the lot, but that of a superstar who tries to hold his own, even if it means relying on others. It’s hard-hitting at times, much more innocuous even, as on K Popwith Bad Bunny and The Weeknd, downright catchy otherwise.