Commercially speaking, Travis Scott’s fourth studio album had met our expectations: selling 496K units in its first week and Travis breaking rap records on Spotify.
But does UTOPIA prove to have enough substance to ensure a place in our memory and conversation for years to come, as did Rodeo and ASTROWORLD?
Contrary to the original review, which critiqued the album in the context of it being the sum of its parts, this ranking will determine the songs’ value on an individual level, disconnected from the rest of the album.
From the stunted experience that makes little effort to venture to utopia to Travis bordering on whether to take risks or win streams — UTOPIA is, unfortunately, a bloated and incomplete concept. Perhaps ranking individual tracks, which rarely have anything to do with one another, is more appropriate as a discussion of this album.
19. SKITZO (with Young Thug)
An unadventurous Young Thug verse that devolves into a series of mumbling afterthoughts and an annoying hook in the first leg initially make up a below-average trap song. But Travis unnecessarily extends the session to a slow and torturous 6 minutes — the longest of UTOPIA. The multitude of beats (by Boi-1da et al.) work to mask the dullness of Travis’ performances by creating an illusion of variety in his delivery.
18. K-POP (with Bad Bunny & The Weeknd)
‘K-Pop’ sounds like it was conceptualized in a corporate meeting of marketing executives. It was our first lick of UTOPIA, so as to attract listeners on an international level. Musically, it is boring and predictable. All three artists fail to distinguish their flows from one another. The result is a song that stifles any hope of musical progression, which is the point: ‘K-Pop’ is made to be played on a loop.
17. LOOOVE (with Kid Cudi)
Travis Scott’s quasi-collaboration with Kid Cudi can be favorably construed as the artists showing gratitude to their audience: “They give me love, they love the Scott.” But most of the song’s themes settle on his lavish lifestyle, which is funded by his fans; rather than embracing fandom love, Travis commodifies it. ‘Love’ is an interesting picture of Travis’ incessant need to self-promote; but that’s as deep an engagement as one can manage when listening to this track.
The pulsating beat is alluring at first, but during its 4 minutes it scarcely evolves, and becomes a headache as a result. Travis’ verses are typical Travis Scott verses, and Cudi’s is tacked on the end merely for the sake of it, barely leaving an impression.
16. DELRESTO (ECHOES) (with Beyoncé)
In spite of each spuriously attractive aspect of ‘Delresto’ thrown at us — a Beyoncé feature, on top of a RENAISSANCE-esque instrumental — the experience merely evokes an artificial grandiosity. ‘Delresto’ strives, with its obscure lyrics, to make a case that it is much more meaningful than it actually is. But Travis’ stubborn refusal to progress, sonically, is ultimately what hinders it; ‘Delresto’ runs in circles, where it would have benefited from emotional climax.
15. PARASAIL (with Dave Chappelle and Yung Lean)
On ‘Parasail,’ Travis makes an unsuccessful attempt to tread on similar, vocal ground as ‘Only 1 (Interlude)’ (off Metro Boomin’s NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES).
In fact, the way in which the song is cut off before it can reach a satisfactory conclusion, is characteristic of a transient interlude.
Yet the UTOPIA track is far less captivating, musically and conceptually, than the Metro. Travis’ ideas on freedom, in particular, feel dishonest alongside the contributions of disgraced comedian Dave Chappelle.
14. TOPIA TWINS (with Rob49 and 21 Savage)
It would be a feat to maintain the momentum sparked by Rob49’s grossly enthralling, yet unfortunately compact, verse. Travis, with the help of Rob49’s backing vocals, barely manages it. The dry trap beat isn’t even an issue during this concise, first leg, because it is so quiet.
But a slow hook and an average 21 performance, which inspires an equally monotonous verse by Travis, drags the energy down. The outcome is a typical trap song, though it feels as if Travis could have fought for something more.
13. I KNOW?
While drowsily admitting to his own addictions over a twinkling instrumental, Travis also displays an indifference to or ignorance of the consequences his choices may have on himself or others. In the chorus, his seemingly adamant repetition of “I know” is undermined by the closing line: “Then again I could be drunk.” His lethargic vocal technique matches the setting and the mood of the track well, but it is also to the song’s detriment. Travis’ stagnant flows and delivery are uninteresting to listen to, in spite of the challenging lyrical content.
12. GOD’S COUNTRY
A distorted sample of a child’s singing voice pervades the beat, and guides Travis Scott’s performance. The track’s concise runtime is crucial, as the rapper clearly could not have maintained his delivery for much longer. This is an example of listening to a hip-hop song mainly for its excellent instrumental — a haunting beat, by 30 Roc, Dez Wright, and Travis himself.
11. CIRCUS MAXIMUS (with The Weeknd)
As noted by almost everyone, ‘Circus Maximus’ clarifies the Yeezus influence that runs throughout UTOPIA. To be more specific, the pounding drums replicate the drums off of ‘Black Skinhead,’ albeit (adorned with synths) they are far less raw. Even so, they fuel an enthralling verse by Travis and, in their absence, emphasize a cinematic performance by The Weeknd. However, Travis struggles to follow this powerful first leg with anything interesting and instead redoes his flow and delivery, except with less confidence. Perhaps he should have paid as much attention to Kanye’s dynamic verses on ‘Skinhead’ as he did the drums.
10. THANK GOD (with KayCyy)
The Houston rapper proves his potential to evolve artistically through a spiritual, two-part performance in which he channels his religious gratitude and overpowers his inner demons. The first verse, intentionally quiet and bashful, paves the way for Travis to transform in the second, rapping a strong 16 bars.
9. MY EYES (with Bon Iver & Sampha)
‘My Eyes’ is structurally a reflection of Travis opening up to his audience. Initially, in an airy and vocally constricted verse, he attempts to conceal insecurity with a fallible barrier of wealth; the beat switch permits him to rap a full verse, complete with a confessional tone.
As mentioned in the review, however, references to Astroworld come across as dishonest and showy — albeit their presence is minimal, and so is their impression of the song’s enjoyability.
8. MELTDOWN (with Drake)
Although unfairly undermined as a ‘Sicko Mode’ clone by some critics — from the surface, anyone would deem it so — Travis Scott fills the majority of ‘Meltdown,’ consciously diverging from the ASTROWORLD counterpart.
Drake deals an aggressive verse, challenging Pharrell Williams, Gunna, and Pusha T (again). Travis keeps the energy in his first verse and exceeds it in his second, cementing ‘Meltdown’ as another memorable collaboration from this duo.
7. FE!N (with Playboi Carti)
‘Fe!n’ is a captivating mirror of the unnerving, rage sound of Whole Lotta Red, but (at the same time) it could not have fit on the 2020 album. Playboi Carti is rightly acknowledged for influencing a generation of young artists; his sound has developed in different ways over the years, but he has mostly retained his recognizable, high-pitched voice.
On ‘Fe!n,’ what was initially thought to have been Carti’s “baby voice” on the chorus was later revealed to be Travis. When Carti actually appears, he conveys a deeply-voiced verse that juxtaposes with, yet complements, the chorus. Paired with an energizing Travis verse, ‘Fe!n’ turned out, unpredictably, to be one of the best songs off UTOPIA.
On ‘Hyaena,’ Travis embraces the vices of hedonistic celebrity play, and it ultimately ends in a haunting Funkadelic sample that reprimands Travis’ dangerous lifestyle. Lyrically and conceptually, ‘Hyaena’ is air-tight: his addictions are on full display — that is, if you can see behind the illusion of grandeur and fulfillment.
Even the line, “I’m driving through hell and I done brought snow,” deceptively presents an image of transformation (cold combating the fire) — in actuality, “snow” is a metaphor for cocaine. Travis Scott embraces the fire, embraces his faults, and is terrified that it may be the end of him.
Travis manifests his demons on ‘Sirens’: in particular, self-destructive sex addiction and internal misogyny. What he believes to be the cure, hard work, is only a distraction. They can’t pull him from women and sex forever, as indicated by the hotel-room skit that closes ‘Sirens’ (voiced by Drake).
Travis seems to reverse many of his flaws as a rapper on ‘Sirens.’ His flows are dynamic and engaging, and his lyrics are memorable. Further, he shows that he doesn’t require an earworm hook to grab the listener’s attention. ‘Sirens’ is arguably the strongest showcase of Travis’ rapping capabilities off UTOPIA.
4. LOST FOREVER (with Westside Gunn)
An entertaining Westside Gunn feature is almost a guarantee at this point, but Travis’ subtly excellent performance is the clear highlight of ‘Lost Forever.’ As much as the song is a duet between Gunn and Travis, it is a duet between Travis and the instrumental (produced by James Blake, The Alchemist, Dominic Maker and Travis).
The vocal samples are threaded in between Travis’ bars, almost like ebullient echoes, creating an air of drunkenness and gothic mystery. Furthermore, the beat switch introduces a beat that is equally eery, and more suited to Gunn’s dynamic performance.
3. TIL FURTHER NOTICE (with James Blake & 21 Savage)
‘Til Further Notice’ is a collaboration that finds each artist in equally prominent roles: James Blake represents an inward, prodding voice that points toward necessary change (“Where will you go now?” he asks), 21 Savage a vessel of regrets and past mistakes, and Travis further relishing in the manifestations of his male insecurities. A thematically and vocally robust track, on all three fronts.
2. MODERN JAM (with Teezo Touchdown)
From the invigorating dance beat (facilitated by half of Daft Punk) and Travis’ Yeezus-inspired vocals to an exciting closing verse by Teezo Touchdown, ‘Modern Jam’ tugs at something visceral and elusive. Before Travis capriciously added the credits to the song titles, Teezo’s almost incongruous performance was particularly impressive.
1. TELEKINESIS (with Future & SZA)
“I can see the future, it’s looking like we level with the sky”, sings Travis Scott in the chorus of ‘Telekinesis,’ an emotionally scattered track. What keeps Travis, Future, and SZA alive is the hope of a utopian state — from the Christian imagery in the chorus, that state may only be possible after death.
Travis and Future convey slow and quiet ideas about regret, love, success, and time. SZA’s gorgeous vocals are adorned with trumpets, which supposedly signal the rapture, yet her confessions about desiring her unfaithful ex-lover follow similar ideas as Travis and Future. Still, she clings on to hope at the end:
We both ain’t shit and it’s workin’ for me, workin’ for me, yeah.
I can see the future, I can see the future.SZA on ‘Telekinesis’