Who: Ambitious Houston avant-producer and affable rapper Travi$ Scott, 21, is best known for assisting Yeezus himself, Kanye West, on the visionary producer's latest, as well as turning trap and dancehall into baroque triumph music on last year's G.O.O.D. Music group album, Cruel Summer. Although he produces for G.O.O.D., he's currently signed to T.I.'s label, Grand Hustle, as an MC. "My whole situation is weird, man," Scott explains, though he means "weird" in a good way; the two-label situation gives him to access to two vastly different hip-hop superstars. "Both G.O.O.D. and Grand Hustle together is real shit, man," he says. "Kanye and T.I. both engage with what I'm doing." Scott's most recent mixtape, Owl Pharoah, sounds like a combination of West and company's high-art hip-hop and T.I. and crew's crunked-out bangers. He cites the tape's single "Quintana," featuring Wale (recently remixed by buzzing Atlanta trio Migos), as an example of his wide-ranging beatmaking tendencies: A mumbly, Future-esque hook rises above a sea of gun shots, menacing drum programming stomps, and snarling synthesizers.
Everything But The ...: Though Scott is only credited for a few productions on Cruel Summer and Yeezus, his overarching impact on West's post-Watch the Throne output is apparent. Scott indulges a kitchen-sink vision of what a rap beat can be: caked with effects, redirected by A.D.D. sonic interludes, and fleshed-out by instrumental flourishes, all speeding toward an overwhelming, head-spinning fever pitch. Imagine if titan Lee "Scratch" Perry was raised on early-2000s hip-hop and holed up in a high-end recording studio with a pound of military-grade weed. The result is rap music as stormy apocalypse, raining down an addictive cacophony of moving, proggy parts. Like West, Scott likes to gas himself up, clearly articulating his own style. "God-level beats with hard-ass rapping" is how he describes what he does. And his goal? To "enhance shit" and get his listeners — who he thinks have become accustomed to artists who "halfway do it" — to exclaim, "Fuck?! What is this?"
Tha Murky South: As a teen, Scott worked with Houston rap producer Mike Dean, a local legend (thanks to his '90s Rap-A-Lot production work) who, more recently, gained notice for acting as another of Kanye's inspirations. (Dean has contributed to West's live show as his guitar player). "Growing up in Houston, the music scene is super boring," Scott admits, downplaying the monolithic appeal of Houston hip-hop, which birthed the chopped-and-screwed sound and was arguably ground zero for the elegant, slow-rolling style known as "country rap." But he still celebrates Houston's "edge," as well as the "darkness and drowsiness" that acts "like a little injection of steroids" into the city's dark, post-regional style. Scott is quick to separate his music from the woozy street rap of his hometown: "I'm not a gangsta," he says. "That's just my origin and shit, you know, like my theme music." Artists like Bjork, Little Dragon, and M.I.A. are influences for him alongside DJ Screw or Pimp C.
Youth Not Wasted: On Yeezus, Scott is credited on "New Slaves" and "Guilt Trip" specifically, but he also receives a larger credit for "additional programming," which suggests he had a significant hand in sculpting West's jagged, minimalist spleen-vent. "I was in early on with Yeezus," Scott says. "I was around when it was just ideas and shit. I was around for the whole process, just chiming in ideas, that's how we came up with that shit." He celebrates Kanye's open-minded approach, which he describes as "just dialing into each other." Working on Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail, where he produced "Crown," a Vangelis-esque, in-the-red hard-charger, was similarly fruitful and open. "I don't know about what it's like to work with others, but I know [with Jay and Kanye], I can be in the studio, fuckin' bouncing around, yelling shit," he says with a laugh. "I mean, I'm young, I'm just trying to let these niggas know, man. We just need some shit that kids want to go crazy to."