Release Date: September 04, 2015
Label: Grand Hustle/Epic
A rodeo is a series of endurance tests: bronco riding, barrel racing, calf roping, and, of course, bull-riding (“the longest eight seconds in sports”), and the events most synonymous with the term are timed feats of skill and endurance. Travis Scott’s Rodeo also plays like an endurance test, a 75-minute game of “spot the influence” that is sporadically rewarding, yet feels like the longest rap album in months.
The main issue with the 23-year-old Houston rapper’s proper debut LP is that his motives are impossible to read. You don’t release an album as long and self-indulgent as Rodeo without oodles of confidence, but the album doesn’t feel confident so much as self-conscious. It’s easy to tear the record apart for sounding too much like any number of artists: “Flying High” sounds ripped from Tyler’s Cherry Bomb, down to the Toro y Moi feature; remove the gravel in his voice and “Oh My Dis Side” is a Drake song; numerous debts to Kanye and Cudi abound. But more subtle things too, like the piano riff on “Apple Pie” that sounds suspiciously like Meek Mill and Jeremih’s “Amen,” bubble up to the surface, and the end result is discomfiting, as if Scott believes aping these moves but not understanding how they work is simply enough. Scott never says anything memorable, yet some songs stretch into six and seven minutes, with the influences so blatant that you feel like you’re listening to, essentially, an impostor.
Rodeo does have a smattering of blow-your-hair-back moments: the part of “90210” that sounds like Castlevania, the opening breakdown of “Piss on Your Grave.” And the features leave an impression, most memorably the Justin Bieber- and Young Thug-assisted “Maria, I’m Drunk,” the best and weirdest song on the album, anchored by Thug’s slimy “call your friends, let’s get drunk” hook. Swae Lee’s cherubic voice contrasts nicely with Scott’s groaned delivery and Chief Keef’s Auto-Tuned mumble on “Nightcrawler,” which hits its precise aim of ominous and fun. Somewhere in the slog of “3500” is a great rap song with Future in Dirty Sprite 2–scumbag mode and a vintage 2 Chainz verse, but Scott can’t reel it in. And all these guest appearances feel more memorable and vital than anything Scott himself delivers during the entirety of his own record.
For all his shout-outs to Houston, including a prominent Pimp C sample and a “25 Lighters” reference, none of it sticks. This is a cold, calculated record lacking in personality, though it certainly tries to deliver something that Scott is incapable of. For its alleged vision and production, Rodeo has its moments, but digging them out is as challenging as attempting to ride a bull for eight seconds. Takes much longer though.