The last time Travis Scott made national news was not a cause for celebration. During 2021’s Astroworld Festival — an event created by Scott coinciding with his album of the same name — logistical crowd control failures led to a crowd crush which killed 10 people and hospitalized 25.
The aftermath of this event caused ripples throughout the live music industry regarding safety, as well as the cancellation of the following year’s Astroworld Festival. Nearly two years later, the full investigative report has been released on the same day as Scott’s newest album, “UTOPIA.”
The rapper’s fourth studio album brings together a stacked cast of musicians and producers, resulting in a sonically diverse work with notes of Kanye West, Beyoncé, Bon Iver, Bad Bunny, SZA and many others.
An appetizer of the album’s conceptual nature comes in “HYAENA.” Its introduction features isolated vocal lines and harmonies reminiscent of a Kendrick Lamar opening.
The beat is made up of crunchy, overdriven drums and a sample of a bright stringed instrument. When the bass comes in, it’s uncharacteristically quiet, allowing the higher frequencies to come through more clearly. Although he isn’t featured here, the instrumentation and arrangement reflect the sounds of Kanye West’s earlier work.
West does make an appearance on “THANK GOD,” credited both as a composer and producer. This beat, too, begins softly, with a bell harmony being joined by occasional bass notes and a synth countermelody, all with a lo-fi vinyl crackle.
For much of the album, the mixing and arranging is mellower than one might expect from Scott. The prominent sub-bass and rapid-fire trap hi-hats take a backseat to more acoustic-sounding drums and more melodic instrumentation.
This isn’t to say that “UTOPIA” represents a complete left turn in Scott’s production; many of the facets that have defined his repertoire are still audible, but they aren’t always the go-to sounds. Rather, they’re more subtly blended within a wide array of musical tools.
“SIRENS” is an excellent example of this blend. It is once again introduced by vocal harmonies, briskly moving into a triplet-based beat. Underneath this beat can be heard the deep bass and hi-hats that draw fans to his sound, but they are a secondary consideration rather than the overwhelming texture.
“DELRESTO (ECHOES),” one of the album’s lead singles, features the vocal talents of Beyoncé throughout, as well as crediting her for production and composition. The instrumentals here leave a lot of space, with the only consistent instrument being a cabasa backbeat.
The instruments stack on top of one another, rarely playing on the same beats. This makes the beat feel open and sparse, leaving lots of room for the vocals and making the occasional bass hits all the more impactful.
“K-POP,” the other lead single brings in a taste of reggaeton, despite its name. The bass — heavy but soft — is joined by a dembow beat and a driving, consistent bass drum.
Bad Bunny’s vocals are featured heavily here, as are those of The Weeknd. The beat stays more or less consistent throughout, with the vocalists trading off over it, giving the track a cypher-like feeling.
“TIL FURTHER NOTICE” takes the album out with a more traditional Travis Scott sound. Trap bass and hi-hats jump to the forefront and the heavily autotuned vocals take on a more consistent rhythmic quality.
It would seem “UTOPIA” aims to please, but not in a cheap way. Featuring many of today’s most prominent names in pop and rap, it brings together an enormous range of sounds, blending them together, but retaining a thread of Scott’s signature throughout.
Scott has undoubtedly lost a number of listeners in the wake of the Astroworld disaster. Although he was ultimately determined not liable for the accident, it’s not entirely clear where the miscommunications happened that resulted in the show continuing.
He seems to have bounced back, though, with what may be his most distinct album yet. If there was a single album to provide a snapshot of the current rap scene, this may well be it.