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Review: “UTOPIA” by Travis Scott

Scott’s first studio album in nearly five years is a cutting-edge, hip-hop masterpiece.
Image by Morgan LaCasse
The new album had a clear tone that was motivated by a hypnotic, psychedelic production style.

After several years of cryptic teasing, rapper-producer Travis Scott –– a leading trendsetter in the music industry –– has finally released his fourth studio album, “UTOPIA.”

While Scott’s fanbase and the hip-hop community as a whole have hyped up the release of “UTOPIA,” Scott remains a controversial figure. Scott was met with intense public scrutiny in November of 2021 after ten people died during a crowd crush at the rapper’s Astroworld Festival in Houston, Texas. 

In June of this year, Scott was officially cleared from facing criminal charges relating to the Astroworld tragedy by a Houston grand jury. 

While some have sworn off Scott since the Astroworld tragedy, his perpetual popularity and influence within pop culture have remained strong nonetheless and he still attracts top talent within the industry for collaborations.

Now, nearly five years after the release of his third studio album, “ASTROWORLD,” Scott has returned with a 73-minute experimental hip-hop odyssey with a star-studded list of featured artists and producers.

Scott enlists features for “UTOPIA” ranging from global mega-stars Bad Bunny, Beyoncé and The Weeknd to rising artists KayCyy and Teezo Touchdown, as well as modern-day rap titans Drake, Future, Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti and Young Thug. 

“UTOPIA” opens with the loud, fierce track “HYAENA,” setting the tone for the album by utilizing hypnotic, psychedelic production that is unheard of in present-day mainstream hip-hop. The opening track is backed with distorted, industrial boom-bap drums behind an ingeniously placed sample of an obscure French song from the 1960s, brilliantly setting the psychedelic soundscape of “UTOPIA” from the outset.

Scott continues to be an innovator in the genre as a producer whilst conveying an audible ferocity and hunger in his vocal delivery. Scott, whose albums always open incredibly strong, has made his best album opener yet with “HYAENA.”

Third in the tracklist comes “MODERN JAM,” standing out in the album with its synth-heavy and dance-y production from Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, formerly of Daft Punk. Daft Punk also collaborated with Kanye West on his 2013 industrial hip-hop album “Yeezus,” an album that helped jump-start Scott’s career as a producer, as he is credited on two tracks.

“MODERN JAM” may not be the most bombastic or experimental track on “UTOPIA,” but its danceable rhythm and “Yeezus”-esque production give it a lot of replay value. The song is pretty funny lyrically, too, featuring ridiculously cheeky lines like “I like a bi girl on a bi-cycle. Then I bought a car, now she feel entitled” and “way I keep thе knowledge, think I’m Socrates.”

One of the riskiest songs on “UTOPIA” is actually the most inoffensive track musically, the fourth track titled “MY EYES.” A far cry from Scott’s “rager” image, the track features production from Frank Ocean collaborator Vegyn as Scott gets sentimental and emotional while his voice is pitch-shifted in a way reminiscent of the production of Ocean’s monumental 2016 track “Nikes,” a clear direct influence.

On “MY EYES,” Scott makes his most direct reference to the Astroworld tragedy on the album with the lyrics, “I replay them nights, and right by my side, all I see is a sea of people that ride wit’ me. If they just knew what Scotty would do to jump off the stage and save him a child.”

One of the most talked-about songs on the album is “MELTDOWN.” Featuring Drake, the track reignites the spark they found together on Scott’s chart-topping hit “Sicko Mode.” 

The Toronto rapper appears to be reigniting his long-standing feud with rapper Pusha T as he delivers the track’s first verse, “Heard your new joint, it’s embarrassing, s—. You talk to the cops on some therapist s—. You act like you love this American shit. But, really, the truth is you scared of the 6.” Pusha T famously released the scathing 2018 diss track “The Story of Adidon,” calling out Drake, and it appears Drake still feels sore about it five years later.

After “MELTDOWN” come two incredible tracks: “FE!N” featuring Playboi Carti and “DELRESTO (ECHOES)” featuring Beyoncé and Bon Iver. These tracks effortlessly encompass the styles of their respective featured artists while still fitting in with the established soundscape of “UTOPIA,” adding even more dynamics to the 19-track album.

The best track on the latter half of the album is “CIRCUS MAXIMUS,” featuring The Weeknd. Sharing a title with the theatrically released companion film to the album, the track utilizes an innovative contrast of dissonance and melody with the distorted and loud sampled screams preceding a beautiful chorus from The Weeknd.

Amid comparisons to “Yeezus,” “CIRCUS MAXIMUS” is musically similar to West’s track “Black Skinhead,” featuring similar drum patterns and vocal delivery.

Amidst all the incredible peaks of quality on “UTOPIA,” tracks like “I KNOW ?” and “TOPIA TWINS” are enjoyable enough, but they do not utilize the experimental production that makes the standouts on Scott’s fourth LP so strong — they sound like they could have come out five years ago.

“UTOPIA” is a comeback album of sorts, yet Scott appears to have never lost his artistic ability that shined so bright on his previous blockbuster records like “Rodeo” and “ASTROWORLD.” “UTOPIA” proves to be well worth the wait and is a transformative work of art that has set a new standard for hip-hop artists in 2023.

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