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Five Burning Questions: Travis Scott and Kid Cudi's Hot 100 No. 1 Debut as 'THE SCOTTS'

Travis Scott Kid Cudi
Pamela Littky

Travis Scott and Kid Cudi

Billboard Hot 100, meet THE SCOTTS: the super-duo of genre-warping hip-hop stars Kid Cudi (birth name: Scott Mescudi) and Travis Scott. This week, the pair lands at No. 1 with their first teaming: a loose-fitting sub-three-minute jam also titled "THE SCOTTS."

The bow atop the chart is nothing new for Travis Scott, who also landed immediately at No. 1 on the Hot 100 with 2019's "HIGHEST IN THE ROOM," and who'd previously topped the listing in 2018 with "SICKO MODE." But it's the first appearance at pole position for Kid Cudi, whose prior best showing on the chart had been the No. 3 peak of breakthrough single "Day 'N' Nite," way back in 2009.

How has Travis become such a reliable chart-topper? What Cudi songs deserved better? And how badly do we want to see the two team up for a full project? Billboard staffers answer these questions and more below.

1. Between Travis Scott and Kid Cudi, whose musical personality or sonic signature do you think is dominant on the song -- or is it a pretty even split? 

Tatiana Cirisano: It’s pretty even to me. Cudi and Travis share more than a “Scott”: It was Cudi who helped popularize the kind of hazy, melancholy sing-rapping that has become Travis’ signature, and in this menacing team-up, their styles blend almost effortlessly together.

Josh Glicksman: Yeah, I know there are semblances of the almighty Kid Cudi hum in the first verse, but I’m going with Travis Scott on this. Of course, you could quickly fall down a rabbit hole saying that, as the latter has a well-documented history of proclaiming how influential that Cudder was throughout his formative years. Nevertheless, combine a production that lands in slightly more familiar territory for Travis with the fact that Cudi is running with his counterpart’s adlibs during his own verse -- though we sadly don’t hear him let loose with Travis' signature “it’s lit!” -- it has to skew toward the younger Scott here.

Carl Lamarre: I’m going to lean more towards Travis, but by a hair. They both thrive in spacey, galactic productions, but over the years, La Flame has taken over that lane and dominated it. “The Scotts” is also perfect because it’s ad-libs galore for those who love Travis and Cudi’s zany hums.

Jason Lipshutz: This is absolutely Travis Scott’s song -- the flows, ad-libs, pacing and interaction with the spaced-out production are all squarely in his zone, and doesn’t sound that dissimilar from his last No. 1 single, “Highest in the Room.” Kid Cudi undoubtedly influenced Scott’s overall approach to hip-hop, but what we hear on “The Scotts” is the iteration that has made Travis Scott one of the biggest names in popular music.

Andrew Unterberger: I'd say it's probably even until the final minute, where the stuttering, bellowing organ hook -- seemingly an interstitial beamed in straight from Astroworld -- probably edges things lightly in Travis' direction. Still, definitely worth noting a lot of what we consider Travis Scott benchmarks in 2020 would've seemed perfectly natural coming from Cudi 8-10 years ago.

2. The song is Travis' third No. 1, following "SICKO MODE" and "Highest in the Room" -- none of which are exactly common chart fodder. What do you think is the most important common element in all three being such big hits? 

Tatiana Cirisano: All three come with an instantly-memorable beat (or in “SICKO MODE”’s case, several), at least one coveted feature (in the case of "Highest," via its Rosalia- and Lil Baby-featuring remix) and Instagram caption-ready lyrics about rap star living.

But I’d argue that it’s not just the songs doing the work here, but Travis’ (and his team’s) promotional genius. The sprawling “SICKO MODE,” arguably the best of the bunch, is the highlight of Astroworld, an album promoted with a coveted merch line, giant sculptures of Scott’s head and a festival of the same name. “Highest in the Room” was released on multiple formats, including a collectible 7-inch vinyl and cassette, and that remix with two of 2019’s buzziest stars didn’t hurt.

But Travis reached his promotional prime with “The Scotts,” which he premiered to 12.3 million players during a virtual concert on Fortnite, an all-time record for an in-game event on the platform. Further bolstered by its own line of exclusive merch (which swiftly sold out), three different visuals, and three versions of album art by cult graffiti artist and designer KAWS, “The Scotts” was bound to get attention.

Josh Glicksman: The vast majority of artists only fit certain moods and environments. Even the ones that are able to throw several looks at listeners usually aren’t able to blend them into a single song. Travis Scott excels for a number of reasons -- the intergalactic beats, the gauzy, Auto-Tuned vocals, the well-timed adlibs -- but his ability to craft a hit that thrives seamlessly in a multitude of situations puts him in a particularly advantageous position. All three of these No. 1s function as Fortnite fodder just as spectacularly as they do as the hazy hit that you absolutely need to hear at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday night.

Carl LamarreAt this point, expect the unexpected with Travis. “Sicko Mode” was not only a three-layered cake of decadence, courtesy of the seamless beat switches, but also features two hearty (but uncredited) Drake verses. Following that No. 1, Scott came out of the woodwork the last two times to announce a new single days before the songs’ releases. This time around, all we knew was that Travis was dropping a song to accompany his Astronomical concert with Fortnite, but best believe, no one expected a feature from Cudder to come along with it. 

Jason Lipshutz: Simply put, the common thread is that they are all Travis Scott songs. One thing “The Scotts” demonstrates with its No. 1 debut is that Scott currently exists in Midas-touch territory, where he can put out something that’s not immediately arresting and still hit the top of the chart anyway. That’s not a knock against him -- “SICKO MODE,” his mainstream breakthrough, remains one of the very best hip-hop singles over the past five years -- but at this point he’s such a brand name that he can release “The Scotts,” a solid track that doesn’t try to become spectacular, and make it a Very Big Deal anyway.

Andrew Unterberger: Consider Travis a master of texture over songcraft. Not to say that his hits are totally lacking the latter -- "SICKO MODE" in particular was masterful both in its preponderance of brain-sticking mini-hooks and in its highly unconventional but brilliantly coherent overall structuring -- but just to say they're not reliant on any classic tricks of the trade to make them land with mainstream audiences. Rather, Travis puts up major numbers with productions so vivid it feels like you can reach out and touch them. He's not one of the era's great writers, but he is one of its great directors.

3. It's been a long decade-plus in between "Day n Nite" and "THE SCOTTS" for Kid Cudi. What's one song, album or other project of his from the interim period do you think deserved more attention than it got? 

Tatiana Cirisano: I haven’t loved any of Cudi's interim projects, to be honest, but 2014's KiD CuDi presents SATELLITE FLIGHT: The journey to Mother Moon was more cohesive and easily digestible than its title suggests -- a 10-track odyssey of serene, ambient, cosmic sounds that could serve as a balm during these crazy times.

Josh Glicksman: “love,” a SoundCloud one-off from 2015. I have absolutely no clue how this one didn’t end up on an album. Hell, this is lead single worthy! Sampled from Ratatat’s “Sunblocks,” Cudi reportedly recorded the track while creating SATELLITE FLIGHT, and it was later rumored to be appearing on the still-elusive Man on the Moon III. It’s vintage Cudi: words that stretch out the last syllable for miles, layered and inspirational vocals, warped rap-rock production that just doesn’t work the same way for anyone else and a chorus that makes you want to exuberantly take off sprinting. Not only is this one of his most slept on songs; it’s one of his very best.

Carl LamarreThis is probably a left field pick for my mainstream heads, but Cudi fans will appreciate my answer of 2009 Man on the Moon deep cut “Soundtrack 2 My Life.” It’s probably one of Cudi’s most candid deep cuts, and should be heralded as the gold standard for emo-rap songs. The track serves as a truth serum for Cudi as he untangles the webs of his dreadful reality -- and by doing so, he makes us realize that even breakout rappers go through some s--t on the regular, too.

Jason Lipshutz: The middle portion of his 2010 album Man On The Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager still goes, from the quiet psychedelia of “Marijuana” to the bombastic rap-rock “Erase Me” with Kanye West, to the strangely hypnotic “Mr. Rager.” Good album, and perhaps the project that best showcases Cudi’s range.

Andrew Unterberger: Cudi! Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven! I liked it!

4. On a scale from 1-10, how excited would you be for a full-length project from The Scotts?  

Tatiana Cirisano: A solid six. Their styles line up perfectly, and Scott’s tight artistic vision could help focus Cudi’s sometimes meandering, distracted approach to albums. While some rapper team-ups feel engineered simply to pull in streams, this one -- the younger Scott joining forces with one of his early inspirations -- feels destined. Even so, I’d need a tad more variety to really be pulled into a full album from the two. The lyrics to "THE SCOTTS" felt a little lazy to me (“We see the hype outside / right from the house”), and the melody never quite reaches the riot those words describe.

Josh Glicksman: Nine, but then again, I’m going to be pretty excited for most full-length projects from Kid Cudi. Who doesn’t want to see him win at this point in his career? Throw in the heartwarming mentor/mentee aspect to this hypothetical collaboration album, and it merely adds to the fun of it all. The potential for it would be immense: a revisited, fresh take on a Cudi classic here (maybe this one, for example!), a Kanye West-produced track there. And not to get too carried away with the imaginary scenarios, but if they favored the route of Cudi’s early-career production style, it’d be *chef’s kiss*.

Carl LamarreNine, because I would feel confident in Travis not fumbling the bag a la Kanye with Kids See Ghosts. Since day one, Travis’ fandom and adoration for Cudi has proven to be the worst-kept secret in rap. The respect factor is there from both sides. Cudi carried a lyrically-hobbled Ye to the finish-line on KSG, as they wasted a prime opportunity for an all-time great hip-hop collab album. I can guarantee you that if given the chance, Travis will lock in and do what his G.O.O.D. Music mentor couldn’t do with Cudi: make a classic.

Jason Lipshutz: Eight, because “The Scotts” sounds like an appetizer, intriguing but frustratingly clipped. I love the sonic dynamic at play on the track -- Travis Scott floats above the beat, Kid Cudi goes low and pummels it into place -- and want to hear what it would be like on fuller arrangements. Maybe the duo was on the fence about launching an actual project, and this No. 1 debut pushed them over the edge to start working on it!

Andrew Unterberger: Seven. Travis is certainly in the zone at the moment, and Cudi certainly deserves to have another blockbuster LP to his credit for all the best-selling artists of the last decade he's helped inspire, including his partner here. But... when was the last time you actually listened to (the admittedly underrated) Kids See Ghosts? How about Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho? The math with these collabs isn't always as simple as it seems like it should be.

5. If you could pick a third Scott to join Travis and Cudi for at least one single, which would it be? 

Tatiana Cirisano: It couldn’t be too much trouble to fit a virtual Scott Pilgrim -- the fictional, bass-playing title character from Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic series, played by Michael Cera in the 2010 Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World film adaptation (which already got a shout-out on Cudi’s 2010 track “Scott Mescudi Vs. The World”) -- into Travis’ next Fortnite special.

Josh Glicksman: Tons of good options here, but I feel optimistic about tapping Joey Bada$$, né Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, for a single. He already proved that he can hold his own on a star-studded single; he knows how to make an infectious chorus; and when you let him loose, the man knows how to rap his face off. Let Kid Cudi handle the chorus, give Travis more of a straightforward hip-hop angle and hand the mic off to Joey Bada$$ for some guest spotlight.

Carl LamarreThe timing on this might be super duper terrible, so my apologies in advance -- but why not get the lord of all lords, Scott Disick! I would love Scott on some skits talking his talk. Plus, they would be able to keep it all in the family with his addition to the mix. 

Jason Lipshutz: Scott Stapp, 100 percent. Part of me hoped that, when Travis and Cudi announced “The Scotts,” we’d be getting a Creed hook to go with the two rap verses -- scoff if you want, but the “What If” hook would knock pretty hard if interpolated in a Travis Scott song. He’s dominating 2020, Kid Cudi became a full-fledged star in 2010 -- time to recruit a 2000 superstar, and get Stapp in on the fun.

Andrew Unterberger: Let's go with British art-rock legend Scott Walker, another one-time pop star with a major, continually expanding experimental streak -- bet you at least one of these dudes is a big Tilt fan. True, Walker died at age 76 last year, but that hasn't stopped Cudi before: Kids See Ghosts offered a feature credit to late jazz singer Louis Prima for the sample of his "What Will Santa Claus Say" on "4th Dimension" -- giving Prima the all-time record for longest break between Hot 100 hits in the process.

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