Women in Music 2018
Keeping Up With Travis Scott: How The Rapper's 'Astroworld' Album Scored One of the Year's Best Debuts
They call it the Kardashian Curse: Whether it’s rappers like French Montana or Tyga or professional athletes like Blake Griffin, Reggie Bush, or Kris Humphries, popular wisdom says high-profile men who date the Kardashians inevitably get overshadowed by reality TV plot lines and endless gossipy headlines -- and their careers are never the same.
“Every male figure that comes and dates a Kardashian…Their life kinda just goes downhill after that," the youngest Kardashian, 21-year-old reality star and lip kit maven Kylie Jenner, explained about the so-called “Kardashian curse” -on Keeping Up With the Kardashians in 2016. A cautionary warning to any new man that enters the fold: Keep up with the Kardashians and kiss your career goodbye.
But with the release of Astroworld, Travis Scott flexes his mettle over superstition. The rapper, who welcomed a daughter with Jenner earlier this year, is expected to take the top spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Scott’s sophomore album is poised to dethrone Drake’s Scorpion run at the top, with a predicted 450,000 equivalent album units earned in the week ending Aug. 9, in what will be the third-biggest week of 2018 for an album, following the debuts of Scorpion (732,000 units) and Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys (461,000).
The curse is broken -- or maybe there wasn’t one in the first place. Regardless, here’s how Travis Scott was able to level up:
For Travis Scott, the success of Astroworld is a long time coming. The Houston rapper inked a major label deal with Epic Records in 2012. He’s maintained momentum by steadily releasing music every year, including two mixtapes and two studio albums; 2015’s Rodeo and 2016’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. The latter also debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 -- though the project only moved a fraction of the numbers of his current release in its first week; with 88,000 equivalent album units registered in the week ending Sept. 8.
Astroworld in particular has been a marathon meal: Scott announced the album back in May 2016 and fans have been salivating ever since. Like Dr. Dre’s Detox or Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole’s rumored collaboration project, the anticipation was palpable. Fan hub Kanye To The has numerous threads dedicated to the album that go back for years. There’s no shortage of fan predictions and theories on Reddit. Scott released the lead single, “Butterfly Effect,” back in 2017, which has since been certified double-Platinum by the RIAA As a teaser before the album, he released “Watch” with Kanye West and Lil Uzi Vert as a snack to tide fans over, though it didn't end up appearing on Astroworld. The song debuted in the top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Enlisting surprise guests
Scott is no stranger to finding success working alongside an array of star artists and producers. Two of his highest-charting singles to date came last year, with guest appearances on Miguel’s “Sky Walker" and Drake's “Portland," the latter giving him his first top 10 hit on the Hot 100. Last December, he also released the acclaimed Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho with Quavo, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.
For Astroworld, the rapper pulls from a diverse guest list, ranging from superstars like Drake and The Weekend to less-expected appearances by Tame Impala, Frank Ocean and even the legendary Stevie Wonder. What’s more, the album tracklist doesn’t explicitly spell out any of the features: Since all guests go uncredited, fans have been poring over the 17-tracks trying to decode the guests on their own. Like a musical scavenger hunt, it’s a crafty way to engage fans into hitting play over and over, racking up extra streams in the process.
Becoming a live star
With new material out every year, Scott has also built an impressive touring resume. His live shows are known for being so spirited and rowdy -- expect a mosh pit, for sure -- that he was arrested and charged for “inciting a riot” in May 2017 in Arkansas, as well as at Lollapalooza in 2015.
So far, 2018 has been a marquee year for the rapper on the road, and with every stop, his rep as hip-hop’s preeminent rager continues to swell. He’s notched headliner spots this year at the Governors Ball Music Festival, the Osheaga Festival, Rolling Loud and Austin City Limits. Astroworld coincided with his appearance at Lollapalooza, and he performed “5% TINT” from the album there for the first time. Although Scott was playing a side stage, his crowds dwarfed those of main stage headliner Arctic Monkeys.
Building a brand
Scott resides at the intersection of streetwear, high fashion and rap chic. His ad lib “It’s lit!” nicely describes his aesthetic: He is a brand people want to emulate. He’s been dubbed “Music’s Fashion King” by GQ, has a collaboration with Nike for the iconic Air Force 1 sneaker and gets invited to the Met Gala— wearing Alexander Wang nonetheless.
In a savvy move, Scott released his Astroworld merchandise like a limited-edition capsule collection and an extension of the album experience. It’s available for only 24 hours -- most of the pieces are sold out -- and features t-shirts, slides and hoodies with song titles, lyrics and imagery.
Benefiting from the Kardashian Effect
“I don't even be looking at motherfuckers. I don't be looking at shit,” Scott said to GQ last month about the supposed Kardashian curse. “I'm on my own island. So hey, come over there to Astroworld. I'm not into all the other shit. I don't get involved. I'm over here. Kylie is different.”
The rapper may be unbothered by his famous other half, but there’s no doubt that being associated with a reality show behemoth has its perks. Association with Kylie Jenner -- the relationship began during Coachella 2017 -- has amped up Scott’s profile over the past year, especially among her millions of fans. This is the first album he’s released post-Kardashian, so to speak.
Jenner has been in heavy promo mode, stanning for her man with the release of Astroworld. Aside from the lovey dovey GQ cover, she’s also shown up at several of his concerts, stars in his video for “Stop Trying to Be God,” and took to Instagram to shout him out just after the set's release. “You didn’t have to go this hard baby. Astroworld just dropped and it’s the craziest ride of my life,” she captioned, while wearing an Astroworld t-shirt. The post has nearly 6 million likes.
It’s unclear exactly how many Kylie Jenner fans have been converted to Travis Scott fans, or vice versa. However, with 112 million Instagram followers and over 20 million Snapchat followers, Jenner’s pull cannot be denied. And interestingly, two tracks with overt references to the reality star, “Stargazing” and “Sicko Mode,” lead the album in streams on Spotify.
“YO kylie jenner’s boyfriend actually makes fire ass music recommend yall peep,” shared one user on Twitter. Another joked, “astroworld so good imma buy a kylie lip kit lmao.”
The family that sells together, stays together.