Travis Scott
Magazine Feature

2018 Preview: Travis Scott on Redefining Rap and Why He Still Hasn't Gotten His Due

Travis Scott’s house is kind of a mess. Not in the way you’d expect from a constantly working, constantly traveling, constantly blunt-smoking 25-year-old rapper-producer. The ultramodern McMansion, looming over the modest bungalows on a quiet block in Los Angeles’ Beverly Grove neighborhood, is just filled with so much cool, interesting, expensive shit, it would be impossible for even the most skilled interior decorator to jigsaw it all together.

“This is nothing,” says Scott, pulling from a raggedy Backwoods blunt on the sofa as his tour DJ, Chase B, and a friend play a heated game of NBA 2K. “You should see my house in Houston.”

The two-story foyer is clogged with towering stacks of limited-edition sneaker boxes, almost all from Nike, with which Scott recently designed an Air Force 1 featuring interchangeable Velcro swooshes. In between two shoe piles is a 5-foot-tall cardboard sculpture of a demon head, which Scott says he made as a teen -- a goth touch matching the cross-shaped Black Sabbath rug and the twin gargoyle statuettes on the coffee table. A sunny room overlooking the driveway is filled with paint, brushes, easels and abstract paintings by Scott and his friends (“I like to just wake up and go splat”). The recording studio, next to a screening room, features another one of Scott's sculptures -- a terrifying, H.R. Giger-esque creature -- and a collage of scenes cut out from porn magazines (Scott just chuckles when asked about it). The living room overflows with colorful Pop art (a plush Warhol Brillo box; a massive Murakami rainbow-flower floor cushion). On the floor, seemingly forgotten in a half-opened box, is a platinum plaque for one of his many hit singles. “I keep most of them in the garage,” mumbles Scott. “I don’t really like to talk about all the stuff I do.”

Travis Scott photographed on Dec. 11, 2017 at the Houdini Estate in Los Angeles. Styling by Renelou Padora. Photo by Eric Ray Davidson

There’s a sense that this house, with all its curios, isn't meant for stunting, or even for sleeping -- it’s for inspiring Scott, the mad scientist who glues it all together, to endlessly work, create, repeat. At least, when he’s here -- and as the many wilting tropical plants around the house show, that isn't often.

During this mid-December weekend, Scott will perform for nearly 20,000 fans while strapped into a giant flying mechanical bird; hang out with his family (in town from Houston, his hometown, which he visits frequently) and with his rumored girlfriend, Kylie Jenner, who is reportedly pregnant with his child; and fly to Paris to unveil a limited-edition, leather-packaged compilation album on vinyl, released in collaboration with Yves Saint Laurent. He’s also putting the final touches on Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho, his collaborative album with Migos star Quavo, which will be released in a few days and later debut at No. 3 on the Billboard 200; and readying his third album, Astroworld, expected in the first quarter of 2018. Nearly every night, he’s in the studio until dawn.

“I’ve been on this schedule for the past six, seven years,” says Scott. “I got too much shit to do, too much ground to cover. My whole life, I ain’t been on vacation.”

Where will he go when he finally gets some time off?

“Shit,” he replies. “Heaven -- hopefully.”

Heaven will have to wait. Scott has had six years of slow but steady career growth, thanks to relentless touring, collaborations with nearly every rapper that matters and a distinctive sound -- gloomy synth-trap beats, robotic vocal effects and hedonistic catchphrases -- that has warped the sonic landscape of rap around him, influencing everyone from Kanye West to Migos to Future. His first album, 2015’s Rodeo, hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200; 2016 follow-up Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight reached No. 1. Former President Barack Obama called out Scott’s “Butterfly Effect” as one of his favorite songs of 2017.

After opening for Kendrick Lamar on tour last year, Scott says he’ll headline his own arena run in 2018. His show, highlighted by the aforementioned animatronic bird and Scott’s explosive, stage-diving physicality, has become one of rap’s greatest live spectacles, though it has also gotten him into legal trouble: Last April, a fan was paralyzed after falling from the balcony at a concert at New York’s Terminal 5, reportedly suing Scott, and in May he was charged with inciting a riot at an Arkansas show (Scott pled not guilty and adds today, “Nothing we do is meant to harm nobody. Kids having fun is being mistaken for violence”).

Scott’s massive bird is more than a theatrical tool -- it’s a physical manifestation of both his competitive streak (what else could possibly stand up to a Lamar performance?) and his ambition. “I don’t want rap to feel so disposable,” he says. “I want it to start lasting again.”

Scott (left) and Quavo in September 2017 at the iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Photo by Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

With his memorably yelped ad-libs (“It’s lit!” “Straight up!”) and songs evoking long, hazy nights of partying, Scott has defined the music of the moment. But instead of surfing trends, he wants, like his friend and mentor West, to be recognized for his singular vision -- one complete with a bird of prey.

“That’s my mission, man,” says Scott, as Huncho Jack plays through a Supreme-branded speaker near the couch. “I worked so hard on Rodeo and Birds. It might not have been recognized by the masses, but my fans always went hard. This year I’m on a mission to be heard.”

Scott calls this plan Mission 28, “because I’m going crazy all the way till Nov. 28.” What happens then? “That’s just a date. I’m trying to get shit turnt.” (A member of his team later explains that Mission 28 is “an abstract mantra.”)

Scott seems driven by a sense that he’s underappreciated -- a master collaborator who excels at making others sound good but whose standalone star power remains overshadowed. “It’s used as a knock on him,” says Randall “Sickamore” Medford, a veteran A&R executive who has worked side by side with Scott on all his albums, including Astroworld. (He’s now senior vp A&R/ creative director at Interscope.)

The idea isn't entirely unfounded: Turn on the radio and you’re likely to hear more rappers aspiring to sound like Scott than you will actual Scott songs. Of his 20 Billboard Hot 100 hits (excluding those from Huncho Jack), only seven are with Scott as lead artist, and only four of those are full-on solo efforts. Scott only just got his first Grammy nomination as an artist in December, a best rap/sung collaboration nod for his guest verse on SZA’s “Love Galore,” and he admits he was “super disappointed” when the Grammys ignored Birds last year. "Maybe nobody played them the album, I don't know," he mumbles. Yet he doesn't seem bitter; he blames his own humility. “Maybe I don’t speak loud enough. One day, hopefully, people might finally catch on. I just want the music to speak for itself.”

That’s a tall order in today’s rap game. At a time when viral -streaming singles rule, Scott proudly declares himself an album artist. “I don’t try to make [music] for anybody else. I don’t really do singles.”

“Unlike a lot of artists who think it’s just about putting out commercial records, Travis was always true to himself,” says Sylvia Rhone, president of Scott’s label, Epic Records. “He was always less concerned about radio hits. He embraced his core fans.”

Travis Scott photographed on Dec. 11, 2017 at the Houdini Estate in Los Angeles. Styling by Renelou Padora. Photo by Eric Ray Davidson

Scott has been patiently waiting for his moment since childhood. Born Jacques Webster Jr., he grew up in Missouri City, Texas, a middle-class Houston suburb. His mother, who worked for Apple, and his father, an entrepreneur, paid for his drum and piano lessons. While at the University of Texas, where he started sending his music to rap blogs and cold-emailing people in the industry, Scott caught the attention of producer Mike Dean, known for his work with West and Houston greats like Scarface. After Scott dropped out to pursue rap full-time, T.I. brought him on to his Grand Hustle imprint, ultimately getting Scott signed with Epic.

Around the same time, West recruited Scott to work on his sixth album, Yeezus. An abrasive, experimental departure from West’s previous work, the LP was released a few weeks after Scott’s debut mixtape, Owl Pharoah, in 2013. Although Scott was credited on only three songs (for additional production and programming), his sound was considered a major inspiration for Yeezus. Now, West seems like Scott's creative north star, though he openly admires Lamar, too, and says he learned a lot watching him step into arenas on the DAMN. tour. "If anything, I learned how to take records and make them huge without changing yourself," says Scott. "Just keep it pure."

Scott is concise and aloof, until I ask how his mentors helped launch him. “That makes my career be sounding crazy, like, ‘Travis had all this help,’” he blurts out. Suddenly, the theatricality he wields so well onstage emerges, and he begins acting out the formation of a Voltron-like robot. “It’s like, you got T.I., you got Mike Dean, you got Kanye...,” he says in a dramatic voice, pointing to his limbs one at a time and making Transformers sounds. “You got Travis!” He pretends to hold a sword in the air triumphantly.

“Travis can rap, sing, make beats,” Dean says later. “He’s a self-contained artist. He doesn't need anyone’s help.”

Seth Rogen hit it off with Scott when the rapper interviewed him for his Beats 1 show, .Wav Radio. “He played me some music, and he was very assertive and specific with the engineer, because he did not like how he was playing it,” recalls Rogen. “He took the controls himself and adjusted the levels, which stuck with me -- how meticulous he was.” (Adds Rogen: “Then again, there are very few people I smoke a bunch of weed with who I don’t ultimately get along with.”)

Despite that exacting approach, Scott embraces partnership in the studio. Collaborative rap albums have become a trend (Big Sean and Metro Boomin, and 21 Savage, Offset and Metro Boomin, have released their own in the last few months alone), but Scott is arguably the genre’s greatest partner in crime right now. Huncho Jack opens with “Modern Slavery,” which samples Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee” in what seems like a nod to “Otis,” the hit single from rap’s most successful collaborative project to date, West and JAY-Z’s 2011 album, Watch the Throne. Quavo and Scott share an easy chemistry. “We’ve had that vibe since day one,” says Scott. “It’s not just music; we just see eye to eye. That’s my bro-twin.”

In November, Scott brought his bird to the MTV Europe Music Awards in London. Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

?Huncho Jack feels carefree and brisk; it’s missing Scott’s typical Sturm und Drang, which he may be saving for Astroworld. Sickamore says the album will be loosely inspired by Houston and its slow-riding, bottom-heavy sound, but he and Scott refuse to reveal anything more -- to preserve the element of surprise, but also because it’s still a work in progress. “I don’t even know what’s going to be on it yet,” says Scott, though when asked about West, Scott implies he’s involved in some fashion: “I played him some joints. We’re always talking. We’re always working on shit. I see him every day.”

For Scott, releasing Huncho Jack in a quiet end-of-year week with Astroworld’s release date still up in the air is a canny, low-risk move, but it’s also a natural one. “I love working by myself, but I’m a producer -- that’s how I started,” says Scott. “I don’t ever think of features as just, like, features. I think of them as a purpose. Like, this motherfucker was meant to be on this; the world needs to hear them. It’s like they’re an instrument.”

On his own tracks, Scott often doesn't credit himself with production, even though he says (and Dean confirms) that he's extremely hands-on with every one. "As a producer, I used to hate it when people tried to take credit for my shit," Scott says. "Sometimes, being an artist might overshadow the producer, and I'm always for the producer."

Scott himself isn't a natural self-promoter, which makes the latest role thrust upon him -- Kardashian-adjacent tabloid fixture -- both uncomfortable and antithetical to his art-before-stardom outlook. For much of 2017, the paparazzi captured him and Jenner canoodling in Los Angeles, Houston and at Scott’s shows. Since September, around the same time reports of her pregnancy emerged, Jenner has evaded camera lenses, even mostly sitting out the new season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Scott refuses to feed the rumors.

Have you spoken to your father about becoming a father yourself?

Uh... for what?

There are these rumors that you’re dating Kylie and having a child with her...

I don’t want to talk about that. They’re just guesses. Let them keep fishing.

Has Kanye taught you anything about dating a fellow celebrity?

Nah. I haven’t seen him deal with that. I just stay to myself.

Scott does, however, freely share what West taught him about dealing with nosy press asking prying questions.

“Shit,” recalls Scott with a laugh, “just don’t hit nobody, man.

Later that night, Scott is pacing around backstage at The Forum. He’s headlining KPWR (Power 106 FM) Los Angeles’ annual Christmas concert, which also features G-Eazy and Big Sean, currently onstage. “Is Sean off yet?” Scott asks brusquely, between Backwoods puffs.

“The show is five minutes behind; he’s out for 10 more minutes,” one of his managers replies. “But just so you know, it’s packed. Nobody’s going fucking anywhere, I promise you.”

Scott’s a friend and fan of Sean (“That motherfucker can rap”), but he still has a competitive streak. Hence the burly stagehand who is currently strapping Scott into a harness for his mechanical bird -- the centerpiece of his Lamar tour set, and, now, the radio showcase. “Bringing the bird,” says Scott, is money out of his pocket. “See, that’s the difference between me and these n--as. I go hard every time I go out. I bet other n--as at radio shows don’t do this.”

Thirty minutes later, after posing for pictures with Sean backstage, Scott is standing atop that bird, 40 feet above a crowd of 20,000 rowdy fans, stomping and dancing as if he were on solid ground. At the side of the stage, SoundCloud rap star Trippie Redd, Sickamore and Scott’s father, mother, younger sister and uncle shout along to his every word. "This is his dream come true!" his mother squeals.

After the show, Scott’s the most relaxed and unguarded he has been all day. He eagerly greets a series of well-wishers, including 13-year-old Black-ish star Miles Brown and two of Stevie Wonder’s teenage kids. “My next album is going to have Stevie,” declares Scott. “Well, I’m trying. We’re talking.”

At the moment, at least, he seems to truly enjoy his burgeoning fame. "There's good and bad to it," he says. "It's how you live your life. You just got to stay focused. Can't let motherfuckers throw you off."

Scott gives a nod to Chase and the rest of his entourage; it’s time to go. There’s a party to hit up in West Hollywood that The Weeknd is hosting; then it’s back to the studio for another all-nighter, followed by an 11-hour flight to Paris. Nov. 28, 2018, is less than a year away. The mission must go on.

His Sphere Of Influence
From an innovative sonic approach to an electric stage presence, Scott’s style has inspired vets and rising stars alike.

Kanye West
Widely considered the muse for West’s 2013 Yeezus album, Scott says he and Kanye “just learn from each other.”

Playboi Carti
Scott’s catchy ad-libs have inspired artists like Carti to embrace frantic, unconventional rhyme patterns.

One month post-Yeezus, Hov nabbed Scott’s hook-crafting talents for the Magna Carta Holy Grail track “Crown.”

Lil Uzi Vert
Uzi’s mosh-pit-storming antics mirror Scott’s notoriously raucous, stage-diving ways.

-- Carl Lamarre

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 13 issue of Billboard.