Young Thug & Travis Scott Show Their Range at NYC's Webster Hall: Live Review
The success of Young Thug and Travi$ Scott reflects two different approaches to climbing hip-hop's ladder. Last year, Thug was one of several rappers who exploded from regional presence to national force in a matter of months, forcing big-name stars into a mad scramble to co-sign and remix. While Thug surged, Scott's growth has been more controlled -- he ingratiated himself with the establishment as a producer for Jay Z and Kanye; he puts out music in careful, precise doses. At New York City's Webster Hall Thursday night (March 12), the two shared a bill -- for now, different means leading to the same end.
What propelled Thug's rapid rise? Mostly his singular delivery, which constantly forces writers to invent new modes of description. He emphasizes sound before "Blanguage" (Thug's term), coming at the listener with an unusually high-pitched barrage of squirps, bleeps, and blehs. These mix into strange rhythms: rat-a-tat one moment, gluey the next. This rapper isn't necessarily interested in comprehensibility or even rhyming. Still, radio can't help but play him: a handful of Young Thug tracks are as vibrant as anything that came out last year in any genre. Due to his fire-in-every-direction-at-once approach, Thug often benefits from rock-solid interlocutors. Think, for example, of his top 20 Hot 100 hit "Lifestyle," which the molasses-and-sandpaper-voiced Rich Homie Quan imbued with touching gravity.
Scott has also served as one of the collaborators keeping Thug in earth's orbit. The two artist's styles often contrast -- while Thug puts out music the same way he raps, in a non-stop stream, Scott releases tunes sparingly: Owl Pharoah in 2013, Days Before Rodeo last year. But his musical choices can be daring -- last year's "Drugs You Should Try" offered an early take on the garbled-guitar trap-ballad sound that's currently inspiring Kanye and Paul McCartney. Scott often pops up in unexpected places with pleasing results. He added a verse to Tinashe's last mixtape, Black Water; he was the only non-Lil-Wayne rapper to appear on Drake's If You're Reading This It's Too Late, where he made "Company" his own with a transfixing, other-worldly howl.
Though Scott hasn't had much in the way of hits, he says that's because he doesn't care about singles -- he's playing a different game. In a 2013 interview with The Fader, he issued his manifesto: "Travi$ is not here to make number one rap songs. Those people get high off of making number one songs. I'm into making number one f---ing albums."
He doesn't have that number one album yet, but the crowd at Webster Hall consistently responded to his tracks, with the pile-driving beats in "Don't Play," "Drugs You Should Try," and "Mamacita" compelling feverish movement. These frenetic moments play to Scott's strengths as a performer -- he moved in two directions at once, pogoing up and down and ping-ponging side to side. Spraying the front rows with beer and water and windmilling his arms, his energy met the audience's and blasted upward.
But that's only one aspect of Scott's music: he also loves to filter and deform his voice in strange, mournful ways. When he moved to play some of his slower songs, people tended to lose interest. Similarly, when he brought out the rapper Wale at one point, the response was tepid. In contrast, when Scott performed his part of Drake's "Company," the crowd was happy to join him in unleashing full-throated wails.
While Young Thug sounds more unhinged on recording, he played the even-keeled rapper at Webster Hall. Scott traversed most of the stage; Thug often stuck to the middle, limiting his dancing mostly to arm movements. (This was the second of two consecutive sold-out shows in the same night, which may have impacted his energy.) He compensated for his slightly reduced vigor with several outfit changes -- switching into a poncho before "Givenchy" (a song from his Rich Gang: The Tour Pt. 1 mixtape with Birdman and Rich Homie Quan), and shedding layers after that to go shirtless.
Thug also doesn't need as much exuberance in the live setting: he has the hits to fall back on. He paced them throughout the evening -- the off-kilter "Stoner" early on, the more kinetic "Danny Glover" in the middle section, and the gooey "Lifestyle" towards the end. The last two songs are as strategic as they are visceral -- Thug's rapping barrels down the middle of the track and sticky melodies sneak in from the sides.
Since Scott got to bring out a guest, Thug did too -- Birdman appeared to head-bob and smoke onstage during "Lifestyle." This led to a strange Throwback Thursday ending, as the Cash Money records co-founder rapped a few verses from old hits and thanked everyone for supporting Thug and Scott. These two have quickly worked their way into rap's upper echelon, but the old guard still had the last word.