Since his breakout mixtape, 2013’s Owl Pharaoh, Houston rapper-producer Travis Scott has positioned himself as a misunderstood rebel, with mosh-friendly shows, inflammatory rhetoric and a subversive sound. The Kanye West collaborator (who played a key role in Yeezus’ dark palette) flaunts that persona all over his major-label debut, Rodeo (Epic), which arrives at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with 85,000 equivalent album units (according to Nielsen Music), despite mixed reviews from critics. But even with commercial success, rumors he’s dating Rihanna (which he refuses to comment on) and songs with Justin Bieber, Scott, 23, expects to remain a pop pariah: “People don’t give me a chance, man.”
I don’t think they understand me. Because of the “big names” I know, they feel that plays a big role in why my music is how it is. It’s like a cheat code. No, man! I worked on this album by myself. I played it for Kanye and T.I. a week or two before I was about to turn it in.
You also have been criticized for your show — you were arrested at Lollapalooza for disorderly conduct after encouraging fans to storm the stage.
It sucks. People that have never been to my shows think I’m a douchebag. I’m not this angry, psycho motherf—er who just be spazzing on security for no reason. I’m super nice — I just get excited! When you come to my show, it’s like a no-holds-barred, underground Royal Rumble. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I’m a kid, I’m still learning.
The album talks a lot about drinking and drug use. Are you a heavy user of either?
It stresses me out because people think I’m on a lot of drugs, which fucking pisses me off. I’m not at all. I barely drink alcohol and I smoke weed kind of. But I don’t do coke or any of that crazy-ass shit.
How has it been adjusting to paparazzi constantly following you?
It’s kind of crazy. I’m really not into the whole camera and all that shit. So it’s kinda weird but I guess that’s just what comes with it. I’m just trying to focus on what I’m doing.
I guess that’s what happens you’re constantly hanging with super high-profile people. On that note, I see you and Rihanna have been hanging out a lot. Are you guys in a relationship?
I really don’t want to talk about it.
How did you get Justin Bieber to sing on “Maria I’m Drunk,” which also features Young Thug?
He reached out to me because the song leaked. He hit me on FaceTime, I sent the song and he called me the next day: He already had it done! That dude is talented. His voice is a sample on its own. That’s how I think about this shit: These people are not features on my album — these are samples. That’s why on the back of my albums there are no feature credits.
Can you tell us more about Kanye’s role on the album?
He stepped in the last week. I was staying at Kanye’s crib and we just kept playing the album over and over and over. I really woke up and slept every day on this album, man. It starts with “3500.” “3500” was something that was supposed to be on the Ye album. Something I did in Malibu. And that beat sounded completely different. That hook came cause Ye put my verse in the ASR and chopped it up. That was going to be his single but he was working on his album so long and my album was coming up, so I was like “Yo, I wanna f— with this.” I was supposed to get a Ye feature for that and I ended up re-doing the beat. This shit wasn’t like where producers had a beat and sent it in. Every beat on this album was made from scratch. Not one beat was sent in. Not one. I was involved with every beat. Whether I produced it or programmed it or not everything was made around me. Me, Metro, Sunny and Southside. We locked ourselves in the crib. There was no A&R there. My A&R at Epic got fired the first week I got signed. The second A&R got fired: the ni—a didn’t know what to do with me.
Have you been working on Kanye’s new album?
Of course. That n—a is so ready; he’s coming with some shit soon. His album is crazy. I’m glad that n—a finally broke the code with Yeezus to make God-level music which is ill as f—, bro. It’s super raunchy. He’s like my stepdad. We always had that relationship where we cook up ideas. We [talk] all the time about random shit: life and how we can do better as people and as rock stars. Our goal is to help people figure out who they want to be.
What do you think about the state of hip-hop right now? Everyone’s releasing albums with little advance notice and no “radio” singles?
I see hip-hop as going in a self-managing place. It’s very culturally controlled and artist-controlled. It’s not really based on a label anymore. Everything is pretty much in the control of the artist. Which is amazing. A lot of us young artists, like ASAP Rocky and Tyler and me and FKA Twigs and The Weeknd as well, we kind of took it into our own hands to make sure that we have our own fans and none of that got away from us. That’s a good thing. That allows us to drop an album whenever and however we want to, do videos however we want to, make songs however we want to, and it’s not really dependent on the radio. Hopefully my album does good. There hasn’t been a song blowing on the radio yet. It’s just been SoundCloud and TravisScott.com. It’s just support from the fans.
An edited version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of Billboard.