theRE’S SOMETHING TELLING about the cover art to Rodeo, the debut bar-coded album by Houston rapper-producer Travis Scott. It’s a plastic doll of Scott, rendered to accentuate his tattoos, his braids, his jewelry. But it’s just a figurine, a soulless facsimile. Similarly, Rodeo vividly mimics the moods and movements of 2015 rap, but much of its beauty rings strangely hollow.
Scott, 23, co-produces with a bevy of the day’s most reliable beatmakers — Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Mike Dean, 1500 or Nothin’, Sonny Digital and (many) more. The results are grandiloquent and dark, filled with dystopian bass buzzes, grunge guitars and gothic synth clouds. But as a rapper with an indistinct delivery and no personal narrative, Scott rarely rises to the potential of these whirlwind arrangements. On sepulchral drug ode “Wasted,” sludged drums and a spooky sample of the late Pimp C don’t add up to the sum of their parts, largely due to Scott’s inability to serve as a real gravitational force on his own songs. His past highlights, such as 2013’s “Upper Echelon,” featured him acting as a stand-in for an amalgamation of rap tropes while letting guests carry the weight. On that song, T.I. and 2 Chainz shouldered the bombastic beat while Scott limply channeled the vocal cadences he’s credited with introducing to West on Yeezus, an album much more personal and moving than Rodeo. Here, Scott is once again often a nonentity on the mic. On “3500,” his vague boasts are upstaged by 2 Chainz’ outsized absurdity (“My bathtub the size of swimming pools/Backstroke to my children’s room”) and Future’s pathos (“You can smell promethazine when I piss”).
Despite his impressive production work, Scott isn’t a rapper as much as an idea cobbled from the good parts of other rappers. The first two songs alone — the slurry “Pornography” and the darkly luxurious “Oh My Dis Side” — borrow brazenly from the Dungeon Family, Drake, Future and Chief Keef, without ever adding any new personal textures to the source material. “This the moment I been waiting for,” Scott raps on the West-assisted “Piss on Your Grave.” “This why I moved to Cali, stepped outside and got shaded for/Told momma, ‘Bitch, get back in the door.’ ” It’s one of the scarce glimpses into Scott’s real life – and it’s over before it begins.