Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was — the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period — with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
Travis Scott’s banner year of 2018 was one for the record books. Between his high-profile relationship with reality-star-turned-mogul Kylie Jenner, the massive hype train for third album Astroworld, and handing out assists for other artists like McDonald’s does fries, the stars aligned for Scott to take the quantum leap to superstardom.
Not only would Astro notch La Flame the second largest sales debut of 2018, but “SICKO MODE” provided the allure as the premier attraction at Scott’s Astroworld theme park. The three-part rollercoaster ride finds Trav as a mad scientist mixing ingredients of a Big Hawk sample, last-minute vocals sent over by Drake, and an earworm of a hook from Swae Lee. Meanwhile, unexpected beat changes jerk listeners around with contrasting production, which originated in 2016 from a cadre of accomplished producers, like Hit-Boy, Rogét Chahayed, OZ, Cubeatz, and Tay Keith.
Even though it didn’t fit the typical looped structure of a pop song dominating radio airwaves, the unconventional tune’s brilliance could not be denied on its way to topping the Hot 100 four months after its release — all while spending 30 weeks inside the chart’s top 10, a record for a hip-hop song. “‘SICKO MODE’ was one of those records nobody thought was going to be a radio hit,” The Breakfast Club co-host DJ Envy explains. “The thing about music today, there is no format. That record uses different tempos, beats, cadences and it doesn’t matter.”
With Travis leaving the album’s features unlisted, Drake’s appearance on “SICKO” made for a pleasantly shocking surprise for fans pressing play on the LP and its guest-less marquee — a credit-less model followed, at least initially, on tracklists to subsequent new albums by fellow rap stars 21 Savage and Chance the Rapper. Prior to his explosive collab with La Flame, the 6 God was already putting together a prolific 2018, which saw him break the single-year record for weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to three mammoth hits, even without including his uncredited contributions to “SICKO MODE.” “I have never seen anything like this, where whatever Drake touches, goes right to radio,” Envy proclaims. “He’s in a ring by himself.”
Co-producer of the initial thunderous beat, Roget Chahayed, also believes that the three-piece composition will inspire artists and producers to be more experimental with their music in the future. “What I love about the song is it really pushes the boundaries of pop music today from both a musical standpoint, as well as defying the rule of how long a song can be on the radio,” he says. “I see it as a composition that showcases Travis and Drake’s skills in a lot of ways. It will inspire other artists to be more free with their form and structure. It’s what I wished for when I was studying music.”
NBA superstar LeBron James, who has become a gatekeeper of sorts in hip-hop over the course of his career, gave “SICKO” an early co-sign when he posted a video working out to the track on release day. Trav then brought James out with Drake at The Forum in Los Angeles on the Astroworld Tour in October, which made for a Kodak moment and only further cemented the fan-favorite into the mainstream. Even a year after Astro’s release, James captioned an Instagram photo of his son playing basketball with “SICKO MODE,” a testament to the track’s lasting cultural impact.
“SICKO” wasn’t obviously destined to top the charts, but with the two Nike boys connecting at the peak of their powers, fans had no choice but to follow their lead. “I can’t ever predict what’s going to be song of the year, but you know, I’ve always tried to make some dope ass s–t,” Scott told Billboard of “SICKO” in 2018. “I knew it was going to be a different sounding song for people, and I was hoping that they would catch up to it, f–k with it, f–k with the different style of production and how it was made up.”