Travis Scott forgets to show up to his own album on “Birds”

Andrew Linnabary

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight

24-year-old rapper Travis Scott’s “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight” is best summated by its title – it’s an overlong, unfocused smorgasbord of modern rap music.

“Birds” finds Scott, as on last year’s “Rodeo,” using his networking skills to bring together some of the best producers and rappers in the hip-hop world. For all his shortcomings, there is one skill Scott has honed and perfected: his ability to find himself riding shotgun on tracks helmed by some of rap’s biggest names, such as Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar or André 3000 (who shows up here on “The Ends”).

Scott found himself able to easily coast through “Rodeo,” relying upon A-list guest features and atmospheric, brooding production (not to mention a whole lot of reverb) to overcome his own lyrical shortcomings. On “Birds,” the production returns in full, but the guests forgot to show up to the party.

Perhaps they’re getting sick of Scott’s lack of personality, his reliance upon talking about standard rap tropes and aping more singular rappers’ flows. Or maybe they’re just sick of having to take the reins of Scott’s songs while Scott gets most the credit. 

Whatever the case, Scott has become more reliant upon himself on “Birds,” and it shows. There are occasional bright spots, whether through a display of real emotion or in the cavernous hooks. But more often than not, Scott’s lack of personality reinforces the idea that were it not for his connections, he wouldn’t be a star. 

Scott starts “Birds” sounding like a mixture of heartbroken Drake and auto-tuned Future, moaning “2AM howlin’ outside, looking but I cannot find; don’t you fall asleep this time, I been on a long way drive” on “The Ends.” The track shortly after transitions to its second, faster-tempo half. 

It’s here, between lines about the Illuminati and how he’s not “making friends,” he’s “making hobbies,” that Scott drops the line “this might be the verse that makes ‘em drop me,” alluding to his constant butting of heads with Epic Records, his label.

Scott raps the line more candidly than anything else on the album. It seems he genuinely thinks that this verse, a verse that never really punctuates on any clear idea or motif, is going to be what gets him dropped from his label. Yet there is nothing gripping or resonant about the verse (or by-and-large any of Scott’s verses) — Scott merely jumps from idea to idea, whether drugs, women or his rise to fame. 

Yes, the discussion of drugs, money and women being too prevalent within hip-hop is tired, but it merits mention here. Those three generalized topics have been the centerpiece of countless classic hip-hop cuts, helping to justify their repetition. Yet Scott addresses these topics with about as much originality as a high school freshman freestyling in a backseat.

There really isn’t a need to highlight any of Scott’s lyrics – nothing stands out. I would challenge anyone to present any lyrics or ideas made by Scott on this album that have any kind of resonance. 

Nestled deep in the album is one beacon of hope for Scott’s artistic ability: The Bryson Tiller-featuring “First Take.” Here, Scott again finds himself on a Drake-esque tangent, rapping about a girl he realized he can’t be without, despite his and her flaws. 

Yes, “I ain’t trying to go to war with your morals; you can’t kill the vibe, it’s immortal” ends up being the best couplet of the song, but Scott brings the track sincerity, an aspect nonexistent on the rest of the album. It’s refreshing.

Aside from this fleeting moment, though, Scott fails to be relatable, charismatic or engaging.

As mentioned, Travis has a knack for getting big-name features, and though there aren’t as many as on Rodeo, there are some definite standouts on “Birds”: André 3000 stops by on lead-in track “The Ends,” flowing in a desperate cadence about his childhood in Atlanta: “I came up in the town, they were murdering kids, and dumped them in the creek up from where I live,” alluding to the 1979 to 1981 Atlanta child murders.

The verse isn’t as mind-blowing as his frenzy on Frank Ocean’s “Solo (interlude)” from this year’s “Blonde,” but the detail and self-reflection put into it goes to show just how amateurish Travis Scott’s wordplay and delivery are. 

Other standout features include Kendrick Lamar on “Goosebumps,” who continues to dominate any feature he’s given, and Young Thug and Quavo on the dancehall-meets-trap “Pick Up the Phone,” who really carry the track – Travis is just along for the ride.

On “Birds,” Travis Scott finds himself wasting meaty, Yeezus-inspired beats (similar in style to his debut “Rodeo”) by floundering when having to helm his own songs. Maybe Scott would work better as a DJ Khaled-type: Instead of hopping on these beats himself, he should act merely as a ringmaster who brings together superior, more interesting rappers to fill out “his” soundscape.