“I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. And it'll happen to you.” - Abraham Simpson
The Travis Scott problem will likely solve itself. The hype has metastasized beyond excitement into exhaustion. The vacuous, plain, somewhat-safe music will float into the aether with its highest note being a beat change on “SICKO MODE,” from his previous album. The cool kids of yesteryear are no longer cool, and anyone who pays enough attention to music media will continue to see his records fizzle and fall out of favor. Part of this solution owes itself to the problem in the first place: Scott isn’t a personality; he’s a brand. He’s a hero character that an audience projects itself onto. He has no personality because I’m supposed to see myself in him. I’m supposed to think that dressing cool and being an iconoclast is something that I could do. He’s not a superhero, he’s an action figure. He even made an action figure of himself one time to prove it. Scott’s records make me feel old, not because I don’t get the sound or the style, but because I’m used to personalities.
Frankly, after listening to UTOPIA, I don’t know anything about Travis Scott except that he does stuff. He leaves the house, he wears expensive watches, has cool cars, etc. I don’t know anything about Travis Scott as a human, and I think he’ll keep it that way. On one song, he references his daughter “doing it major even though she’s a minor” and plays a clip of a child saying, “That’s right, Daddy!” I do not know if that’s his child, it could be anybody’s child. Hell, it could be my child. At one point, a nameless, unknown woman asks, “Where are we going? I thought this was UTOPIA. I thought it was supposed to be some perfect place. This looks like your hotel room.” Scott responds, lacking any sort of flirty charm, “It looks pretty perfect to me.”
I’m not willing to call Scott an artist at this point. He’s a brand. This record is an advertisement for Travis Scott (brand) and it’s as boring and dry as his acting. It mimics Yeezus in several ways but while Yeezus was Kanye at his rawest and most personal, this is the cut edited for watching on an airplane. Much like watching a movie on an airplane, it’s dull, safe, and it only commands attention if it’s a foot in front of your face. It’s ok to take a bathroom break at any point in the movie here because there’s no continuity.
There’s a ton of spectacle around this release with a faux documentary and a Harmony Korine-helmed feature both starring Scott but neither show Travis Scott to be human. He’s a product. But, nakedly, we love to shop. TikTok and Instagram are full of videos asking people how much they spent on a product rather than their experience with it. We post Haul videos for every kind of store. Complex’s Sneaker Shopping is a popular YouTube series where celebs get the privilege to do press for an upcoming release but also buy sneakers with their own money. I know it’s a write-off, but that’s not relevant to this piece. The purchase itself is the experience being marketed. The goal is to one day be on a YouTube video alongside a host and spend some money in a way that shows off my taste but never shows off what I do with the product. I don’t have to show you how I’d dress or craft a fit with any of these sneakers, but the audience should know that I’m cool because I bought a shoe that is expensive or that you recognize to be cool.
I don’t get this stuff because it’s not for me. That’s not because I don’t get the appeal of a so-called cool guy who has money and spends money and has everything cool that money can buy. It’s not for me because I’ve seen the “Real World” or whatever you want to call post-educational life. I’ve long been a cog in the wheel and disabused myself of the idea that my successes will be broadcasted above a metropolis by the Goodyear Blimp. I’ve tried saying, “It’s not for me,” as a way to put things out of my mind and stay diplomatic, but this isn’t for me because it’s simply not marketed to me. I don’t think I’ll ever make the kind of money Travis Scott makes, and I’m under no impression that I ever will. If I ever did, the spotlight wouldn’t be on me in the way that it’s on Scott but there was a time as a teen when I thought I could make that kind of money or get that kind of fame. MTV’s Made held tryouts at my school in 2007, and of course, I tried out. I told them that I wanted to be a racecar driver because I lived in Indianapolis and it felt true to my home. This did not sell. Frankly, nobody’s dreams at my high school were deemed worthy of even 44-minute afternoon TV episode fame. MTV ended up making a one-hour documentary about my school’s show choir program and it aired exactly one time. The reality of American adolescence is that recognition is just as aspirational as riches. When I was young and impressionable, I thought my high school was the whole world and that everyone at my school would be a Travis Scott or a Rihanna and most of them ended up as Kyler in Ad Sales or Michael in Recruiting. I’ve seen the reality of it all and that’s why this record, this dream, isn’t for me.
On Friday, I went to Pier 17 on the East River to see The Clipse and Rick Ross play an almost-free show on the waterfront as part of the city’s celebration of Hip-Hop’s 50th birthday. I’m sure there’s a ton of historic irony washing over this already given that it’s a government-sanctioned rap show but it also featured two acts notorious for coke bars. Again, I’m certain the irony exists but I want it to be known that I’m getting in further than that. At the entrance to the venue, a man pointed my friend Greg and me to another entrance around the corner. At that entrance, a man said that we weren’t allowed to walk in until we’d scanned a QR code. That QR code opened up a link to the Amazon Music web homepage, and after we showed him that we’d gone to Amazon’s website, we were ok to walk in. After we walked into that entrance, we were in some sort of experiential marketing “Instagrammable Hang Zone” as Blackbird Spyplane has christened them. There was a DJ! There were SEVERAL cool walls of inoffensive graffiti that looked like it came from a graphic designer’s Apple Pencil rather than a spray can. There was blue-flavored Italian Ice. There were a few photos of Hip-Hop Artists. The IHG was designed as a New York block straight out of Do The Right Thing, but the inclusion of historic West Coast artists like Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and the rest of the Death Row family was there to remind me that Hip-Hop transcends borders, fam. It’s a party and everyone is invited, and it’s so, so lit.
We passed through quickly and made our way up to the rooftop of Pier 17. On the way, there was a green screen setup with a real-live photographer and Amazon branding so I could remember this night forever or attach a professional photo in slide 4 of my Instagram photodump from July. The rooftop was sparsely attended at 6:45 PM when we arrived, with music promising to start promptly at 7 PM to get us out before the hard curfew at 10 PM. Most of the people in the crowd at this point looked like me: Tattooed white guys with varying degrees of hair loss and poor eyesight, basketball jerseys of ironic and sincere origin. It filled out with fewer people who looked exactly like me, but it was still a... seasoned crowd. Clipse are colossi of coke rap, firebrands of Arm & Hammer, and the Frank Lloyd Wrights of selling white, but more relevant to the situation: they’re critical darlings of people who had high-speed internet connections starting around 2005.
The legendary DJ Clue from all of the Desert Storm mixtapes I remember hearing about in high school. Clue played, and I’m not yanking your chain when I say this, a playlist of songs that would’ve set a club on fire in 2015. The man started with “Itchin’” by Future and then played nothing that anyone under 28 would’ve cared about. We were being catered to. Rick Ross played a weird set full of JV football locker room songs that weren’t his own, including two Ace Hood songs. At one point, to hype the crowd up, Ross said, “Who here thinks they’re gonna be a millionaire? Raise your hands if you’re gonna be a millionaire,” and hands reluctantly went up. It wasn’t a class-conscious response, I don’t think, but rather a, “Ross, I’m 30+ years old and a million dollars is a LOT of money” type of hand-raise. Ross rapped his verses from “FuckWitMeYouKnowIGotIt” and “Diced Pineapples” next to video screens that displayed all sorts of disjointed imagery, from MMG football helmets to thorny, thicketed portals, bald nude women, women in ski masks, gold-plated weapons, and a list of every product he endorses. It’s to be expected, but it’s nevertheless shocking when the set design looks like a NASCAR. Ross played Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares Intro” as his final song. He’s not featured on that song or anything, but maybe he felt like it would hype the crowd up. He sorta just stood around and took photos with people before walking off.
The Clipse set design was coke. It was a pile of white faux-kilos that elicited a cheer from the audience. “There’s no business like snow business,” the Virginia duo’s t-shirts once read on their press photos. Pusha came out in all-white and they started the set by rapping their final big hit, “Popeyes,” opening with “Mama you miss me, don’t you?” as if we were missing The Clipse like their mother missed them in 2008 and hold on one second are we the oldheads now?
Me and 3000 other people on a roof, rapping along to songs from two decades ago at a premium music venue in Manhattan with a 10 PM curfew. We’re old. Everyone around me is old. My friend said that she was with a friend of hers who is 25 but I didn’t see him, so I don’t think that was true. Everyone around me was hanging out and swaying but definitely not moshing or “raging,” like they do for the Travis Scott album. I’ve joked for years about becoming an oldhead. I’ve started listening to more Alchemist-produced albums and focusing on #Bars. I’ve never decried mumble rap but I spent a few grafs above moaning about Travis Scott. A ton of people have done that while still being engaged with the culture but I’m so clearly out of it that I have no choice but to think I’m a certified old guy. For Christ’s sake, I rapped along to almost every single Hell Hath No Fury song the Clipse played last Friday night. That record soundtracked my junior and high school years from a burnt cd in my Mitsubishi. Lord Willin’ turned 20 last year. I drummed the “Grindin’” beat poorly on desks 21 years ago.
The hand of time pushes me onward into new experiences and while I once thought I was immune to nostalgia, always sprinting full-speed into what’s next, I realized the other night that I am absolutely not immune. My nostalgia seems more real, more sincere than the faux-stalgia presented by marketing teams in the form of vintage-washed tees sold at Target or stadium-packing reunion tours for bands who never stopped getting radio play, but it’s not. I’m still yearning for something I want to get back to, either a sound I miss or the naiveté i had when I was 16. But that was 16 years ago. For years, I thought that living in the moment meant that nostalgic marketing attempts would fly over my head or maybe under my radar if I stayed cool enough. Some people find liberation in bucking the trend cycle, but I see it as losing touch. I still stay as current as I can, but I do like to reap the benefits of my past getting its turn. I like having the opportunity to see Clipse. I like that I’ll be able to see Unbroken and Blacklisted later this year. My nostalgia is for critical darlings of yesteryear but soon we’ll have a nostalgia wave for things that were critical darlings but weren’t for me, the things I was too old for when they got popular for the first time. I definitely don’t feel old, but that show is proof that it’ll happen to you.