Utopia is not perfection, but the incredible highs Travis Scott takes you on are worth some of the acceptable lowlights. With some of his most interesting and compelling musical choices yet, Utopia is easily one of the best mainstream rap albums of the year.

Release date: July 28, 2023 | Cactus Jack Records | Website | Instagram | Twitter

It’s been a complicated last few years following Travis Scott’s last full project ASTROWORLD Fatherhood became a larger part of his life, COVID happened, Travis leaned into running a record label more, released a few side projects, became one of rap and pop’s biggest and most well-known figures, as well as one of his concerts resulting in one of the largest crowd crushes in recent years. With plenty of time in between projects, Travis is more lyrically open about his up-and-down last few years than he ever has been on his latest release, resulting in some of his most compelling work to date. Welcome to Utopia.

Utopia reaches some of the highest points that Travis has achieved as an artist. There was a song on Travis’ previous album ASTROWORLD called “SICKO MODE”. Ever heard of it? Drake and Travis run it back on “MELTDOWN” and the sequel isn’t quite as good as the original but it’s close; Drake delivers one of his best verses in years and Travis was fantastic on his end. “MODERN JAM” is one of my favorite tracks on the album and the Yeezus-era drums sound great, so does Teezo Touchdown, who is just on a magnificent feature run.

“I KNOW ?“ is Travis at some of his horniest and drugged out which pairs great with the simple instrumental and laid-back vocals without the rapper’s trademark autotune – especially Travis going ‘But then again I could be drunk’ on the hook. The track is a distant cousin to Arctic Monkeys‘ “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” as both thematically work for a lot of the same reasons. SZA and Future show up in support on “TELEKINESIS” and it’s everything you could want. The beat sounds grand and is over the top in all the best ways, heartbroken Future is killing it, SZA absolutely demolishes her verse, Travis sounds magnificent on the hook, and the collab is almost the best track on the album.

With that said the honor of best track track goes to “MY EYES”. The track beautifully starts off as if you’re going to get a similar moment from when Justin Vernon and Bon Iver used to create the most gloriously autotuned tracks with Kanye West. Justin Vernon is autotuned to hell in a way only he can really pull off, Travis is even more drowned out than normal as well, but both sound majestic over the dreamy beat. Sampha comes in for a second and while it’s not necessary as Justin Vernon could have just done the three lines – it doesn’t hurt anything. Travis then flips the beat and speeds things up as he genuinely raps the best he’s ever rapped in his life.

‘Look in my eyes, tell me a tale
Do you see the road that’s matchin’ my soul?
Look, tell me the stats whenever the smoke clear out of my face
Am I picture-perfect, or do I look fried?
All of that green and yellow, that drip from your eyes is tellin’
Tell you demise, I went to my side
To push back the ceilin’, and push back the feelings, I had to decide
I replay them nights, and right by my side all I see is a sea of people that ride wit’ me
If they just knew what Scotty would do to jump off the stage and save him a child’

Beyond just sounding divine, “MY EYES” is also one of the most compelling tracks Travis has ever made lyrically. ‘Emboldened by the bliss, I was sworn in by the kiss’ is one of Travis’ best lines ever. Then part two of the song begins and Travis openly says how desperately he wishes he could go back and help save some of the fans that passed away during the Astroworld tragedy. He’s never going to rap like a poet, but when Travis is focused like this he’s more than capable of conveying how much the past few years have weighed on him.

“PARASAIL” is a hard track to love, and I think it could have potentially been done better, but I get what he’s going for and it’s started to work for me after more listens. The track features Dave Chappelle and Yung Lean (a bizarre duo of people) and has Chappelle give an almost spoken word performance on self-forgiveness while Travis and Lean embark on a hazy, floaty, psych-rock trip. While I do think the track could have used a bit more Travis, I do love the sample from Dave Bixby‘s “Drug Song” and this could have gone a lot worse.

“TIL FURTHER NOTICE” is a perfect ending for Utopia. The production is flawless and Metro Boomin really made this shit sound gloomy as all hell, James Blake and his delightful Britishness support the song perfectly, 21 Savage’s verse is great, and Travis delivers another of his best verses ever. Travis gives a killer verse on how his recent struggles have impacted him, and the ‘Where will you go now? Now that you’re done with me.’ question to his fans, the music industry, Jylie Kenner, as the album closes on is haunting. Didn’t even mind the ‘I been bumping more Coldplay, the world cold as shit’  line.

Travis has never hidden his love for his idol Kanye, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve (as long as you don’t start agreeing with Kanye’s politics) the influence borders on obsession too often on Utopia. It’s a lot.

Kanye appears and is credited several times, most obviously on “GODS COUNTRY” and to Travis’s defense this album has had a brutal release schedule and there’s no way to fully know when some of these tracks got made. With that being said – it’s still strange the way he harps on Yeezus. Travis stans have quickly pointed out that ‘well he worked on Yeezus’ but that doesn’t justify this extent considering he’s worked on other Kanye projects. Justin Vernon, Arca, Daft Punk, and even Chief Keef had a greater impact on Yeezus and worked much closer with Kanye in making it happen. Travis even forgot one of the biggest selling points of the album – it’s *INSERT READER’S OPINION ON YEEZUS HERE* and barely 40-minutes long, while his version is almost twice that.

When the Kanye obsession isn’t going overboard the production on Utopia is magnificent. “HYAENA” uses some samples to help set the tone for the track and the album that remind me of Kendrick Lamar‘s past few albums, and the beat is more of a simple upbeat ’90s era instrumental that Travis sounds great on. Travis’ prog samples return on “SIRENS” with some help from John Mayer, and the track does have a noticeable Kanye influence but in a good way. He flows so well over the Mike Dean drums and even Drake coming in to do a little outro sounds fine. If you’re a fan of Playboi Carti “FE!N” might have the beat of the year for you. It’s everything you’d want from a rage beat, Travis steps into the sound effortlessly, I love the hook even though it’s just Travis saying ‘fiend’ over and over, and while I don’t love adult voice Carti it’s a smart choice to contrast the hook.

There’s a tendency for some of Utopia’s features to dictate the track, which isn’t great although the tracks generally work out. “FE!N” is a Carti song. One of his best, but still a Carti song. “DELRESTO” features Beyoncé and it sounds like a leftover from her latest album Renaissance. It’s not great Travis is the third most memorable artist on his own track cause Justin Vernon outshines him too. Track is fine though.

Both tracks with The Weeknd are pop-rap that fits Abel’s style and neither are good. Westside Gunn Trojan horses his own song on here on “LOST FOREVER”, but holy fuck does it go hard. James Blake and another ’70s indie music sample (Travis listened to strictly obscure ’70s music and Yeezus in the development of Utopia) help Travis try to keep up, cause the man is outgunned when Gunn steps in and takes the track as his own and drops one of the best verses on the album.

‘Ayo, whip the cocaine ’til the pot bust (‘Til the pot bust, ah)
You was on the porch, I was locked up (I was locked up, ah)
Two-tone Maybach truck with the MAC-12 (Skrrt, MAC-12)
Think a n*gga shot somethin’ (Ah)
Put it to your face, watch a motherfucker blow (Boo-boo-boo-boo-boom)
Daytona, different color face on the Ro’ (Ah)
Ten on his head, he be dead by the mornin’ (By the mornin’)
I can get thirty for the stove (Ah)’

For a 19-track album, there are some expected lowlights and filler moments, but nowhere near as many as other projects with this length tend to have. “K-POP” sucks. It should either have been a standalone single or not released period. “LOOOVE” samples yet another old Kanye produced song (it’s “Numbers on the Boards” this time) and has a really bad Kid Cudi feature. “CIRCUS MAXIMUS” is a clone of “Black Skinhead” without the flare Kanye put on the track, and there’s a second mid feature from The Weeknd.

Having been able to sit with Utopia for a bit, there’s quite a bit that reminds me of some of rap’s other most recent event albums. As much as Travis clearly was going for Yeezus he perfectly imitates some of Kanye’s last coherent moments on Donda. Neither have ever been lyrical geniuses, but when they open up about their personal lives and can admit their flaws it works extremely well. There are also bits of Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers in the way that both projects feature some of their creators’ best and most introspective work, and while Kendrick’s talent pushes it above Utopia, both project’s flaws can at times be a bit endearing. I don’t think Utopia is Travis’ best work, that title still belongs to Rodeo, but the flaws and low moments truly do not bog down the insane highs enough to prevent this from not being one of the better rap albums of the year, and potentially the years best mainstream rap project.

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