Travis Scott’s third solo studio album arrives mired in controversy. Its artwork, which depicts the A-list rapper as an enormous, golden statue that breathes fire, was shot by noted photographer David LaChapelle and originally featured trans model Amanda Lepore. She’s been removed from the final version, prompting an outcry from social media. Scott has yet to comment, so his motives remain unclear. If those motives are in any way untoward, you can respond in kind by removing however many stars from this reviews as you see fit (I’d take away all five).
The furore is indicative of the searing speculation that Scott’s every move has become subject to in recent years. There was the time he fell through the stage at Drake’s London O2 show in February last year and became a meme. And that was before he began dating Kylie Jenner, who was recently named by Forbes as a self-made billionaire (not that her membership in the Kardashian will have hurt her success), creating a formidable power couple whose infamy could well have overshadowed his much-anticipated, star-studded album.
And what a cast list it boasts. Drake drawls his way through the bassy, stuttering ‘Sicko Mode’, Frank Ocean croons his way through the freewheeling, airy ‘Carousel’ and – perhaps most excitingly – Migos’ Quavo and Takeoff hiss through heavy autotune on the marching, ridiculously titled ‘Who? What!’. Throw in features from The Weeknd, Kid Cudi, James Blake and even a rumoured harmonica melody from Stevie Wonder (it’s a real thing of ethereal beauty) on the laconic ‘Strop Trying To Be God’ and you have a record of extraordinary prowess.
The sprawling album’s highlight may occur during the elegiac, near-religious, calming coda to that final track. It’s a moment that encapsulates the scope and ambition of ‘Astroworld’. Scott moves from such introspection to the bawdy chant of “Fuck the Club Up” on the clattering ‘No Bystanders’, on which he raps, “Family Function, I ain’t no friends.” This is the sound of a musician who has worked to forge an entire world, an empire, around himself – we can peer in, but from afar, guessing at his motives and life behind the velvet rope.