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Travis Scott’s UTOPIA: Build Your Own World

The Houston Juggernaut’s latest opus is one of chaotic production, A-list features, and career-best performances, leaving the meaning of this world entirely in your hands.

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Mysterious totem poles appear throughout the US. Cryptic billboards that read out coordinates and lock combinations. Travis Scott tags the title of his latest album on walls in Spain. The UTOPIA rollout gave the sense that we weren’t just waiting for a Spotify link, but a new world that would be left in the wake of his latest opus. 

The term ‘Utopia’ is defined by Oxford Languages as “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.” So what was Travis trying to communicate to us throughout the promotion of this album? Did the eerie totem poles tell a tale of UTOPIA being something extraterrestrial? Were the coordinates and lock combinations alluding to the fact that it was a place we had to unlock? The hip-hop world awaited the answers to these questions in the form of rap’s biggest blockbuster album of the year.

Now, it’s been over a week since its release, and fans around the world have been flocking to the album to answer these questions. It debuted atop the Billboard charts in the US, achieving the highest first-week sales for any hip-hop or R&B release in 2023 thus far. Not to mention, it stormed to #1 in over a dozen other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK. Yet, no one is leaving their first trip to UTOPIA with an understanding of what the place is. This is because Travis has allowed us the room to proverbially tag our definitions across the world, making UTOPIA something we can all individually customise.

UTOPIA is a create-your-own-concept album. It lacks the direct narrative of Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, and is less of a character study than Kanye’s The College Dropout. But Travis’ mind has never worked in the same way as his fellow megastars. His 2015 debut album Rodeo wasn’t an album about cowboys but allowed you to ride your horse through his chaotic rendition of the Wild West. His 2018 smash ASTROWORLD (which also went #1 in Aus) wasn’t an exploration of the defunct Houston theme park that shared the same name, but a high-octane carnival that provided a different rollercoaster experience for each individual pundit. Travis is never on the nose with his concepts, because he wants you to sniff your own meaning out. He’s not announcing his intentions, because he’s providing the soundtrack to yours. 

What separates this body of work from Travis’ past output is the twists and turns of the sonic terrain he has created. Rodeo was sequenced like a slow, woozy trot that culminated in stunning trap shootouts. ASTROWORLD played much like an amusement park ride, providing flurries of rapid speed and giant drops between the slower parts of the tracks. UTOPIA does not possess the same consistency and instead settles for chaos. ‘HYAENA’ blasts through the doors of this album with gritty boom-bap loops, before transporting you elsewhere with a flood of synths. ‘MY EYES’ traverses a dreamy universe of soft keys, before warping into an intergalactic spaceship fight of laser-like soundscapes and thunderous 808s. This album never gives you time to settle in as it transports you around the beautiful chaos of its multiverse. 

Travis uses his creativity to enlist a brigade of gargantuan producers, resulting in unlikely but exciting pairings such as James Blake and The Alchemist on ‘LOST FOREVER’, or WondaGurl, FNZ, Allen Ritter, and Kanye West on ‘THANK GOD’. He summons an array of A-list features and unleashes their spellcraft in a way we’ve never experienced before, exemplified by Drake’s menacing presence on ‘MELTDOWN’, Beyonce’s gloomy howls on ‘DELESTRO (ECHOES)’, and Playboi Carti’s off-kilter growls on ‘FEIN’. When Travis appears throughout the tracklist, he delivers career-best performances such as a rap onslaught of ‘ONSLAUGHT’ or the gloomy melodies of ‘I KNOW’. It’s like he’s overlooking the world of UTOPIA from a throne, playing in god mode to maximise the pandemonium he can create.

The album’s closing track ‘Til Further Notice’ ends with James Blake warbling “Til further notice, we’ll keep you posted.” This speaks to the ambiguity of UTOPIA. We know it’s a dense universe, projected through a jarring onslaught of synths, bass, and monolith beat switches. We know it’s jam-packed with some of earth’s biggest superstars, both behind the boards in unlikely pairings, and centre stage delivering some of their most unique performances yet. We know Travis Scott roams every song as both a maker and a monster, curating the journey we embark on and barraging with career-best raps and melodies. But still, what is the meaning of this place? Well, with every listen, you spray-paint an extra sentence of meaning onto this album’s walls. Every quest you embark on in this world propels you closer to your own individual meaning. Travis Scott serves as a beacon on your voyage to finding this dream-like destination, and UTOPIA is what he wants you to bump along the way.

Follow Travis Scott here for more and stream UTOPIA now.

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