Travis Scott - Rodeo 2LP
While Lady Gaga was working the avant side of pop, hip-hop was doing the same thing without a true figurehead. Artists from Kid Cudi to A$AP Mob were coming at the genre from all sorts of new angles, but with their feet firmly in the rap camp; then producer Travis Scott came along, sounding like Chief Keef but with a much broader brush, offering an attractive version of acid rap that landed him on Kanye West's GOOD Music label with a debut album that's so 2015 it features the ultra-hip trifecta of Future, the Weeknd, and Justin Bieber. Make those three a Venn diagram and Scott is the man in the middle, wonderfully weird and as stylish-sounding as the first two, and yet with a slick appeal that crosses over like Bieber, which is the biggest problem for detractors: it's all for show with no filling. Still, with lines like "Always kept my city on me like it was a Swatch" and "My dick longer than a Pringle box" over beats that honor and match edgy acts like Death Grips (the raw "Piss on Your Grave" featuring Kanye West) and Future (who appears alongside 2 Chainz on the sprawling highlight "3500"), Rodeo is an absurd wonder that thankfully works. That's up to and including Bieber, Young Thug, and Scott's bedroom brain-burner "Maria I'm Drunk," which is the ultra sheen of Taylor Swift with the lust of Miguel experienced via shrooms. "Wasted" sounds like Juicy J did an album for Stones Throw, "Flying High" with Toro y Moi borrows some of Slave's "Slide" so the indie party people get an anthem, then the very big "90210" travels across decades' worth of film soundtrack styles while sampling the late Pimp C as T.I. narrates. Weird that T.I. doesn't rap, and weirder still that Scott barely produces on this album, handing it over to returning and like-minded collaborators like Metro Boomin, Ultra$ound, and Mike Dean. His executive producer credit, however, is on point as the aesthetics of his early work are all here, and with "We designed our love, around these drugs" being the album's most profound lyrical moment, he may not be Nas, but he may be Warhol. As Kanye and Gaga try to bridge the gap between pop and art, this artist thrives in the chasm. Like Warhol said, "I love plastic, I want to be plastic," and with Rodeo, Travis Scott becomes a designer drug.