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Travis Scott's 'Astroworld': Ranking his most fire features

Travis Scott’s ‘Astroworld’: Ranking his most fire features

Welcome to Astroworld. Travis Scott finally dropped his long-in-the-works opus this week, a full 27 months after he first announced its title back in May of 2016.

Since then, the Autotune-friendly rapper has released full-length efforts Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight and Quavo collab Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho — but the promise of Astroworld has always been there in the background, glimmering like some far-off utopia into which Scott would only grant us access when he was good and ready.

But now that the album’s here, it’s clear what took him so long. Astroworld is a staggeringly ambitious, sonically boundless work as well as one of the most star-studded rap albums in years. Almost everyone you could conceivably imagine showing up on a Travis Scott record is here, from the obvious (NAV, Quavo, Takeoff) to the ubiquitous (Drake, The Weeknd) to the thrillingly unexpected (Stevie Wonder).

But how do all these collaborations stack up? We went through Astroworld to chart its most fire features on the only scale that made sense for such an ambitious undertaking: from one La Flame (more of a flickering candle) to ten La Flames (now that’s a wildfire).

Frank Ocean (“Carousel”)

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Frank’s gorgeous falsetto — fluttering over a howl-in-the-wind Beastie Boys sample on this hazy ode to personal growth (and narcotics) — provides Astroworld‘s most disarmingly delicate moments. “Brand new, brand new / This new place I got to,” Ocean sings. “New world, new sky / That’s so blue, it’s black too.”

Post-Blonde, Ocean’s earned the right to be a little cocky, and he adds later, “Bitch, I’m too cold, too cold / See my breath visible.” That said, “Carousel” kicks hardest in its third verse, where Ocean glides across a Scott-assisted daydream of meth, diamonds, and metaphorical wings lifting them both up.

La Flame Count: ???????

Drake (“Sicko Mode”)

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Post-Pusha, and with milquetoast double-album in his rearview, the would-be Scorpion King’s spent more time this summer getting stung by the rap community than anyone whose name isn’t 6ix9ine. But as redemption tours go, “Sicko Mode” is, well, sick.

Drake intros with a casual, Take Care flow before Trav cuts him off, but when he returns, it’s with a smooth-talking swagger that makes you remember the singer beneath the self-aggrandizing super-star.

“Circle blocks ’til I’m dizzy / Like where is he?” asks the 6 God, looking to pick a fight around the neighborhood he shares with newfound rival Kanye West. “No one seen him / I’m tryna clean ’em.”

La Flame Count: ??????

Swae Lee (“Sicko Mode,” “R.I.P. Screw”)

The Inglewood-born, Mississippi-bred rapper doesn’t have much to do on “Sicko Mode” other than assist on bridges that Big HAWK and Travis Scott already hold down, but that feature turns out to be a teaser for his touching, melodic verse on DJ Screw tribute “R.I.P. Screw.”

Swae sings around some small samples of the late Houston icon while underscoring the dangers of drinking too much lean (Screw died of a codeine overdose at 29). Swae’s feature is less a banger than a resoundingly solid, suitably solemn showcase for one of the more melodically capable artists in hip-hop today.

La Flame Count: ????

Kid Cudi (“Stop Trying to Be God”)

Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Kanye takes credit, but no one’s more responsible for La Flame’s sound than Scott Mescudi, whose melodic and often dark hip-hop paved the way for a whole slew of artists (everyone from The Weeknd to Lil Yachty owes him a career date). So it’s an honorable move on Trav’s part to use Cudi’s distinctive hum on “Stop Trying to Be God”; it very possibly makes the entire track, allowing it to function as a properly holy retrospective on 21st-century hip-hop as an evolving organism, one of its most pioneering players on hand to issue a warm, hypnotic hum of approval.

La Flame Count: ???????

James Blake (“Stop Trying to Be God”)

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Blake is known for loaning his synthed-out pipes to some of hip-hop’s biggest names, from Kendrick Lamar to Beyoncé, and his Astroworld spot comes in the form of a piously gorgeous verse that converts the song into a religious mass. “Is it the complex of the saint that’s keepin’ you so, so still?” Blake croons with goosebump-inducing ethereality. “Is it a coat of old paint that’s peelin’ every day against our will?” That Scott can enlist that while fitting it cleanly into his overarching vision is part of what makes this album (maybe even this track) the rapper’s artistic peak.

La Flame Count: ????????

Stevie Wonder (“Stop Trying to Be God”)

A harmonica solo from one of the all-time R&B greats? Sure, why not. Trav spread his wings wide for Astroworld, and on one of its most impressive numbers, Wonder comes in for an absolutely jaw-dropping harmonica outro, his chromatic riffing elevating the track into one of Scott’s finest with soulful, dramatic flair.

La Flame Count: ?????

Juice WRLD (“No Bystanders”)

Juice WRLD — one of the more genre-averse hip-hop artists to sprout up in recent times — knows how to catch a vibe, and his intro for “No Bystanders” is the kind of beguiling mood-setter that keeps you fully in suspense about how the rest of the song is going to sound. In the case of this suavely amped-up roof-raiser, that’s a great thing, even if he doesn’t get to do much more than hype.

La Flame Count: ????

Sheck Wes (“No Bystanders”)

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Sheck Wes fans might be disappointed by his Astroworld spot, which essentially amounts to yelling into a microphone on “No Bystanders,” one of this album’s most straightforward hype tracks. But hey, if anyone’s going to nail jumping up and down and issuing commands about exactly what should be done in and to the club, it’s Sheck.

La Flame Count: ??

Pharrell Williams (“Skeletons”)

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Pharrell is on “Skeletons,” too? Vocally, he’s entirely overshadowed by The Weeknd here, to the degree where finding his vocals feels like a bit of an Easter Egg hunt, but when it comes to his beat — from the instrumental’s soothing clavinets to the vocal overlays and less fussily arranged drums —  the singer-producer contributes one of Astroworld‘s most intoxicatingly vibe-y stages.

La Flame Count: ???

The Weeknd (“Skeletons,” “Wake Up”)

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Is there any sound in R&B right now as ubiquitous as Abel Tesfaye’s breathy falsetto? “Skeletons” is a curiously elusive piece of atmosphere-building, The Weeknd turning its bridge into a limpid slice of psychedelia. But that’s all foreplay compared to “Wake Up,” a horny-as-hell bedroom number where Trav and Abel wrestle in the sheets with respective lovers Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid. He gets a chorus steamy enough to evoke his breakout “Trilogy” tapes, that slips and slides elegantly into Trav’s similarly intentioned portions of the track. Let’s get these two out on tour ASAP.

La Flame Count: ????????

Tame Impala (“Skeletons”)

First off, the sheer number of people working on “Skeletons” is ridiculous. That’s The Weeknd, Pharrell, and Travis all on the same track, and the amazing thing about it is that you can catch echoes of each as if watching colored patterns shift through a kaleidoscope.

The production and vocals here are very Tame Impala, psychedelic and steeped in rich, fluorescent guitar. But what’s most compelling about “Skeletons” is how it functions as proof the group can excel in this genre. There are going to be fans calling for a full-on Tame Impala x Pharrell x Weeknd joint album after this.

La Flame Count: ?????

21 Savage (“NC-17”)

Exceptionally few pictured 21 Savage, the Atlanta-bred Metro Boomin affiliate, as one of this album’s most unrepentant song-snatchers. And yet he’s one of the only Astroworld attendees to go toe-to-toe with its architect and actually come out on top.

With a flatly murderous flow and one of the record’s coldest rhymes (“Your bitch gave the kid Cudi but I’m not signed to Ye / I nutted on her cheek, her new nickname is Baby Face”), 21 raised the bar so hard that Trav had little choice but to respectfully fade out the track with one last chorus.

La Flame Count: ?????????

Thundercat (“Astrothunder”)

The legendary bass guitarist is largely responsible for the twinkly, off-kilter production on “Astrothunder.” Even if the title hadn’t acknowledged him, the track’s laconic, liquid grooves recall his last album, Drunk. One wishes this was more than a particularly star-studded interlude (John Mayer’s there too, doing even less), but even chopped Thundercat filler is better than most other jazz-fusion R&B out there right now.

La Flame Count: ???

John Mayer (“Astrothunder”)

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Yep, that’s Mayer on guitar in “Astrothunder,” a track that mostly functions as a terrific atmosphere-builder for Trav’s overarching Astroworld concept. You’d never really know it was him, though — the song is so slight and breezy that Mayer’s fast-moving fingers are highly pleasant but deeply unnecessary.

La Flame Count: ?

Gunna (“Yosemite”)

Travis is a noted Gunna fan, having previously teamed with the Young Thug protégé on Thugger’s hit track “Floyd Mayweather,” but here he gifts the Georgia artist his own chorus, a diamond-dripping flow that’s all the more hypnotic for how smooth Gunna sounds on it. He’s been on the verge of breaking big since Drip Season 3, and this kind of ultra-composed, carefree pitch-shifting is one of his finest moments to date.

La Flame Count: ????????

NAV (“Yosemite”)

Did NAV hit Mike Dean’s car on the way into the recording studio? This isn’t a feature so much as the stonewashed ghost of one, NAV’s “Yosemite” outro tamped down to a low murmur that only fades further through its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 15 seconds. The spot plays like NAV hastily draining the volume on a song he queued at a party after misreading the room. An artist as well-suited to the Astroworld concept as NAV deserved more.

La Flame Count: ?

Don Toliver (“Can’t Say”)

Trav sets up this Houston rapper to deliver a free-flowing ode to weed and alcohol. But that it then conflagrates into a breathtakingly dexterous star-maker of a second verse? That’s all Don.

It’s such a fire-spitting, chopped-and-screwed highlight that fans immediately took to Twitter trying to figure out who was rapping. T-Pain? Lil Baby? Young Thug? This is one of Astroworld‘s only sections where Trav voluntarily cedes ground instead of going toe-to-toe with his guest.

La Flame Count: ??????????

Quavo (“Who? What!”)

Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

It’s time for Trav and Quavo to take a break. Sure, the two sometimes hit gold in the booth, but their Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho collaboration was devastatingly mediocre, and despite a monster beat from Cardo and 30 Roc, “Who? What!” too often plays like a muscled-up “beibs in the trap” riff, and Quavo’s late-in-the-game verse is one of his more boring features, bluntly put.

La Flame Count: ??

Takeoff (“Who? What!”)

Bryan Steffy/Getty Images

Maybe that’s because Takeoff — Quavo’s Migos teammate — was muscling in on his vibe. With a clipped, drum-tight flow, Takeoff immediately grabs the torch from Quavo and douses it in gasoline, riding smoothly through a clever little spot that doesn’t burn quickly enough to stop Trav from pushing back in for one last hard-grooving chorus. This is his world, after all.

La Flame Count: ????

Hear the whole album, below:

 


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