There are two sides to every artist. The art itself, and the actual artist as an idea. A persona. This persona isn’t always immediately evident, it isn’t always extraordinary, and it’s rarely ever important. I stress the usual unimportance, because the vast majority of artists only exist through their art. When an artist has made their persona a part of how they’ll be remembered, it becomes just as important as the art itself. If an artist’s persona begins to take shape, they gain the potential to be immortalized by society – whether this be intentional or completely on accident.
How many suburban, teenage stoners – even though they listen to more J. Cole and EDM than reggae – have a Bob Marley poster in their room? How rapidly, how viciously, will the media and the general public demonize Kanye West after his next arbitrary, societal blunder? How many people do you know with music-merch of a band they’ve never listened to?
It’s not all about the art. Maybe it should be, but it’s not. We live in a culture that’s hardwired to engineer demi-gods. Moderately-handsome fools with rich fathers are made into political leaders, serial-killers are made into celebrities, and athletes are made into the warriors of modern-day mythos. The artist, on the other hand, is put through a far more selective process when it comes to achieving this status. Other walks of life only have to be extraordinary. The politicians only have to show up, the murderers only have to be the most gruesome, and the athletes only have to be the most decorated.
For whatever reason, the artist has to have more than the common brilliance to be granted immortality. Amongst all the composers of the classical era of music, we remember Mozart – the eccentric, boy-genius who coolly composed his magnum opus before he turned ten. Amongst all the masters of the Impressionist movement, we remember Van Gogh – the possibly-schizophrenic painter who sliced off his ear and gave it to a prostitute. Amongst all the names of 90s alternative-rock, we remember Cobain – the tortured musician who saw nothing but an abyss in his future as an artist.
While it may seem like a short life, insanity, and suicide are what an artist needs to be immortalized, it’s unfortunately something much more complex. Discovering exactly what that might be isn’t the reason I’m writing at the moment. I’ll save that for another time. This is an inquiry into the idea of an artist as something more than their art, and something even more than being human. This is my attempt to catch that before it actually happens.
I’ll digress from the piece thus far, and set my words to a young rapper from Houston. Surprisingly, he isn’t much unlike the masses of others that have tried their luck in the unforgiving game that is the hip-hop industry. There really isn’t that much of a difference in sound. While his art has garnered a lot of praise from the community of hip-hop and attracted many eager, he’s not too different from everyone else that’s doing it. When it really boils down to it – strictly in terms of the art – there isn’t much that’s very extraordinary about Travis Scott. But the artist doesn’t need to be extraordinary to be immortal. Only the persona needs to be born, and it needs to exist outside of the artist.
Musically, I find Travis Scott to be one of the best young faces in hip-hop. Days Before Rodeo was arguably the best project of 2014, and it still bumps after a year – something that’s extremely hard for a mixtape to do. Rodeo, his debut album, is going to cause waves regardless of how it’s received. But this isn’t a music review, this is an analysis of the artist as more than the artist. The art is not always so important. It won’t make you immortal, after all.
If you’ve been to a Travis Scott show, then you’ve already felt the energy. Scott thrashes around on stage, seemingly in a trance, and physically committing himself to the aesthetic of the concert. Completely taken over by the idea of a Travis Scott concert and what that should be, he often does things that the common, rational musical performer wouldn’t ever consider. His set at Lollapalooza was shut down after five minutes after he got the audience to bum-rush the barricades, rush past security, and charge the stage (there’s even a rumor that he was arrested for disturbing the peace). He gained viral notoriety after kicking a staff-photographer off one of his stages this summer for seemingly no reason. The photographer in question apparently defended himself by stating that he was working for the event, Hot 97’s Summer Jam. But that didn’t change what was going to happen. Why? Because it’s a Travis Scott show. That’s what Travis said anyway, and it’s really a valid point. It’s a Travis Scott show, you won’t be able to go against the energy.
There is a rejection of the notion of a rapper hitting the crowd with bar after bar without hesitation or error. He doesn’t want people to consider him one of the best rappers. Or, to put it better, he simply doesn’t care. Instead, he has committed himself fully to creating a spectacle that people can’t look away from. A masterpiece of energy and vehemence that will force people to pay attention. This focus on the aesthetic part of hip-hop is what truly separates him as an artist. He’s only hear to grab your attention, music is simply the medium – the marble or the canvas.
This display of apparently-impulsive behavior does many things. It might make you hate him for being another “Kanye” – an egocentric, entitled artist who has the social-intelligence of a four-year old who doesn’t want to share his toys (not my own belief, but it’s very prevalent). Or maybe it’ll make you want more. Yes, what’s the insane man going to do next? No matter the effect it has on those who bear witness, there is one undeniable truth to what is happening: There is an energy. There is more to Travis Scott than bangers and rowdy live-shows. Something is there, isn’t it?
I’m not saying that Travis Scott is the next Jim Morrison, I’m just saying that he’s beginning to display the qualities that every rockstar before him was before they were ever defined by their persona – whether that persona was their own or something that society created without consent from the individual. Maybe he’s just got all the hype right now, and maybe he’ll fade away. In all honesty, there’s an acknowledgeable possibility that what we think of as “Travis Scott” is just the creation of Kanye West. A modern Dr. Frankenstein, bored of his personal never-ending influence over music and testing his ability to construct the latest and greatest modern hip-hop personality from scratch. Travis definitely blew up after Kanye reached into the production of his music, and the Yeezus influence is evident in many of the songs on Days Before Rodeo and Rodeo. But I’ll put my tin-foil hat away before I ramble too deeply. We are potentially on the verge of seeing the birth of the next immortal persona in pop-culture, and we have to start to acknowledge that.
Travis Scott is not going to drop the next classic, conceptual rap album that stuns the music world or convinces an entire demographic that music is important. Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples are here to do that, that’s their path. Travis Scott isn’t here to be the greatest rapper of all time, but that’s fine – because he isn’t trying to be. He’s here because there’s clearly something about “Travis Scott” as an idea that has manifested itself within his being as something greater than a first and a last-name. Something is trying to escape from his art and his shows and grab everyone that’s there to see it. Don’t you feel it?