Arguably no figure in popular music today exposes the generational divide like Travis Scott.Older music fans hardly know him in even a passing sense; only recently has the 26-year-old graduated to mainstream events like the Super Bowl halftime show and the Grammys. To those who contributed to the colossal streaming numbers for his 2018 album Astroworld and have tickets for his March 5 show at the Bell Centre, the Houston rapper has been a steadily rising star since 2012, one who’s now in the upper echelons of his profession.Even among hip hop fans, he’s a polarizing figure. Derided as a Gad Elmaleh-esque punchline-stealing interloper early in his career, Scott won over the purists with the expansive and psychedelic Astroworld. It landed on most music publications’ year-end lists, and while it was commended as a creative step forward, the album expands upon a musical language Scott has been using since the beginning: ad libs and vocal effects over alien beats with warped nostalgic, childlike qualities.A quintessential Scott song doesn’t necessarily sound like an obvious hit at first. He’s not an attention-grabbing frontman, even on his own tracks. He’s aware of where his skills lie: on Astroworld’s call to arms Sicko Mode — the Suite: Judy Blue Eyes of our time — he touts himself as the glue that holds things together. He’s not wrong: on the album, some of rap’s biggest stars on the mic (Drake) come together with studio wizards (Mike Dean, Frank Dukes) and big names just for show (Stevie Wonder on harmonica, James Blake), with Scott serving as a steady conduit for all these creative impulses. As a result, his albums are overstuffed with ideas, but when these ill-fitting puzzle pieces connect, the results are undeniable.While Astroworld has propelled him into the conversation as the world’s biggest rapper, his Montreal history is one of rock ‘n’ roll myth. He kept Osheaga patrons waiting on two occasions — the first being in 2014, when he missed a flight and ended up performing atop a balcony. It was an indelible moment most people missed, yet with each passing year more and more seem to have recollections of somehow being there, not unlike early, sparsely attended Velvet Underground or Sex Pistols shows.Those who saw him in his early days — like at the Olympia in 2015 — beamed about his endless energy, his performance style even garnering a few comparisons to Iggy Pop in terms of onstage calisthenics. There was something inherently punk about Scott in the beginning: his performances were messy, lacking in pure rapping technique, yet he had a magnetic personality that made up for missed cues and mid-song stage dives.He has been groomed for arena headlining for a while now, having opened at the Bell Centre for both the Weeknd and Rihanna. Following the Weeknd show in 2015, Scott made his way uptown to the trendy St-Laurent Blvd. club Apt. 200 for an official afterparty (a common thing for up-and-coming rap acts to do on tour). His reputation in this town grew tenfold that night, as pictures of him partying in that small space, beverages flowing, certified his status as a bacchanalian wild man.
Travis Scott caused quite a scene at last month’s Grammys, where he was one of the few big-name rappers to show up and perform.
ROBYN BECK /
A 2016 appearance at New City Gas, a Griffintown club known primarily for hosting EDM DJs, risked unravelling his hard-earned reputation. His frustrations with the DJ who accompanied him boiled over, which resulted in a public berating and an abbreviated, 20-minute set.His next big Montreal visit came in 2018, with a commanding headline set on Day 1 of Osheaga. It didn’t go off without a hitch, though, as he arrived 90 minutes late — an unheard-of delay for the rigidly punctual festival.Standing in the pit in the dark on Île Notre-Dame for all that time waiting for a mercurial star doesn’t happen often in rock ‘n’ roll anymore, but consider it the modern-day equivalent of waiting hours on end in a queue for physical concert tickets. It was hot and sticky, with the space getting even more constricted every so often as waves of fans from behind pushed to get closer to the front.A dehydrated fan next to me fainted, only to pop up seconds later. The pit was so tight, on-site medics wouldn’t have been able to get through to assist anyway. Needless to say, the crowd that waited patiently for him was young — many probably had no idea that early Osheagas had only a few rappers on their lineup card, as opposed to making up the majority.Scott reduced Osheaga promoter Evenko to posting nervous updates on the screen about the rapper’s whereabouts, like an AM radio traffic report. We followed him from the border to the highway, to Jacques Cartier Bridge.Despite us waiting all that time, Scott made the leg cramps worth it. The long-awaited Astroworld had just come out that day, and we were something of a guinea-pig audience. The eruption of pyro and the crowd reaction that accompanied his arrival were so intense, our camera phones violently shook and nearly flew from our grips. The energy never let up over the course of the set, and all was mostly forgiven afterward, except for one fan who filed a class-action request. It was no surprise that despite Scott showing up late and nearly ruining their festival, Evenko didn’t wait long to book his return visit to the Bell Centre.
Travis Scott shared the stage with Maroon 5 at the Super Bowl halftime show, after Rihanna and Cardi B declined to perform.
Al Bello /
With his concert chops and recorded output at a high-water mark, Scott has been given the opportunity to use his increased profile to say something more, but so far he has shirked those responsibilities. After contemporaries Rihanna and Cardi B turned down the Super Bowl halftime appearance in solidarity with blackballed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during The Star-Spangled Banner in protest of racial injustice, Scott agreed to share the stage with Maroon 5 and Big Boi.A week later at the Grammys, Scott was one of the few big-name rappers who bothered to show up and perform, with nominees Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino carrying on the tradition of rappers bowing out of the ceremony due to unspecified issues with the Recording Academy. It was also an opportunity for artists to show solidarity with rapper 21 Savage, who was incarcerated by ICE at the time, but Scott was predictably silent on the issue.It’s perhaps not surprising Scott isn’t politically inclined, given his mostly anodyne lyrical style. As he has proved again and again, whether it’s on the double-platinum Astroworld or during a raucous night at Apt. 200, Scott prides himself on fostering a euphoric environment, as opposed to directly communicating with audiences. Expecting Scott to be anything more than what he has been throughout his career is expecting too much, and it’s clear a new generation of music fan is connecting with his message.AT A GLANCETravis Scott performs Tuesday, March 5 at 8 p.m. at the Bell Centre, with Sheck Wes. Tickets cost $58.95 to $230.70 via evenko.ca.Top Travis Scott tracks for beginners1. Sicko Mode: Scott’s Stairway to Heaven and one of the most-played tracks of 2018. Each of the classic sections that make up this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink epic could work as a standalone song, yet they’ve all been crammed together with little in the way of cohesion. If anything, this structural sleight of hand fits the perfectly truncated and scatterbrained way we listen to music on streaming services nowadays.2. Antidote: A smoggy head trip pulled from 2015’s ambitious, ponderous Rodeo that positions the listener in a claustrophobic carnival with little chance of escape. Scott found his hitmaking voice here, where hooks and verses bleed into each other and shouted backing vocals take as much precedence as what’s in the forefront.3. Goosebumps: Scott hit his stride on the two biggest singles from 2016’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight. The chorus on this Kendrick Lamar collaboration is a singalong favourite at Scott shows, and for good reason: it’s hard to say the word “Heimlich” so melodiously over such a disorienting loop, but he succeeds effortlessly.4. Watch: His big pre-Astroworld comeback single, curiously cut from the album when it finally came out. Despite containing all the touchstones of a solid Scott tune, along with coveted Kanye West and Lil Uzi Vert cameos, Watch’s goofy braggadocio (and West’s addiction call for help) didn’t click with audiences as expected. It’s a weird and fascinating attempt at an unconventional hit, even by his standards.5. Mamacita: A reputation-building single from 2014, and a crowd favourite to this day. Scott delivers the hook like he often does, bathed in vocal effects. Auto-Tune skeptics will scoff at Scott’s dependency, but it’s a technique he and so many other artists today have bent and contorted into their own that has nothing to do with pitch correction. It’s a sound that’s here to stay.