On November 28th, 2018, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to take a trip to Astroworld. In 2016, during my freshman year, one of my good friends turned me onto an up-and-coming Houston rapper, Travis Scott. At the time, the genre of rap/hip-hop was entering a transitional phase where tracks were becoming less lyric focused, and more melody driven.
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Some would argue that this shift was a long time coming with artists such as Kayne West and Kid Cudi pushing the boundaries of the genre, but many would pinpoint 2016 as the year that we saw a real transition of the genre. Leading the movement were artists such as Lil Uzi Vert, Young Thug, the Migos, and of course, Travis Scott. My first exposure to Scott came in the form of his 2015 single Antidote off his debut studio album, Rodeo. When I first heard the track, I noticed that lyrics took a backseat to the track’s incredible production that paired booming 808s together with Lee Fields’ sample that synergized perfectly. At the time, I had not listened to much rap, but I was happy to hear the genre move past the brassy Atlanta-styled trap beats that had oversaturated the industry in the previous years. As a listener who had grown tired of the Atlanta trend, it was refreshing to hear a soul sample be paired with the classic, driving trap drums and synergize incredibly with Travis’ free and effortless flow overtop to tie the track together perfectly.
With the release of his 2016 second studio album, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, I had become hooked and once again Travis continued to push the genre forward with songs like pick up the phone, the ends, and goosebumps, the Kendrick Lamar assisted song that captivated me with the traditional melody that Travis brought to his tracks and Kendrick’s incredible lyricism, flow, and word-play over the experimental trap/psychedelic beat. This album reassured me that Travis was not finished, and that he would continue to push the genre further.
Fast forward to Madison Square Garden, November 28th. Astroworld, his long awaited third studio album, was released three months prior and was immediately received with rave reviews. When I entered the historic venue I immediately was drawn to the over-the-top set production that included a giant circular screen and a long runway into the crowd that was altering the camera projected onto it with very psychedelic and trippy filtering, as well as a rollercoaster hanging above us that would be put into use later in the night. Before the concert even started you could feel the electricity that filled the crowd, and everyone seemed ecstatic to be there and were more than ready for the night. Travis came out donning his familiar draped clothes, diamond chains, and opened the night with Stargazing as the Garden instantly recited every lyric at the top of our lungs. The setlist was constructed perfectly with a fantastic blend balance of old greats and new classics off of Astroworld. As the final songs were on the brink, the intro of the previously mentioned Antidote rang through the speakers and it had come full circle. Here I was, in the historic Madison Square Garden, singing along with thousands of others, a song that breathed fresh air into a genre that I had lost interest in due to the constant repetitiveness that plagued it for years. After Antidote, goosebumps began to fill the arena and as well all sang along, little did we were in for a surprise. Kendrick Lamar made an appearance for his verse in the song and the crowd exploded. The level on energy was at an all-time high, just in time for the closing song, the chart topping, Sicko Mode.
It’s incredible to see the evolution that we have witnessed the genre of hip-hop/rap go through since it’s conception in the 1970s, to where we are today. I think Trey Songz said it best. Barriers have been broken: rappers are singing, and singers are rapping. You might catch a rapper on a rock song, a pop artist on a hip-hop song – there are so many different things that are going on today. That is the same way in which we live our lives; we’re all over the place. I like to try different things. (On Music, Class 39) The origins of hip-hop come from an artistic background with factors like breakdancing, graffiti, rapping, and DJing all playing a massive roll and this artistic background has continued to follow the genre many years later. Instead of DJ’s and graffiti, producers and fashion have now entered the picture as primary sources of inspiration for many rappers.
Many would argue that producers are the real stars of the genre today. A perfect example of a producer becoming a star is Metro Boomin. Through a simple signature tagline put in songs that he produced, Metro Boomin was able to reach a level of stardom and recognition that producers of the past were not able to achieve. Early hip-hop beats were usually funk and soul instrumentals with MCs telling a story through rapping on top. With the help of tools such as the AKAI MPC2000, producers were able to cut up loops into samples and begin to construct their own beats. The same techniques are used today but instead basic kick drums have been swapped out for booming 808s thanks to Ikutaro Kakehashi, who created the Roland TR-808 drum machine. Tools like the MPC and TR-808 revolutionized the genre allowing for more artistry and allowed creativity to thrive. The visuals that the stage production bring to the table is similar to the artistic value of the graffiti during the conception of the genre and are both used as visual aids to express the art that drives the music.
While the genre has come a long way during the years, the framework has remained the same and the blueprint has remained intact with main concept still being about expressing yourself and telling a story through the music. We are in an interesting but progressive time where artists are becoming overnight sensations due to factors like social media, while continuing to push the envelope, blurring the lines between genres. There is no doubt that there will be much more progression and mold breaking in the years to come because in the words of Young Thug, Everyone wants to be a star.
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