Travis Scott
Cactus Jack Records

After years of teasing tracks, Travis Scott  finally released his fourth album, Utopia, July 28. It’s the long-awaited follow-up to 2018’s Astroworld, which was so popular that an annual music festival named after the album was held for three years in Houston. That ended, of course, when 10 people died and hundreds were injured at the 2021 event. Just two months ago, a grand jury decided not to indict Scott in connection with the fatal crowd crush.

Considering the scrutiny surrounding Scott, it’s almost expected that he’d approach his latest album with caution. That said, objectively, Utopia is a solid exploration of hip-hop and rap’s past and future.

When Texas isn’t reaching sizzling highs, we tend to say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours — it’ll change.” The same goes for the Houston native’s latest tracks. If you don’t like the beat, wait until the next verse — not only will the tempo be completely different, but it’ll probably feature another rapper or artist you weren’t expecting.

Sometimes the alchemy works, as with “Modern Jam,” which starts with an old-school Michael Jackson-esque beat before completely flipping with an emo-sounding verse from Teezo Touchdown.

The same goes for diss track “Meltdown.” It begins with a classic Drake verse, complete with callouts against Pharrell and Pusha T, while Scott smoothly slides like taffy into a Willy Wonka reference. (His ex, Kylie Jenner, has been linked to Timothée Chalamet, who stars as the magical chocolatier in the latest remake.) However, as the tempo suddenly intensifies, the song heads toward left field as Scott says on loop in frustration, “Is you f***ing crazy?!”

Drizzy isn’t the only big name on the album. Fellow Houston royalty Beyoncé brings top vocals to “Delresto (Echoes).” She shows her range in a song that sounds like it belongs on  Renaissance given its house and disco vibes. The easy groove makes the random inclusion of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon at the end of the song even more jarring.

Meanwhile, a collab with Bad Bunny and The Weeknd in “K-Pop” falls flat. It’s the type of track people want to root for, considering how unique the three are separately. However, given the high levels of experimentation in the tracks before it, the steady pace of “K-Pop” makes it largely unmemorable.

The Weeknd also lends his voice to “Circus Maximus,” which sounds like a twin of “Black Skinhead” from Kanye West’s Yeezus era. Surprisingly, Ye wasn’t involved with “Circus Maximus” but does have writing credits for other tracks, including “Thank God,” “God’s Country” and “Telekinesis.”

Kanye’s influence is most evident in “God’s Country,” so much so that, similar to Beyoncé’s feature, it’s a better track for Yeezy’s 2019 Jesus Is King rather than Utopia.

Scott shows he’s still a skillful curator, and Utopia lives up to its name by being imaginary and whimsical on the surface. But beyond that, it lacks depth. These are tracks to enjoy but not read far into. A world without looking too deep into the consequences may be paradise but unrealistic.

Cover promo photo by Kristina Nagel