Review: Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight
A Darker Album, but Light on Highlights
Did Travis Scott return from the “Rodeo” too soon? Just a year after putting out his last full length album, “Rodeo,” G.O.O.D. Music affiliate and Houston based rapper Travis Scott returns with his second album “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight.”
While the album has the glitzy, bass-heavy, trap-influenced production that we have come to expect from a Travis Scott project, the heavyweight list of producers on the album, including the legend Mike Dean, Boi-1da and Cardo, much of the album ends up feeling like darker, grimier leftovers from Scott’s last album.
The album’s title, coined by Atlanta rapper Quavo, a member of the trap-rap group Migos, references the R&B crooner Brian McKnight, a man last relevant when Travis was still in middle school. McKnight’s most obvious influence on Scott is the range of vocals that were sung on his projects, which can be seen in the heavy distortion and auto tune used to manipulate Scott’s already raspy voice.
Like his fellow trap contemporaries Young Thug, Lil Yachty and Migos, the product quality, creative spark and lyric writing tend to take a backseat to fans’ seemingly insatiable desire for more content. Time and time again rappers fall into the cycle of releasing a project every six to 12 months, and while the singles might sell, the idea of a cohesive and interesting body of work seems to get lost in the shuffle.
With the first single from “Birds in the Trap” arriving nearly nine months in advance, limited promotion and a release date that kept getting pushed back, it’s easy to understand why this album has not gotten the attention that Scott’s last one did. For an artist who seems to be doing almost nightly shows (Scott did stadium tours with both The Weeknd and Rihanna within the past year), it’s easy to see how he and Dean might have decided to stick with the same general sound as his previous album.
Scott, known for bringing together a litany of industry and underground elite for projects, continues that trend with his latest album. The first song, “The Ends,” has an absolutely killer verse from ATLien André 3000, and later in the tracklist, rap king Kendrick Lamar drops a show stealing, earth-shattering verse.
Although Scott is credited as a writer throughout the album, the Houston native has never been known for his lyrics. His best songs have almost exclusively been club anthems featuring ferocious energy, over-the-top lines and memorable ad-libs, more akin to Three-Six Mafia than Lauryn Hill. Sadly, the mostly mundane features and often sappy or corny lyrical outputs from Scott and his colleagues create far too many songs that can be skipped on the tracklist.
One of the main issues that the album faces comes down to the lack of memorable moments on the project. The production varies little from song to song and after a while, songs about drugs, guns and money tend to blend together. Without the intensity, creative ad-libbing and clever hooks that appear on some of Scott’s older work, the album feels like leftovers from other projects that didn’t make the cut, creatively.
Easily the most enjoyable, fun song on the album is the second single, “Pick up the Phone.” Arguably the song of the summer, it features outlandish, clever lyrics, such as “hit 'em with three like I'm Miller, I don't talk to no man in the middle I don't talk to no man, I'm just kiddin',” aided by a great hook and an infectious island-influenced beat. Outside of this poppy club banger, there really is no equivalent, instrumentally, to some of the hits from Scott’s previous album. The murky filled haze that is this album could have benefitted from more instrumental variety and a cleaner, less repetitive sound.
The album deals with a slightly more jaded, melodramatic Scott than last time around. On “Rodeo,” Travis rapped about his rise to fame, his raging desire for success and channeling his large amount of energy into music and various illegal vices.
Now in the upper echelon of the rap world, Travis spends more time talking about the figurative (and literal) highs and lows of being a rap superstar. That could be interesting if this was an original concept for trap/club-rap, had some more memorable moments from Travis or if there was more experimentation in the production like there was on “Rodeo”—sadly none of this is present on this album.
Scott’s albums’ wings are clipped by the sameness of the dark, heavy production that, combined with repetitive themes and delivery, makes for a mostly enjoyable experience, but not one that provides any reason to listen twice.