While the entire world was waiting for “Utopia” for the last five years, Travis Scott has been racking up production credits on several artists’ projects, including Don Toliver and SZA.
Although fans all around the world knew the next album from LaFlvme would be titled “Utopia,” the “Astroworld” rapper and producer has been silent about new music until about a month ago when rumors began spreading about a possible June 2023 date for the release of his highly anticipated fourth studio album.
The Buildup to the Album Release
Travis Scott initially teased “Utopia” for the first time in late summer 2020. On the second anniversary of his third studio album “Astroworld,” he celebrated it on social media while cryptically teasing his new album “Utopia.”
Scott has hinted that he is diving into and creating new sounds for the album, so it is no surprise that he is ready to tap into the African soundscape for his upcoming project. In June 2023, Travis was spotted in the ancient Nigerian city of Kano, on what looked like a music video set, with raving Nigerian Afrobeats and Trap artiste Rema.
In a three-second clip that had the whole of Twitter buzzing, both artists showed each other love with a hug and handshake while a song played in the background. Fans had speculated that the set is for a video for Rema and Cactus Jack’s unreleased song, which may probably make the tracklist of “Utopia.”
In June 2023, Billboards advertising the album began springing up around Los Angeles, New York, and Travis’ hometown of Houston, Texas leading fans to anticipate the album all over social media. “Utopia” arrived on July 28, 2023, to much fanfare all over the internet from fans and celebrities alike.
The Roll-out: Road From Astroworld To Utopia
Travis Scott is no stranger to ambitious album roll-outs; since his sophomore album “Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight,” the Kanye West protégé has followed in the footsteps of his mentor both with his gargantuan production enterprises and larger-than-life, audacious album roll-outs.
As West held his listening party for his last album “DONDA” in Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz stadium, Scott selected the Pyramids of Giza to house the listening session for his fourth studio album, not quite his “DONDA,” more like his “Yeezus.” But before this time, the roll-out for the album can be traced back to an event that took place two years ago.
At the Cactus Jack for Dior Summer 2022 show, in June 2021, Scott previewed two new songs much to the excitement of fans for the highly anticipated album; “In My Head,” which did not make the album, and “Lost Forever,” which graced the final tracklist.
A month later, in August 2021, Scott signed an A24 deal, via which he teased his own cinema debut, a concept short film based on the album, to be released concurrently.
“God’s Country,” a leftover song from the “DONDA” recording sessions, was benevolently handed to Scott by West, for “Utopia,” and fans got their first taste of the song on August 6, 2022, during a performance at the O2 Arena in London.
The anticipation for the album hit an all-time high when Scott played songs from the record for the Houston Astros in a private listening session, and revealed that the record was in its mastering stage, that same month.
In June 2021, Scott teased more details on the sound of “Utopia.” “I’m in this new album mode where it’s like psychedelic rock,” Scott told Women’s Wear Daily. “So even just like the field of cactuses and mushrooms, you might get tripped out.”
During the 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend event in June, Travis states that the only thing that was delaying the project was the Cactus Jack release roster, stating that fans will get the album that has been teased for five years after Cactus Jack Records artists Don Toliver, Sheck Wes, and SoFaygo, all release their projects respectively.
Producer Mike Dean had previously stated that Travis Scott was experimenting with retro sounds and making music that is more similar to the rugged and brash sounds of his debut mixtape “Owl Pharaoh.” This is evident on the album with the inclusion of nine-year-old “Looove,” which was first previewed on Tumblr in September 2014.
In May 2023, photos of Scott wearing an unreleased Air Jordan 1 Low shoe with the presumed Utopia logo hit the internet, and his bodyguard was also spotted holding a Utopia-labeled briefcase. Theorists and fans alike began connecting the dots on how soon it would take for the album to arrive.
With an Instagram post later that day, Mike Dean confirmed he was also on production and engineering duty on the album. Travis Scott was seen recreating the iconic Beatles 1969 Abbey Road album cover with his bodyguards outside the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, England, on June 15, 2023.
On June 27, the artist’s official website, travisscott.com, was updated with the Utopia logo and a decoded pre-order link. Not long after, Los Angeles was replete with cryptic billboards featuring a clock and a safe lock that fans noticed might be pointing toward a July 21, 2023, release date.
On July 9, 2023, Scott shared videos linked to Utopia on social media, including one in which he can be seen working on the project with the legendary producer of Jay Z’s Black Album and other hip-hop classics for Beastie Boys and LL Cool J and Def Jam founder Rick Rubin.
During the rapper’s set at Rolling Loud, on July 22, in Miami, Florida, the songs that later became “Til Further Notice,” “Delresto (Echoes),” the lead single, “Sirens,” “Hyaena,” and “Modern Jam,” as well as the promotional short film “Circus Maximus,” were teased through signs and symbols on the jumbotron.
Scott announced that the show would be the last time he would perform songs from the Astroworld era setlist, and set a date for the release of “Utopia.”
Listening Sessions: From The Pyramids to Rome
The original plan of hosting an outdoor, festival-esque listening session at the Pyramids of Giza, reminiscent of the Mercedes Benz stadium listening for “DONDA,” was unfortunately scrapped due to initial undisclosed and much speculated reasons, including a ban of the event from the Egyptian authorities.
Live Nation Middle East, the official sponsor of the event, later revealed that they canceled the launch party because of problems with the construction in the desert.
The Texas-born rapper responded in a series of tweets that new dates for four different listening parties and events would be announced soon and would be every bit as exciting as the Pyramid session was poised to be. The same day, Utopia totems were found in the city of Utopia, Texas, on the same day, playing a siren-esque sound.
Four days after the album was released, Scott announced the promotional short film “Circus Maximus,” which would be a live recorded concert at the Circus Maximus in Rome, Italy, as a replacement show for the canceled Pyramids of Giza concert, for August 7, 2023.
The Bad Bunny and The Weeknd-assisted K-Pop was the lead single, and the only single that was released way before the album release date.
The Aubrey Graham-assisted “Meltdown,” a concept song quite like their last collaboration from Astroworld, was accompanied by the “Circus Maximus” film, released the day before the album drop.
“Delresto (Echoes)” arrived with the album on July 28, 2023, as the second single from Utopia. The single features vocals from the legendary Beyoncé and the lead singer of the folk band Bon Iver, Justin Vernon.
Cover Artwork Analysis
Scott is known for his eccentric album cover arts; his debut album “Rodeo” had an action figure in the likeness of the 90210 rapper on the cover sleeve, and 2018’s “Astroworld” was a nod to the now closed down Houston theme park of the same name.
The cover artwork featured a fictional theme park entrance gate shaped like the rapper’s head, with mouth agape, and complete with his signature French braids.
At first glance, the cover artwork for “Utopia” is much less complex than its predecessors, as it features the rapper falling over a plain dark background. But there’s a deeper underlying meaning; the album is titled “Utopia” but is actually a depiction of a Dystopia.
It is what a Utopia means to the artist. It is worthy of note that this is an artist who uses chaos as an aesthetic, from his soundscape to his videos and live performances. Chaos is bliss to Travis.
There are three alternative covers for “Utopia.” An upside-down photo of the Antidote rapper’s blacked-out face was photographed by Kristina Nagel, while the other is an abstract-looking mash-up of three images, and the other one photographed by Pieter Hugo features four shirtless Black men standing behind a white blonde-haired woman in a dress.
The final alternative cover features an African man with white contact lenses clutching a wad of money close to his chest in the passenger seat of a car. “The journey through the album took me all over the world,” Scott revealed on Instagram. These cover arts are chaotic, anarchic, and dystopian in aesthetic, a depiction of his personal version of paradise.
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“Utopia” was announced to be a follow-up to another project titled “Dystopia,” which unfortunately never came to fruition. “Utopia” is the follow-up, to the rollercoaster experience of “Astroworld,” a perfect place free from society’s chaos, a world created by Travis in his mind and landscaped by the music on the album, a perfection of the prototype of Astroworld.
“Utopia is something that people feel is so far-fetched and out of reach, some perfect state of mind. “But you create it yourself. There are people who achieve Utopia every day. They may not be the richest people with the dopest cribs, but it’s a utopia wherever they are, and that’s the most you can have. With every album, I live in these worlds in my mind.
I’m trying to show people’s experiences where utopian things can exist, and you can enjoy yourself and have a good time. They can create energy that spews out magical things — new cures, new buildings, new avenues for people to move forward. People need to see that Utopia is real.” Travis told Billboard in a May 24, 2023, interview.
Travis Scott has a history of not listing the features on his albums, and he even rarely announces which artists to expect on his albums before they arrive, allowing the listener to go into the project not knowing what to expect and being surprised by every track as they uncover new voices like Easter eggs as the album rolls on.
Cactus Jack signee Sheck Wes appears on Utopia alongside Queen Bey, British singer Sampha, Punk Trap pioneer Playboi Carti, folk band Bon Iver, Sicko Mode collaborator Drake, and TDE first lady SZA.
Drake is not the only Canadian to make a Utopia appearance, Abel Tesfaye most commonly known as The Weeknd also lends his silk smooth falsetto on the album.
Other guests on the album include less-known acts like KayCyy, Teezo Touchdown, Rob49, Yung Lean, and the Grammy-winning 21 Savage, incarcerated YSL patron Young Thug, Future, Griselda lyricist Westside Gunn, former GOOD Music rapper and the man Travis borrowed his stage name and signature humming melodies from, Kid Cudi, Latino global superstar Bad Bunny, and British singer and producer James Blake.
Scott had help on the production and engineering boards from frequent collaborators Metro Boomin, Mike Dean, his mentor Kanye West, Boi 1-da, Oz, the Alchemist, Illangelo, WondaGurl, James Blake who also makes a vocal appearance, and Pharrell Williams who was the target of a couple of disses from Drake on “Meltdown.” Although the production list is stacked, Utopia features the most bespoke production from Scott that we’ve seen over the last three albums.
Track by Track Analysis
Psychedelia is the most recurrent backdrop to the sound of “Utopia,” loud brash horns and electric guitars accompany distorted 808s and synthesizers on Travis’ new MPC 2000XL. “I been through hell and I done brought snow,” rapped over blaring horns, 808 drums, and echoing chants on the album intro “Hyaena,” reinforces the album’s central theme of juxtaposing a Utopia amidst a Dystopia.
The album cover is reminiscent of his debut album “Rodeo,” and a verse into the album one can notice Travis revisiting his rapper side over the humming, sing-songy, melodic sound of his last two albums, a staple of the “Rodeo” era Travis Scott from songs like “Don’t Play” and “Through The Late Night.”
The track features a sample from Funkadelic and ’70s British prog-rock band Gentle Giant. The next track, “Thank God,” is laid over a daunting, dark soundscape that eventually morphs into an opera-esque number as he raps about living life to the fullest and musing over his mortification.
Kenyan-American artist KayCyy and American rapper Teezo Touchdown make appearances on the song, alongside Scott’s young offspring Stormi, who says the line “That’s right, daddy” after Scott sings, “The storms are minor but you know she’s living major.”
Echoing chants, reminiscent of the ’80s synth pop Prince and other popstars of the era, are recurrent all over the album, but very outstanding as they serve as the hook and bridge on “Modern Jam,” a futuristic rendition of what music would sound like in the post-apocalyptic world that is Travis’ mind. His Utopia.
The tempo gets calmer from the fourth track “My Eyes.” The track sounds like it belongs more on Lil Yachty’s divergent and ambitious psychedelic album “Let’s Start Here.” Even Sampha’s vocals mirror those of Lil Boat with the rapper’s unique use of autotune.
Autotune and Synth use on the album also mirror Frank Ocean’s high-pitched, manipulated vocals on songs like “Nikes” and “Ivy” from “Blonde.” It’s not surprising given that Buddy Ross who worked on “Blonde” with Ocean has writing credits on the song.
Children’s vocal samples over minimal dub-stepped 808s and hi-hats set the stage for echoing vocals out of a prismiser from Travis on “God’s Country.” The song was originally made for Kanye West’s “DONDA” album.
Scott must have learned a thing or two from his trip to Northern Nigeria earlier this year as he samples Hausa drums and cymbals over distorted ad-libs with West African horn melodies on the Jahaan Sweet-produced “Sirens.”
“I thought we were going to Utopia, some sort of perfect destination but this is just your hotel room,” a voice asks and Travis responds, “Looks perfect to me…” at the beginning of “Meltdown,” reiterating the idea of creating his own Utopia as opposed to the general opinion of what a Utopia should be.
Although Drake and Scott reunite for this beat, morphing similarly to their “Astroworld” collaboration, they don’t try to make a “Sicko Mode” part 2. The first part of the song sees Drake throwing a couple of shades at Pusha T and Louis Vuitton, particularly the men’s creative director Pharrell Williams.
Playboi Carti and Sheck Wes on a song together, solo produced by Scott, of course, one would expect a mosh pit anthem with more ad-libs than lyrics.
West African drums return alongside African chants, with screeching tire sounds and pianos on the Hit-Boy produced “Delresto (Echoes).” Queen Bey brings a mixture of the speak-singing of “Renaissance” and the silk-smooth melodies of “4” and “B-Day.”
This is the most melodic we’ve heard Travis to this point on the album, the rap cadence on his verse is reminiscent of “Life of Pablo” and “Ye” era Kanye.
Static ushers in “I Know?” the music is doused in recurrent distorting sounds. Sicko Mode producer OZ handles the boards for this track. “Topia Twins” is a potential mosh pit anthem where Louisiana rapper Rob49 joins Scott and 21 Savage with a unique two-bar hook.
Swae Lee’s unmistakable smooth vocals usher in heavy drums and Travis bounces on heavy drums and mellow but daunting piano chords on “Circus Maximus,” eventually passing the baton to Abel Tesfaye’s falsetto chorus. The last half-minute of the song is dedicated to the instrumental, like James Bond’s closing number.
Comedian Dave Chappelle provides the monotone commentary to “Parasail,” featuring Swedish rapper Yung Lean. Hollow background vocals and deep hums follow the ballad-esque rendition. “Parasail” acts as the curtain to introduce the last quarter of the project, and with renewed vigor Scott recruits the incarcerated Young Thug for “Skitzo.”
Jeffrey delivers a calm braggadocios verse with his signature vocal inflections, over the minimal instrumental until it morphs into a distorted, chaotic beat and Scott lays a breathless rap verse over and it morphs once again into a daunting horror flick sound.
The third beat is flipped into a lower-pitched version for the fourth instrumental, one of the best sonic performances on the whole album. British singer James Blake’s lulled vocals and Westside Gunn’s High pitched raps and menacing ad-libs on “Lost Forever,” complement each other so well that you may forget they perform on two different verses.
Scott could have left just Gunn’s vocal-gun ad-libs on the beat and it would still sound perfect. “Looove” gets another solo Scott production, Pharrell and Kid Cudi lend their signature styles to the song as Travis raps a hedonistic anti-monogamy verse reminiscent of the religious sex euphemisms on Kanye’s “No Church In The Wild” Verse.
Utopia’s lead single is a reggaeton rendition featuring The Weeknd and Latin-American Bad Bunny, named after an Asian genre. “K-Pop” is an ode to Asian baddies. At six minutes long and a list of writers as long as that of “All Of The Lights,” it’s not surprising that Kanye contributed to this “Telekinesis,” which is the closer before the closer.
SZA drops an impressive verse where she borrows Drake’s iconic flow from the second verse of 2011’s “Marvin’s Room” mid-verse while singing about foul exes over wobbly synths and hard piano chords. Future fights demons in his verse about a life-changing romantic love.
Utopia’s curtains close with vocals from James Blake and 21 Savage, who assist Scott over the Metro Boomin and James Blake-produced “‘Til Further Notice.'”
La Flame’s most ambitious endeavor yet, although it lacks the immediate ear candy appeal of his last two projects, but with time, it grows on the ears and delivers what’s probably the best collective feature performance from any Travis Scott album.
The Weeknd, SZA, Sampha, Westside Gunn, and Drake all provide scene-stealing moments. Handling a lot of the production himself, Scott favors a less brash and loud approach from his previous effort but maintains his signature aesthetic chaos for seventy-three minutes of experimental psychedelia.
Exploring sounds from all over the world, the soundscape is as ambitious as it is soothing. Utopia, however, lacks a humongous radio hit like “Sicko Mode,” “Antidote,” or “Goosebumps,” but this might be a necessary sacrifice for a cohesive-sounding wholesome project.
“Sirens,” “Meltdown,” “God’s Country,” “Delresto (Echoes),” “K-Pop,” “Telekinesis.”
|Travis Scott feat. Teezo Touchdown
|Travis Scott feat. Drake
|Travis Scott feat. Playboi Carti
|Travis Scott with Beyonce
|“I Know ?”
|Travis Scott feat. Rob49 and 21 Savage
|Travis Scott feat. The Weeknd and Swae Lee
|Travis Scott feat. Yung Lean and Dave Chappelle
|Travis Scott feat. Young Thug
|Travis Scott feat. Westside Gunn)
|Travis Scott feat. Kid Cudi)
|Travis Scott with Bad Bunny and the Weeknd
|Travis Scott feat. SZA and Future
|“Til Further Notice”
|Travis Scott feat. James Blake and 21 Savage
|“Aye” (Physical Edition Bonus Track)
|Lil Uzi Vert featuring Travis Scott