Epic

Travis Scott is usually the kind of artist traveling on a solo dolo journey as opposed to being part of a tribe. However, his quest to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump with his new album, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, is one that finds the prodigious creative dwelling in the shadows with a solid team behind him. That's not to say that he plays second fiddle to his list of co-stars, which includes a mix of some of rap's most reputable lyricists and buzzworthy talent. The rapper shines bright, as his star power and charisma is undeniable, but on this outing, Scott embodies what it means to be a child of the night.

"The ends," the opening selection on Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, finds Travis roaming the city streets, caught in a storm of thoughts. "Okay, I got it, copy/20/20, but I can't see nobody/One eye open, Illuminati/This might be the verse that make 'em drop me," he muses over production by the likes of OZ, Vinylz, Daxz and WondaGurl.

Deciding to waste no time lining up his cast of heavy hitters, Scott blesses listeners with a rare verse from Andre 3000, rap's resident unicorn, who gets grisly while recounting the imminent dangers surrounding him as a youth in Atlanta. "I came up in the town, they were murderin' kids/And dumped them in the creek up from where I live/Bodies, bodies, bodies sprinkled around/We runnin' through the sprinkler lookin' around," the artist formerly known simply as Andre spins a tale of a serial killer by the name of Wayne that murdered kids under the guise of recruiting them to be part of a fictional record label during 1979 to 1981. That trip down memory lane may put a damper on your mood, but Blac Youngsta's impassioned intro on "coordinate" is enough to snap you back to reality, a track which features Travis Scott abusing his prescription drugs in a fashionable manner.

Scott then mixes things up with his artistic muse, Kid Cudi, on "through the late night," one of the first highlights on Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight that truly jumps out and arrests the listener. Chanting the refrain, "Sleep through day, then we play all through the late night" together, the Owl Pharaoh and the Man on the Moon collide for a beautiful duet of a hook. Although his glorious hums may be the catalyst of this tune's greatness, Cudi's lyrical ability is on display here, with lines like "Blimp's soarin', how the hell did I get in this space?/Four in the mornin', how did I get in this place?/Oh it don't matter, got smoke, drink, and I'm runnin' this space/Done contemplatin', I'ma take it in and groove in this piece" serving as evidence of his prowess in verbiage.

The overall quality of Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight elevates during the second half of the listening experience, which commences with the breezy tune, "sweet sweet," but the ceremonies truly sync on "outside." Featuring 21 Savage, the song celebrates being in the thick of things as opposed to being home in a comfort zone, as Travis conveys on his first verse. 21, a 2016 XXL Freshman and Atlanta rep, turns in a show-stealing guest verse. "All my niggas outside, pillow talkin' sneak dissin'/Get a nigga jaw wide/Beat you baby mama throat so long she say her jaw's tired/Young Savage get a nigga whacked cause I got mob ties, I'm a wise guy," he spits with effortless finesse.

High-powered cameos are the norm on Travis Scott's sophomore set, with Kendrick Lamar popping up on "goosebumps," which describes the feeling rhyme enthusiasts should get when giving his verse a spin. "Mama, dear, spare your feelings/I'm reliving moments, peeling more residual/(I can) buy the building, burn the building, take your bitch, rebuild the building just to fuck some more/(I can) justify my love for you and touch the sky for God to stop, debating war," the g.o.o.d. kid from the m.A.A.d. city of Compton raps, connecting with the new gen's favorite Houstonian for a rare bit of turn up.

The proceedings hit a crescendo with "pick up the phone," a number showcasing La Flame matching wits with Young Thug and Quavo of Migos. While Scott provides a serviceable lead-off verse, Young Thug and Quavo come equipped with rewind-worthy bars, namely the trap star who now goes by his given name of Jeffrey. From talking attempted murder to noting the fact he covered his sister's college tuition and sharing valuable advice from mom dukes, Thugger delivers one of the more quotable verses in recent memory, which is a testament to his promise and pure skill.

Appearances may be aplenty on Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, but Scott is able to hold his own on a track, lyrically, and has favorable results to show for it, as evidenced by "lose" featuring a hook by Cassie. "Guidance," a frenetic DF-produced beat tailor-made for sweaty dance floors, finds the Rager lamenting the recent actions of a former flame. "And I found out that you're back for me/I found out that you had someone/Every time I get this drunk/I hope I wake up in another place," he solemnly croons with a tinge of regret in his voice.

Serving up dancehall vibes, La Flame scores another banger to add to his cache with "guidance," which has the potential to ramp up the intensity of any party or bashment. Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is rounded out by "wonderful," The Weeknd-assisted banger on which Travis basks in the glory of his success. "Yeah, we gon' try this one more again/I been mobbin' edge/Scoping through the lens/These thoughts is on my mind/Got me on the drive/Got me on the ride to a wonderful time," he delivers.

Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is a roller coaster ride of an experience, with an endless amount of highlights, whether it be an indelible hook here or timely guest verse there. Travis Scott may be the ringleader, but when all is said and done, the parts that stick the most come from its long list of contributors, not the name on the marquee. However, it takes a special je ne sais quoi to turn a bunch of big-name features and riveting production into one of the better albums of the year. Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight makes it clear that Travis Scott is hip-hop's raging maestro of the trap.

See New Music Releases for September 2016