[Main image courtesy of Lauren Gesswein]

Travi$ Scott is on a new high. Not metaphorically—though he is in a sense, considering his incredible buzz as of late—but literally. Before we get to that though, let's set the scene. A few weeks ago, the good team at XXL asked me to hang out with a rapper of my choice for a day, and Trav, who's nicknamed himself La Flame, quickly came to mind. The enigmatic Houston-bred rhymer/producer is a star in the making (he was also a proud member of the 2013 XXL Freshmen class), all off the strength of the deafening chatter that's surrounded him after receiving co-signs from the likes of T.I. and Kanye West. Naturally, I wanted to know where all the buzz stemmed from, especially since dude hadn't even dropped a mixtape yet. Coincidentally, the day I got to hang with him was the same day he released his long-awaited introductory project, Owl Pharaoh. He was also slated to perform at the Best Buy Theater, on a stop of the XXL Freshmen Live Tour. Needless to say, I knew it'd be a busy day…

My last time seeing Travi$ Scott was at the Freshmen cover shoot, where he fidgeted with his outfit and mainly kept to himself, so on my way linking with the 21-year-old in his room at the Hudson Hotellocated in Midtown Manhattanall I can think to myself is, "What the hell is about to happen?" Sure enough, as I step into the hotel room with his publicistwho put me up on what to expect for the day, like making sure I mention that Owl Pharaoh is “an EP, NOT a mixtape”I get my answer, as Travi$ and his crew of cohorts are sitting by the window smoking what I would eventually learn is hash oil.

The roomwhich is slightly bigger than a saunais essentially a make-shift workstation filled with women working furiously on their MacBooks while random phones ring. Travi$ is in the final hours before the release of Pharaoh, and everything needs to be just right before the project can see the light of day. Later, after the release of the project, he'll admit, "My site just crashed yo. This is my first solo project that I ever put out."

Back at the room, he yells, “Smells like shit,” before abruptly coughing up a storm. The hash oil has got to be strong because after one puff, Trav finds himself pulling off his #BEEN #TRILL (a lifestyle brand started by Kanye West affiliate Virgil Abloh) long-sleeve leafy tee and then opening up a window. “You ever smoked hash before?” asks one member of his entourage. I hadn't, and I should also mention that it's a few minutes after noon at this point.

After watching Trav and co. smoke for a few minutes, the guys disperse and we finally sit and chop it up. But of course, there are a few distractions, namely his excitement about Pharaoh's release. “My first solo project,” he emphasizes, “I’m super happy.” For the raw young dude, the passion emitted in his voice about whatever it is he’s talking about could be mistaken for aggression. He's erratic; even on-edge at times. Sitting and trying to hold a conversation with me about the project, he doesn't know whether he should sit, stand or watch the Matt Damon action movie Green Zone, which is playing on the 40-inch screen across from us. He tries to focus, but his speech is jittery, and he has trouble looking directly at me. Instead, he looks downsometimes looking as if he's speaking to his stomach. But, when I speak, he looks intently, and nods along when he agrees, sometimes even flashing that "Hurry up and ask the question already!" glance. When he's excited to give an answer, he talks fast. Really fast. So when I ask him how much of an influence Houston played on the making of his new music, he couldn't wait to blurt out "Z-Ro!"

He admits, “Z-Ro’s a legend bro. I respect that man. You hear the darkness inside my music, and it’s on some Z-Ro shit.” Sadly, he wasn't able to lock down the H-Town heavyweight for a feature on his project. “I wanted him on this shit so bad, it’s just that he’s so real,” he says. “If you’re dealing with a real hustler you got to be in that nigga’s parts and lay that energy.” When I change the subject from Houston and ask him about getting love from living legends like T.I. and Kanye, his eyes widen like a kid who just scored three different game systems for his birthday. “People tell me that shit all the time. It’s my mindset,” he confidently explains. “I’m not saying that I know I’m good and shit, in my mind, it’s like I kind of see where I want to be. You just got to get the world down to your shit. I feel like I’m a good leader.”

Really, a leader is all Scott really wants to be: “I feel like I’m a good leader. The kids could look up to me and they know that I won’t steer them wrong.” Despite how the comment comes across, he’s not being cocky. He’s just that passionate about his craft and sure of his product. And dude has reason to be. In just the last twelve hours, three life-defining things have happened to La Flame…

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For starters, he met Timbaland last night and played him Owl Pharaoh. “I played him the album and,” he says, while struggling to find the right word. “Just hearing his feedback,” he struggles some more, “and shit, he keeps me inspired.” Second, he got a call from his 13-year-old sister. “My little sister called me last night and was like, when is your album coming out?” Apparently, his sister was oblivious of his music when they were growing up. He remembers, "[She] never asked me about my music, ever, but she asked me last night, 'When is your album coming out?’” His boyish eyes widen again. "She was so young when I started doing this shit and now she gets it.” The third fateful event was a phone call from 'Ye. In case you're confused about his affiliations, the buzzing wunderkind is signed to Epic Records via T.I.’s Grand Hustle imprint, but is also signed as a producer to Kanye's Very G.O.O.D. Beats boutique label. “I was on the phone with [Kanye] this morning, he’s super excited about the project,” Scott exclaims. Though Yeezy isn't credited as a featured guest, the two worked closely together on beats for Pharaoh. “He helped me create it. Me and ’Ye did some of the beats on this shit. We had a good time working on it.” Before I get the chance to ask about the Yeezus album, which he’s rumored to be featured on, Travi$ looks away and asks one of his production team members, “Anita, how we looking?”

Hopping up off the couch, he passes me his L (politely saying, "Hold on bro, smoke this") and goes off to tower over Anita as she continues to prep OP’s cover art. After about 15 minutes of careful watching, I walk over to him and he’s rocking back-and-forth, rhyming A$AP Ferg’s verse to Pharaoh's hard-hitting standout banger, “Uptown,” word-for-word. “Where Ferg at?” he shouts out to Chase, his tour DJ. He answers, "That nigga on tour." Disappointed, Trav screams, “This shit is about to be crazy in these streets!" The track’s pothole-crackling bass and loopy backdrop might be the best display of La Flame's true signature talent, which is his ability to produce really, really well. Pharaoh is chock-full of sparse, dark and anthemic production that you couldn't really imagine anyone else doing, and he produced the entire thing himself. Though to be fair, his beat-making talent does tend to outshine his vocal ability. Throughout the project, his production is often so big and overwhelming that his voice struggles to compete with the instrumentals.

After finally locking down the cover/back cover art with Anita and smoking a lot more L's to the face, the tape hits the net. Chase looks like a weight's been lifted, proudly shouting, “We did it nigga!" After a proper dap-up, he tells me, “You don’t understand how long we were waiting for this moment. It’s actually out. Like, wow.” With his excitement matched by the rest of the entourage, the focus quickly shifts to Scott's performance at the Best Buy Theater. At this point, we're in the dressing room, and Travwho's now back in that #BEEN #TRILL tee, only this time accessorized with a matching camo bucket hat and a pair of burnt-red Balenciagais embraced by his Grammy-award winning mentors Mike Dean and Anthony Kilhoffer. “Bro you made it, you’re a soldier bro,” Scott quips to Kilhoffer.

By 9:15, Trav is onstage, pacing back and forth like a comfortable veteran. After some fitting “What’s up NYC!” chants, he glides into his set with an unmatched energy, so much so that he blows out his lungs within the first two minutes of his set. Before the set, Chase gave me a disclaimer for what to expect: “He lives this.” In his twenty-five minute onstage, during which he captures the packed-out house's full attention, he works the stage like a true rockstarjumping, crowd-surfing, turning the lights down for effectand delivers possibly the night's best set, and dude wasn't even the headliner.

After closing out the performance with the apocalyptic “Quintana,” sans Walewho later shows up backstage to show his supportTravi$’ long and eventful day comes to a close on a high note. John, another friend and member of the entourage, turns to me, admitting, “A lot of hard work went into this moment. This took years, bro.” But after releasing his first projectafter a year of perfecting and re-working itand conquering NYC with a stellar performance, what else could be on La Flame's mind? While he should be thinking about celebrating, he's still looking ahead, telling me, “After this project, I wanna tour. But right now, I’m just ready to chill." Not a moment after the words exit his mouth, Trav is bombarded by his supporters, including industry bigwigs like L.A. Reid, Syvlia Rhone and Julie Greenwald, who swarm the young gun and shower him with praise, before promptly leaving the venue before the evening's headliners even emerge from their dressing rooms. After all, they've gotten what they came fora glimpse at a brilliant young artist, shining on a big stage.

Where his hype will take him remains to be seen, but for now, Travi$ Scott is on a new high indeed. La Flame lives on.

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