“Leaders of the new school—they ain’t want us in but they had to.”
It can be difficult to pick apart Travi$ Scott’s lyrics in the cloud of bass and autotune on his debut album, Rodeo, but those opening bars on Ok, Alright ring loud and clear. The new school of hip hop has dug its roots, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Scott may be a protoge of Kanye West, but with Rodeo, he crafted the record his mentor tried to make in 2013 with Yeezus. Sophisticated ignorance behind an a southern, airy vibe that aligns with Scott’s Houston roots, Rodeo represents everything the new school of hip hop is all about.
More than ever, artists are putting emphasis on crafting catchy melodies and hooks than constructing layers and layers of bars. Creative wordplay is not as effective as a quotable line that goes viral, even if it is about intercourse and luxury beachwear. Prior to Rodeo’s release, Young Thug and Future were already blazing the trail for the new school in 2015. Traditionalists cringe at their work, while younger, more open-minded ears grew accepting of the autotune-drenched sound that was catching on.
Traditional “lyricists” can still thrive, but the lane for airy southern beats and melodies behind loose, drug-induced rap performances has never been wider. Hip hop is taking a page from the explosion of EDM music, both sonically and philosophically.
The sound of Scott, Young Thug and Future is, in a way, a revolution against the traditions of hip hop. So what if what they make isn’t lyrically brilliant? So what if their beats are repetitive and doused in electronic waves? If the people like it, they like it—does anything else really matter?
These artists are crafting their own lane in hip hop by challenging the boundaries that have been set. Instead of staying away from a taboo device such as autotune, they won’t record a song without it. Rather than slaving away with careful wordplay and punch lines, why not just call for more bottles—over, and over, and over again….
Rodeo is loud, obnoxious, ignorant—and at the same time, beautiful. Between the well-placed guitar riffs on “90210”, the perfectly tuned bass throughout the album, or even Justin Beiber’s subtle-but-sweet placement on “Maria, I’m Drunk,” the music itself is of quality—even if the bars themselves don’t match up with the aged hip hop standards.
Many of the tracks run too long for traditional tastes but are actually just falling in line with the new age of unstructured expression. “Ok Alright” runs nearly seven minutes, with nearly half of it consisting of Travis moaning “Alright” in front of a luscious, wavy beat for half the track. On the surface, this seems like a waste of airtime—but the rolling electronic waves and soothing snare have a calming effect no boom-bap beat would be able to replicate.
Time will be the true test for this new generation’s sound. Anyone can make a few club hits that stick around in a DJ’s rotation for a few months, but the music that makes an impact on the history of a genre will separate the trends from the true shifts in culture. Time will tell which category Rodeo will fall into, but this sound and form of expression could push hip hop into a new era.