Now a tabloid fixture thanks to his budding relationship with Kylie “enviable curves” Jenner, 25-year-old Travis Scott is far stranger than your average paparazzo’d rapper. He’s part of the current hook-focused paradigm that bases tracks around monolithic singsong melodies – and his are some of the best – but as the slam-dancing, punk T-shirted crowd at the first of two sold-out London shows suggest, he draws from something far gloomier than champagne and diamonds.
During a slightly uneven warmup set from his DJ that hops between bona fide smashes, odd old-school selections, and Giggs and Stormzy cuts presumably from a CD-R marked “UK crowd-pleasers”, the sweating audience are already being hosed down by security. Their energy threatens to sour as the clock ticks towards 10, but quickly returns as they see where their ticket money has been spent: black drapes fall to reveal Scott riding an enormous animatronic eagle with glowing eyes, gobbled entrails dripping from its maw. It is pure cock-rock camp, heightened further by Scott’s own theatrics.
He’s clearly influenced by Kanye West’s use of Auto-Tune to mirror emotional uncertainty (with West’s Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1 covered at one point), and his robotically quavering voice makes ballads such as 90210 beautiful in their instability. But these warbles often dissolve into screams and metal-style roars as the beat drops back in with skull-crushing intensity, creating a show of violent mood swings.
Much has been made of the emo tendency in rap at the moment; Scott pushes it to a gloriously histrionic extreme, particularly on Upper Echelon, which is built up, dropped and discarded all within the space of a minute. The lyrics themselves cease to matter as they change into pure emotional triggers, Scott shoving the crowd into abandon and dragging them out again. Amid a genre full of phoned-in live shows, his passion and control is electrifying.
It’s likely rap purists will find something distasteful in songs such as Butterfly Effect and Antidote, where a vocal hook is repeated ad infinitum, but here their minimalist focus and malevolent catchiness induce the greatest pandemonium. By the end Scott is stripped to the waist, mobbed by pawing hands. The Daily Mail will no doubt get much mileage from his perfect abdominals in the coming weeks, but behind them lies a rapper pushing pop-rap into the red and beyond, to a gothic world of black and crimson.