Travis Scott, Kanye West have different yet impactful takes on identity in modern hip-hop

Travis Scott, Kanye West have different yet impactful takes on identity in modern hip-hop

Travis Scott, Kanye West have different yet impactful takes on identity in modern hip-hop
September 02
18:11 2018

This summer has seen two of the hottest rap albums of the year: “ASTROWORLD” by Travis Scott and “ye” by Kanye West. Say what you will about each album, but one thing remains apparent: these two rappers’ grip on their identities and what rap means for modern culture is indisputable.

From the onset of Scott’s “ASTROWORLD” LP, it’s apparent that we’re in for a more self-aware ride than Scott’s previous projects.

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travis-scott
Photo Courtesy Facebook

As we step into the mouth of “ASTROWORLD” still “STARGAZING” before the “CAROUSEL” begins, Scott raps, “I see you picked up all my ways, I feel responsible,” echoing a sentiment left for the deeper dives of the ride yet to come.

In August, Scott released the heavy-handed visuals for the album’s fifth track, “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD,” to a flurry of fan theories regarding its religious symbolism. Amid all of this, one scene goes under-discussed — a miss in everyone’s blogs and reaction videos. Travis stands waist-deep in a river, baptizing the fair-skinned children of Los Angeles into the turn up lifestyle that they so ceremoniously wait to be included in. Coming out on the other side, they seem born again. The braids, the uniform, the unbridled sense of freedom — with every conversion, Travis gives these kids an identity, even if it is just a repackaging of his own.

Identity is the driving force in hip-hop. Perhaps no one understands that more than the once pink polo-wearing, backpack rapper who killed early 2000’s gangsta rap with one album. I’m talking about Kanye West, if you don’t know. And if you do know, then you’ve witnessed what I’m saying in real time. Right now, Scott is forming his legacy around his identity: his city, his style, his tenacious, auto-tuned sound.

Kanye on the other hand has built a legacy around constantly changing his identity over the years. This summer’s “ye” attempts yet again to nail it down. Bipolar anti-hero, over protective father, grateful husband — those are the main beats from Kanye’s eighth studio album, and there’s no telling whether we’ll see this same Kanye next year or ever again. But even when his evolutions aren’t appreciated en masse, his ability to evolve at all is. That’s why we keep coming back to him, even when we say we won’t. Identity, it seems, is more powerful than any TMZ clip or Twitter boycott/think piece could ever be.

Hard pill, I know.

Scott’s grasp on identity differs from Kanye’s in another way as well. Ask yourself how you embody the spirit of the nation’s fourth largest city. If you’re smart like Scott, you’ll Photoshop your face onto a sculpture from a fallen but beloved local amusement park.

As for his mentor, the case can be made that Chicago has outgrown Kanye. Chi-town’s music scene has expanded into sonic territories as diverse and sometimes dangerous as its resident South Side. Maybe they just don’t identify with a rich man’s blues like they did with that kid with a beat tape in his backpack.

The obvious flip side is that perhaps Kanye has outgrown Chicago. His status as a Kardashian-wed, global celebrity/fashion icon/”free thinker” has dashed away any hopes of belonging to any particular region ever again.

Now, let’s go back to August. Watch the video for “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD.” God smites (read: lobotomizes) Travis for trying to become a god in Los Angeles, an analogy for the larger world outside of Houston. The hook states, “That’s not who you are,” and the message there is clear. Travis Scott can marry a Jenner. He can shift the culture around him, and he can even change locations. But his identity has a home that can never be stripped from, no matter how close he flies to the sun.

Featured Image: Courtesy Twitter

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Elisha Luckett

Elisha Luckett

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