Yeezus to Rodeo: Pass the Rock to Ye, He Pump Faked and Passed It Back

Artwork by Liz Benjamin

Artwork by Liz Benjamin

by Owen Murray

Following his 2010 magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and his collaborative victory lap Watch the Throne with Jay-Z later that year, Kanye West delivered Yeezus: a minimalist, off-the-cuff, industrial-influenced thrill ride. While hip hop traditionalists were confused and thoroughly disappointed, Kanye was quick to point out that 808s and Heartbreak had been similarly polarizing but went on to be undeniably influential. The way Kanye saw it, Yeezus was 808s on steroids. It was as sure to influence a new wave of hip hop as it was to piss off anyone who wanted to box him in. He made his intentions clear on “I’m In It.” Kanye wanted to “pop a wheelie on the zeitgeist.”

Shortly after the release of Yeezus, Jay-Z compared Kanye to a cowboy who courageously runs over a hill without knowing what’s on the other side. He gets hit with arrows, and comes back to warn everyone else “there’s a lot of them over there.” “Someone has to experiment and go do it first. Then artists will sit back and watch and be like ‘I like this, I don’t like that,’ and perfect the methods,” Jay-Z said.

This phenomenon is clearer for 808s than it is for Yeezus. The raw emotion of 808s paved the way for emo rap artists from Drake all the way to Lil Uzi Vert, Juice WRLD and Lil Peep. These artists and many more used mixed ideas from 808s with trap music resulting in emo-trap, the definitive musical movement of the 2010s.

Yeezus was far more abrasive and avant-garde than 808s, making it far harder for artists to take from it “perfect” its sound. On Rodeo, Travis Scott proved it was possible to tame the abrasive elements of Yeezus and use the album as inspiration for a mainstream project.

One of the defining features of Rodeo is Travis Scott’s melodic, heavily autotuned, half rapped-half sung delivery. But, unlike Juice WRLD or Drake, Travis doesn’t take the 808s route. Songs like “Pornography,” “90210,” and of course “Antidote” are melodic and heavily autotuned, but nowhere near auto-crooning. Instead, Travis seems to draw more from “Blood on the Leaves” where Kanye’s autotune creates a larger than life voice. Travis takes this to the next level on Rodeo where even his ad-libs sound gargantuan.

Far from rapping about heartbreak, Kanye’s bars on “Blood on the Leaves” and of course “I Am A God” are ridiculously are hedonistic and materialistic. Starting with the Rodeo’s opener “Pornography,” and carrying on for nearly the entire album, Travis projects a similarly over-the-top level of hedonism which adds to his larger than life character.

One of the most uninviting yet intriguing elements of Yeezus is its eccentric use of samples. Both “On Sight,” and “New Slaves” contain jarring switches between heavily electronic, bass-heavy instrumentals and organic sounding instrumentals with choral or orchestral elements. “Blood on the Leaves” contrasts Nina Simone’s rendition of the haunting and powerful “Strange Fruit” with some of Kanye’s most absurd and irreverent bars and an abrasive horn sample from TNGHT’s “R U Ready” While Rodeo’s samples aren’t as brash as what Yeezus brought to the table, they still display a contrast between heavily electronic instrumentals and vocals with live instrumentation. The live drums sampled from “Itinerario Romantico” by The Blue Sharks in the second half of “90210” fits surprising naturally with the surrounding trap instrumentals. On both Yeezus and Rodeo, the samples offer a breath of fresh air from the dense sound that defines the albums. The difference is that Yeezus shoves you back underwater when you’re still gasping for air while Rodeo provides you some time to tread comfortably.

While Travis Scott never fails to bring a high energy level, the more unhinged elements of Yeezus don’t cross over to Rodeo. The albums only unhinged moment comes from Kanye himself during his energized but goofy verse on “Piss On Your Grave.” While the song’s Jimi Hendrix sample is a psychedelic highlight, somehow the Rodeo’s primary influencer manages to bring the only verse on the album that sticks out like a sore thumb (and that includes a Justin Bieber verse). Rodeo may be off-the-wall, but it was never meant to be unhinged.

One of the most commonly drawn comparisons between Kanye and Travis Scott is their knack for curating high-profile collaborators while maintaining a clear ownership of their music. This connection is displayed most clearly in through the Yeezus highlight “Hold My Liquor.” The song seamlessly brings Kanye together with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Chief Keef. It also features the clean, psychedelic guitar sound which Travis nearly directly lifts on “Pornography,” “3500,” and several other tracks—especially “90210.” While most of the psychedelic influences on Rodeo can be credited more to Future and his psychedelic-trap opus Dirty Sprite 2 than Kanye, there’s no doubt “Hold My Liquor” and even “Guild Trip” played a role.

Travis acknowledges Kanye’s massive influence on his music—as well as Kanye’s assistance in boosting his career— on “90210” with the line “I pass the rock to Ye, he pump faked and passed it back.” While it’s easy to credit 808s and Heartbreak with as the most influential album to any modern rapper who half-raps half-sings through autotune, Rodeo shares a stronger connection with Yeezus. Travis scaled up the Yeezus sound by making it into a more maximalist venture. He didn’t confine himself to a minimal sonic pallete on each song the way Kanye did on Yeezus. At the same time, Travis dialed back the album’s more abrasive elements replacing them with psychedelic trap.

Rodeo confirms Jay-Z’s analysis of Yeezus, as two years later Travis Scott fine-tuned the ideas that Kanye shared and created something that would please the hip hop zeitgeist.

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