Article taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 004. For more exclusive images, order your copy here.
The first time I profiled Travis Scott, we didn’t meet. He’d already missed two photoshoots and cancelled countless others, so when I finally received word that the chart-dominating rap superstar (then riding high on the success of his envelope-pushing, unit-shifting third album, 2018’s Astroworld) had shown up, then left an hour later, there was still one glaring, gaping question: “Who is Travis Scott, really?”
Two years on, almost to the date, I get some answers. It’s a July afternoon and I’m at photographer David LaChapelle’s airy Los Angeles studio. Kylie Jenner, Scott’s partner of three years, and Stormi, their two-year-old daughter, are being ushered out after posing for a family photo.
An animal trainer is wrangling an albino Burmese python. “I brought scorpions, just in case,” she tells a chill LaChapelle, dressed in jeans and a T‑shirt. The snake is for Scott to try on around his neck, but the 29-year-old star, who wanders in shirtless from a dressing room, seems more enthralled with his new pitbull, Rocket Astro, which he bought “maybe a month or two ago”. He picks up the dog and hugs him tightly.
Could this be the Travis Scott I’ve been waiting to meet?
I first saw Scott doing a support slot on Rihanna’s Anti World Tour in 2016. He’d dropped his flexing studio debut, Rodeo, a year before (early mixtapes Owl Pharaoh and Days Before Rodeo were released in 2013 and 2014 respectively), and was a riotous live performer, parting the LA Forum crowd at his whim, leading the audience through moshpit after moshpit and screaming into the microphone like some sort of gnarly CBGB’s punk act.
At the time, his biggest solo hit was the woozy, after-hours Antidote (number 16 on the Billboard chart in 2015), but he’d already become an A‑list music star: Rodeo featuring appearances from artists such as Kanye West, The Weeknd and Justin Bieber. Since then he’s become an even bigger fucking deal in every way possible.
Not only is Scott a red-hot tabloid sensation due to his on-again-off-again relationship with Jenner, but he’s also one of the biggest acts in the world: a six-time Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum-selling artist whose chart-topping, era-defining Drake collab Sicko Mode spent a colossal 32 weeks in the US Top 10 in 2018 – a record-shattering feat by any rap song.
He scored his second number one in 2019 with Highest in the Room, and a third with his Kid Cudi-collab The Scotts, back in April. The song was promoted via a tie-in with Fortnite Battle Royale and attracted 12.3 million gamers.
Scott’s success is probably due to the fact that he’s one of the most distinctive sounding artists in music right now. His tracks combine the irresistible bounce of Atlanta trap with stunning psychedelia, and his restless ad-libs (“straight up!”, “it’s lit!”, “yeah!”) are gargled with reverb and corrupted AutoTune so they echo like the rainbow-coloured trails of an LSD trip.
“You came to see Rihanna, huh?” he says when I mention my first time in the comparatively tiny 17,500-capacity Forum. As we sit down in his dressing room, his tattoo-adorned torso on full display, it’s hard to believe this quiet, thoughtful family man is the same guy who was RiRi’s ferocious support act four years ago.
Rolling a blunt while twirling around aimlessly on a black salon chair, the man born Jacques Berman Webster II in Houston, Texas in 1991 is (wait for it): disarmingly open about starring in the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate while in his school’s Thespian Society; incredibly adorable while talking about his daughter, Stormi, whom he loves to spoil (“she’s got more Lambos than me!”); and tremendously bummed out about the cancellation of this year’s Coachella festival, at which he was due to headline.
“I was so looking forward to it, man. I was so ready, so happy,” he sighs. “It was two weeks before my birthday. I was like, man, I had it. This Coachella, it felt like it was a little more special, you know?”
Still, the world keeps moving, and so does Travis Scott.
Today’s shoot marks his second collaboration with LaChapelle, the man behind some of the most iconic images in pop culture (Madonna with a swan, Missy eating cereal, Tupac in a bathtub, and practically every other famous person you can think of). They first worked together on the artwork for Astroworld. A chilly, haunted carnival of a shoot, it featured a golden Travis Scott head as the entrance to an imagined theme park, inspired by the former Houston attraction AstroWorld: a vivid, technicolour playground, with rides such as the medieval-themed Dungeon Drop and cobalt-blue Greezed Lightnin’.
While the original park may be long-since demolished (the site today is used mostly as a parking lot during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo), it left such an impression on Scott that he launched his own Astroworld Festival in 2018, which has hosted performances by the likes of Lil Wayne, Post Malone, Young Thug and Marilyn Manson.
“I think it’s super-important to be able to invite people into your world,” he says of a gathering that has quickly grown to become Houston’s biggest music festival, spotlighting natives from UGK legend Bun B, arguably the city’s most revered rap veteran, to Megan Thee Stallion, one of its biggest contemporary stars (who Scott describes as “keeping Houston going”).
Scott is at his most inviting when he’s talking about music: be it the Cactus Jack label he launched in 2017, or his free-wheeling JackBoys collective – an ensemble comprising himself, DJ Chase B and rappers Sheck Wes, Don Toliver and Luxury Tax. Their self-titled album claimed the first US number-one album of the decade in January and a new collaborative album with Chase B is reportedly on the cards.
He speaks highly of his collaborators. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, who featured on Astroworld album track Skeletons and shares a love of the ethereal, psychedelic landscapes that inform their work, is “dope”. Barcelona-born star Rosalía, who worked with Scott on last year’s Highest in the Room remix, and the sharp reggaeton shock of TKN in May, is “the best – she’s super-creative… I don’t really want to speak on her own music, but I think with her [upcoming] songs, she’s gonna push it to the next level,” he says. “Representing where she’s from… it’s amazing to see.”
He’s excited, too, about his own much-anticipated next album, but he’s reluctant to drop anything during the pandemic because he wants it to “hit the streets”. Shame, because his music would provide some welcome escapism in an era of lockdowns. As well as anthems for the moshpit, Scott makes soundtracks for floating in outer space and chilling in your inner sanctum. “I got music for the crib, too. You know, just the vibe. It ain’t always just gotta be lit.”
In June, Scott collaborated with Kanye West on his Holy Spirit-invoking single, Wash Us in the Blood, the latest in a long line of crossovers between the contemporary rap titans. It was West who kick-started Scott’s career after signing him to the production wing of his GOOD Music label in 2012. The pair collaborated on West’s dark, experimental masterpiece Yeezus the following year – Scott was picked as part of a diverse A‑team of producers that included Rick Rubin, Arca, Mike Dean, Daft Punk and early Chicago drill/Chief Keef producer, Young Chop.
The pair are pretty much family: West is married to Kim Kardashian West, the half-sister of Kylie Jenner. Since Kanye has re-embraced his Christian faith, reportedly forbidding swearing and hedonistic lifestyle choices (he is now anti-strip club and has condemned his own raunchy 2018 hit I Love It), many of the rappers he’s brought up over the years seem to be largely out of the picture. But he’s kept Scott by his side. And on Wash Us in the Blood, we saw a deeper side to Scott. Joining Kanye’s prayers for Christ to cleanse us of our sins, he raps about gangbanging as a sociopolitical travesty, juxtaposing the death penalty with the Sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill”.
He doesn’t think there’s anything unusual about him preaching the gospel. “My grandmother and my grandfather always kept me in that. My mom and dad always. For sure, a thousand per cent. I still find faith in everything,” he says. “I mean, I’ve made records where I don’t curse. Not every song has to have a curse word in it for it to be good. So it’s not about that. And I think, even in the beginning, [Kanye’s music] was church-inspired, too.”
For Scott, faith-based music can still be “real talk… and sometimes a lot of real talk ain’t soft”. But “real talk” might be where Scott diverges with his one-time mentor. Whereas West has spent the past few years donning a MAGA hat (since removed, so he can push his own political brand), supporting Donald Trump (since rescinded), running-not-running for president, claiming that slavery is a choice and espousing pro-life rhetoric, Scott has gone – to the casual observer at least – sharply in the other direction. The protests that erupted globally after George Floyd’s death at the hands of since-fired police officer Derek Chauvin have galvanised him.
After Floyd’s death, Scott broke from the general look-book aesthetic of his Instagram feed to write that “the rage that [Black people] are feeling is from direct personal experience and the constant pain of wanting our voices to be heard”. He concluded his message by writing that he was going to do “everything possible to make sure these issues are addressed on a long-term basis”.
This was in sharp contrast to only a year ago, when Scott was heavily criticised for performing at the 2019 Super Bowl in the midst of a boycott by Black performers following the National Football League’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick. The quarterback was effectively dropped by the San Francisco 49ers in 2016 because of his decision to “take a knee” in protest at racial inequality.
Scott’s former tour mate Rihanna publicly turned down an offer to perform: “I couldn’t dare do that,” she said. “For what? Who gains from that? Not my people… There’s things within that organisation that I do not agree with at all, and I was not about to go and be of service to them in any way.” Scott would later announce that he was donating his $500,000 fee to the social justice organisation Dream Corps.
So what’s he doing differently now?
“Houston, I got to tap in, know my officials,” he replies, referencing the success of his Astroworld Festival and a desire to channel his activism from the ground up, in a city yet to fully recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. “That means we got a voice to try to make change. People are listening, you know what I mean? And we want to try to make sure they understand that I’m a tool. Allow me to help in any way. Let me know where we got to go show up. It’s a big picture. It’s like a lot of groundwork we got to do.”
We discuss Scott’s inclusion of Kerry James Marshall’s 1993 painting De Style in his Instagram post following George Floyd’s death. Marshall’s work celebrates dark skin, depicting Black people in mythologised scenes of American life. The painting shows five Black figures posing in a barbershop, with a halo hovering over the barber’s head.
“That one specific image [is set in] a barbershop, where a lot of conversation happens, a lot of discussion posts, a lot of opinions are going back and forth, a lot of disagreements and agreements.” Black people have discussed America’s history of racism and police brutality for years, Scott says, and he hopes others are now more willing to have the same conversations.
“You’re trying to get to a point where people are finally seeing the oppression that’s been happening and overlooked, and that we, as a culture, have been fighting through every day. I mean, look how many leaders we have in the Black community.”
He wants to be one himself and, for many, he already is. Go to pretty much any concert in the Gen‑Z age bracket and you’re sure to see someone rocking the tie-dyed psychleisure of a Travis Scott tee. He’s not just a rapper but a style icon, fêted by high fashion and streetwear kids, a hero whose action figures sell by the thousand. If he can influence what they listen to, how they look, and what they buy, maybe he’ll be able to influence their minds, too?
But first step, he insists, is the T‑shirt. “The shirt’s not pointless,” Scott says. “The shirt means something. For me, when I see somebody rocking a tee, I know… OK… you want to RAGE!”
The quiet, contemplative Scott vanishes for a moment as he throws his head back, the word “rage” echoing around the studio. Then all is calm again and we return to the Travis Scott that very few of us get to meet.
Styling Brett Alan Nelson in collaboration with Alexandra & Mackenzie Grandquist. Hair Yazmin Adam. Make-up Amber Amos at The Only Agency. Grooming Marcu Hatch. Art director Simon Morgan. Production designer Kristen Vallow. Photographer’s executive producer Coleen Haynes. Photographer’s production Manager Desiree Lauro. DIT John Schoenfeld. Camera assistants Glen Vergara and David Winthrop Hansom. Projectionist Michael Allen. Stylist’s assistants Borys Korban, Bianca Agrusa, Gabriel Jacobs and Sam Woolf. Art team Andrew Nowling and Madison Glessmann. Set production assistants Max Normand and John McQuade. Medic Cerra Jiana. Covid-19 safety supervisor Christian Fernandez