1 jul 2020

Travis Scott: portrait of rap superstar

It took less than a decade for the Houston-born rapper and producer to become one of the biggest stars of our times, and in doing so he has turned the codes of hip-hop inside out. The fantastic futuristic universe that Scott has created has seduced millions, among them Kim Jones, artistic director of Dior menswear, who has made him his muse for the Air Dior collection.

By Delphine Roche.

Photos by Hugo Scott.

Wool serge suit, shirt, tie and “Air Jordan 1 High OG Dior” sneakers, Capsule Air Dior, Dior Men.

In 2014, PPP (the label Pigalle Paris, the artist Pain o Chokolat and the club Le Pompon), which at the time were the masters of cool on the Paris nightlife scene, invited Travis Scott to showcase his work at Faust, what was then a new Left Bank club underneath the arches of the Pont Alexandre III. A super-worked-up crowd came to hear the first Parisian concert given by a prodigy whose name, in those days, was still only circulating by word of mouth. At that point he had just two mixtapes to his name, the second of which, Days Before Rodeo, had just come out and included tracks that would be- come instant classics. Both a producer and a rapper, Scott, who back then still wrote his name with a dollar sign (Travi$ Scott), was already laying the foundations of an entirely personal world which he would go on to master in every aspect. Soaring and very dark, Drugs You Should Try It pushed the trap sound to its limits with its mad cymbals and bass and its superimposed auto-tuned vocals, while on Mamacita, Scott’s hoarse voice surfed on an irresistible rhythm. That night in Paris, he already gave the full measure of what would become his trademark: an intensity close to hysteria. Shirtless and as though possessed, Scott jumped about and harangued his fans. As the whole audience jumped with him, it seemed for a moment that a lost energy had been revived, that of the punk generation, which the audience in the hall that evening knew only through archive footage. Just like in the good old days, the police were called to break things up at the end… “Travis Scott has proved that hip-hop is the new punk,” screamed the online headlines the next day. But the story had only just begun.



It wasn’t the first time Scott had set foot in the City of Light, since he had come once before to help Kanye West, who hired him as one of the producers on his album Yeezus. Signed to West’s label GOOD Music, and already approved by one of the Atlanta godfathers of rap, T.I., the young Jacques Webster, Jr, as Scott was born, was thus already squarely on the launch pad when he released his first official album, Rodeo, in 2015. On the cover, the future star appeared as an action doll dressed up in all his usual accoutrements: dreadlocks, tattoos, heavy neck- laces, leather jeans and black Vans – a collector’s doll that now sells for E1,600 online. This way of projecting his image already signalled a certain self-distancing, as though right from the start Scott saw himself as his own marionette, at once entirely sincere and completely immaterial.



Between his studio where he works with a demandingness bordering on obsession, according to those who’ve seen him at it, the concert stage where he transgresses everything right down to basic security regulations (which has already got him arrested for “incitation to riot” in the US as well as earning him a lawsuit from an injured fan), and the strange visual universe derived from science fiction which hesubsequently rolled out in his images and videoclips, Scott seems to exist in a world that is parallel to our own. For some this is due to the influence of growing up with his older brother, who is severely autistic, and in online forums his fans even discuss the possibility that Scott himself may have a mild form of autism.

Wool serge jacket, cotton jersey stand-up collar T-shirt, cotton drill Bermuda shorts, Air Dior embroidered socks, Air Dior hat with patch and “Air Jordan 1 High OG Dior” sneakers, Capsule Air Dior, Dior Men.

Such speculations have been fed by the way Scott – who has now be – come a superstar who drives Lamborghinis and Ferraris and flies about in a private jet – has come back to his native Houston since his cult album Astroworld. Accompanied by a Netflix documentary, Look Mom I Can Fly, and countless interviews in the press, this homecoming was the occasion for intimate revelations of the sort that only the social media era can produce. We discovered his entire family, including his grandmother – filmed at her home in a modest Houston suburb – and his proud parents, who’ve always supported their son. And yet Scott’s childhood was not all rosy, with a partially handicapped mother who worked for AT&T, a musician father who played the drums professionally but was often out of work, and the autistic brother of whom Scott once said, in an interview with Rolling Stone, “His temper sometimes is very strong. Like, I’ll be asleep and, boom, Marcus will start going crazy. Jump on me. We’ll be walking and he’ll push me. But that’s my brother, man. I bring these kids up [on stage in his concerts] out of heart, because I know my brother would freak the fuck out if one of his favourite artists invited him up. I’m thinking of Marcus every time.”



Shirtless and as though possessed, Travis Scott jumped about and harangued his fans. As the whole audience jumped with him, it seemed for a moment that a lost energy had been revived, that of the punk generation, which the audience in the hall that evening knew only through archive footage. Just like in the good old days, the police were called to break things up.



After Rodeo, with its unstoppable single Antidote, hit no. 3 in the charts the day it came out, the following albums, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight and Astroworld, saw Scott honing his artistic vision. On the cover of Birds, he appeared in a sophisticated image by the photographer Nick Knight that showed him as a winged creature, his face hidden behind his dreadlocks in a curl of smoke. Of the album’s 14 tracks, history has particuarly retained Goosebumps, supported by one of Scott’s best performances as a pro- ducer as well as a guest appearance from Kendrick Lamar. After immediately going platinum, the song became an anthem that Scott once played no less than 14 times in a row at one of his concerts.


Cotton drill jacket, shirt, jersey T-shirt, cotton drill Bermuda shorts, “Air Jordan 1 High OG Dior” socks and sneakers and printed full grain leather zip-up clutch bag, Capsule Air Dior, Dior Men.

The antithesis of all those machos with machine guns waging gang wars and all the other stuff that has traditionally been part of rap’s not-so-discreet charm, the Houston native cultivates an aesthetic ambition and a sophistication that naturally make him comparable to ASAP Rocky. What distinguishes him from the New Yorker, however, is his ability to generate coherent fictional worlds, encompassing everything from the sound to the visuals, in which he himself becomes a character from science fiction or from comic books. Having frequently expressed his desire to pile up the Grammy Awards, Scott doesn’t seek to play the hipster surrounded by bevvies of beautiful models but rather to become a new contemporary mogul, a game changer, like Jay-Z or Kanye West. This thirst for recognition and influence began to make itself apparent with the release of the seminal album Astroworld in 2018, at the same time as the press announced his relationship with Kylie Jenner, who though the youngest of the Kardashian clan was already a billionaire, with 177 million followers on Instagram. As one half of this perfect couple, Scott brought artistic credibility to the woman who would soon become the mother of his daughter, Stormi Webster, while Jenner in return offered him enormous publicity.



Astroworld announced a change in scale for the rapper-producer. Counting no less than 15 guest stars and ten producers, from Drake, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Quavo to the psychedelic rock group Tame Impala, the album took its name from an amusement park that been an important feature in Scott’s childhood in Houston, and whose closure he deeply mourned. At his pharaonic concerts, he installed a giant rollercoaster in which he took off amid laser special effects and other spectacular pyrotechnics. With Sicko Mode, Highest in the Room, and others, his videos also began to resemble exiting sci-fi blockbusters with their use of FX trickery and 3D animation to bring Scott’s personal universe to life. During the coronavirus lockdown, he even gave a concert for users of the online game Fortnite starring his own digital avatar, which took the form of a more sophisticated version of the action doll from Rodeo. A year before the release of Astroworld, he also founded his own label, Cactus Jack Records, which is behind one of the most exciting and innovative hip-hop projects of recent years, the collective album Jack Boys, which includes, in addition to Scott, his protégés Sheck Wes, Don Toliver and the late Pop Smoke.



Gifted with a unique visual style, Scott naturally cultivates impeccable taste in sartorial matters, and carefully curates his fashion collaborations. Muse for the Air Dior capsule collection, he brings to life the garments designed by the artistic director Kim Jones in collaboration with Jordan Brand – the brand founded by Michael Jordan, an icon of sportswear and streetwear. “The Air Jordan 1 High OG Dior sneaker is entirely made in Italy,” explains Jones. “Its construction is just as soigné as one of our bags. This capsule collection transcends sports- wear through the art of tailoring. It brings the expertise of Dior together with the sportswear style of the 80s. We were inspired by the looks of Michael Jordan, who off court only wore suits. That’s why we’ve used luxury fabrics such as silk and cashmere.” Eagerly awaited, the Air Jordan 1 High OG is guaranteed to produce just the same hysteria as its muse does on the concert stage.