Charting Black Excellence | Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE” shouldn’t be his first No. 1 song

Da’Shan Smith

 // Dec 7, 2018

Google // Free use

'Charting Black Excellence' celebrates black artists and their current accomplishments on the Billboard charts, which often don't receive the proper recognition and attention.

This has never occurred to me until recently, but Travis Scott is actually underrated. Although he celebrated ASTROWORLD re-entering the top spot of the Billboard 200 albums chart recently -- after a two-week run in August -- its lead single “SICKO MODE” became his first song to lead the Billboard Hot 100.

For a while, I’d been under the impression that the recording artist and producer had been a household name prior to his third era. Leading up to his concert at the United Center in Chicago last night (Dec. 6), I realized just how unfamiliar people are with his entire body of work. Furthermore, that his current success is a commentary on how a bubbling momentum can suddenly launch into an explosive stratosphere.

During his "ASTROWORLD: Wish You Were Here Tour," Scott opted to play all his charting hits toward the end of the setlist. The beginning contained a few deep cuts and promotional singles from the tour’s parent album, as well as his first two LPs, Rodeo and Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight, and mixtapes Owl Pharaoh and Days Before Rodeo. This move to not go for the instantly recognizable hits, jogged fans’ memories of how Scott built a momentum with consistent eras in his underground days and onto his sophomore era.

Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight is actually Scott’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200. In hindsight, when we look back at the year of music that was 2016, the stellar project gets overshadowed. This is when I knew that Scott’s level of stardom would be something to watch out for and when I had fully been on board. It had been more than just relating to the strutting-thump of “Coordinate” on Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight. I had been impressed by the ambitious Sept. 2 release date.

By that time, 2016 had already given us Rihanna’s ANTI, Beyoncé’s LEMONADE, Kanye West’s Life of Pablo, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, and Drake’s VIEWS — just to name a few. Still, Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight managed to hold its own spot alongside those blockbuster releases. The LP sandwiched itself perfectly in that year’s conceptually whole and boundary-pushing collective of personal opuses from music’s elites. Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight flew through its own journey, riding off the narrative and soundscape paved forward on Rodeo.

During the concert, the audience was given reminders as Scott flipped from energetically hopping on stage in his signature form, to singing on a rollercoaster, to crooning “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” acapella. As the seated audience jumped along with him in a more contained fashion to “NO BYSTANDERS,” the general admission-styled audience on the floor created a mosh pit that rivaled most trap-leaning concerts.

The "ASTROWORLD: Wish You Were Here Tour" seemed to make the term “mosh pit” signature for Scott only. The crowd chanted, “Mosh pit! Mosh pit!” in anticipation of a rowdy time. The reason why Scott is most likely number one is because he brings back a youthful, rock n roll energy to hip hop. It feels authentic — unlike any other superstar’s energy because it’s been conceptually shaped for years. Towards the end of the concert when he performed “Antidote,” that harvested energy radiated as one of the more lit highlights — his floor and “seated” audiences rejoicing in nostalgia.

In December 2015, “Antidote” would become Scott’s first top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and first top 10 hit on the R&B and Hip Hop charts. It’s right at this moment, that the public saw the first glimmers of the potential mob energy that the Houstonian could create on his own accord. It was out of the shadow of his Yeezus production work and the small chatter behind Rodeo’s buzz single “3500.” “Antidote” became a pop culture moment that translated past hip hop into the realms of the present.

At the time of Rodeo, there had been nothing out that sounded similar to “Antidote” and aside from Ye -- whose team Scott happened to be on -- that mob-like energy was just starting to develop for today’s hip hop. “Antidote” is one of the songs responsible for turning those tides and for a hot second, it did feel like a No. 1 song even if it didn’t obtain that chart position.

That’s why a quick follow up to the success of “Antidote” with the release of Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight helped launched Scott in the winning hemisphere he’s in now. Although “Pick Up The Phone” reached No. 43 on the Hot 100, and “Goosebumps” at No. 32 (neither of them hitting the Top 10 for hip hop), they too felt like No. 1s, if the streets had more of a say so beyond Spotify, Apple Music, and TIDAL playlists. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve attended a house party in the summer of 2016 and into the fall, and heard “I get those goosebumps every time!” being shouted in unison by speakers, or seen slow whining to Young Thug going “yeahhh!”

While “Goosebumps” made it on the setlist -- and towards the very end -- “Pick Up The Phone” did not. Instead that song was replaced by “Beibs in the Trap,” one of the more cult favorites for Scott’s fans. For a hot moment, it seemed like that song could have went No. 1 had people not realized early enough that Nav singing the hook wasn’t the pop star. That song managed to add a new layer to today’s pop culture, as well, flipping Justin Bieber’s name into drug slang. Around that time, Bieber didn’t appear on any remix, but he did link up with Scott on Purpose’s “No Sense.”

This is probably the pop collab that further aided Scott’s seamless crossover appeal. When Purpose was released in 2015, it became one of the first albums to seriously break streaming records and show the replay value of albums on streaming sites. Purpose is a pioneering album, an exception for pop music to the streaming rules of hip hop. It’d make complete sense that Scott would receive some notoriety from that collab — as it also played an integral part in shaping present trap&B. The Bieber-centric songs landed at No. 90 and No. 54, respectively, on the Hot 100.

In the 2017 space leading up to ASTROWORLD, Scott mastered the skill of features. Through that, he captured a No. 9 hit with Drake and Quavo on “Portland.” Bested by one spot, “Portland” would be More Life’s second highest charting song after “Passionfruit.” The sound of flutes ringing popular in hip hop, thanks to Future’s “Mask Off,” “Portland” balanced tranquility with the trap.

Later that summer, Scott made another successful trap&B contribution to SZA’s “Love Galore,” which would be the song that broke her to the mainstream. It’s actually surprising, judging by how popular that song was, it didn’t eek out a top 20, top 10, or let alone No. 1 position for how well it captures millennial romance in the post-ANTI and Take Care climate.

That’s why I never considered Scott to be underrated. But yet, this week one of my twitter mutuals expressed shock in how quickly ASTROWORLD took off. My barber in Chicago didn’t know Scott currently had the No. 1 song and album. My Uber driver said she’d listen to “R.I.P. Screw” after I explained the science behind cloud rap and Scott’s particular brand of it.

Since 2013, the momentum of Scott was quietly building like amino acids in a muscle. That muscle is now taking charge of current youth culture and millennial culture alike, as evident by the last night’s audience demographic. When looking at “SICKO MODE,” it makes sense as Scott’s first No. 1 in hindsight. The song builds off of all the other elements from those that should have went No. 1 at some point, but ultimately didn’t.

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