Last month, when we finally got to hear G.O.O.D. Music's Cruel Summer, one name on the tracklist took us by surprise. No, we're not talking about Ma$e (though that was admittedly surprising), we're talking about 20-year-old Houston-born rapper, Travi$ Scott. What was Scott—a relatively unknown rapper who most listeners probably heard for the first time on Cruel Summer's "Sin City"—doing on the one of the biggest albums of the year?
We had Scott come by the Complex offices in NYC. The jittery rapper/producer—who at times, sounds like a California surfer the way he pronounces "dude"—told us about his life story and how he went from being practically homeless to rocking with Kanye West. He also shared stories of growing up and having fist-fights with his dad, dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, and his upcoming EP, Owl Pharaoh. Continue reading to find out, Who Is Travi$ Scott?
As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
Growing Up in Houston
Travi$ Scott: “I was born in Houston, Texas. I grew up in Houston, by Missouri City. It’s like a suburb in the area, it’s middle-class. But I used to stay with my grandma in the hood from ages one to six. My mom worked for Apple and my dad owned his own business. I lived in [Houston] most of my life until I was like 19, I’m 20 now and I stay in L.A.
“Growing up, my grandmother stayed in the hood so I seen random crazy shit. [I saw] mad bums and crazy spazzed out motherfuckers, I saw people looking weird, hungry, and grimey. I was always like, ‘I gotta get the fuck out this shit.’ It gave me my edge—[it made me] who I am right now.
My grandmother stayed in the hood so I seen random crazy stuff. [I saw] mad bums and people looking weird, hungry, and grimey. I was always like, ‘I gotta get the f**k out this place.’ It gave me my edge—[it made me] who I am right now.
“I was living in like South Park. It’s like another one of those famous places but it’s not like the Third Ward. Third Ward got kind of good, Third Ward got big ass houses now. They’re switching it up. I was always around there. My parents didn’t want me to really go through that shit.
“Third Ward and Fifth Ward, real shit happened there, they’re on some like Chicago shit. Niggas was dying not because of gunshots but lean overdose. That’s why you see these like niggas rapping about lean man, like, ‘Nigga you don’t know shit about that shit. Niggas dying on that shit man.’
“Once I moved [to the suburbs] I adapted to where I was growing up. [I adapted to] suburban culture, fresh culture, and diversity. I’m big on diversity. My music is very diverse, I don’t want it to ever be typecasted.
“[I didn’t get in a lot of trouble growing up] but I was doing mischievous shit. I wouldn’t do dumb shit, but I would just like skip school to do beats or skip school to meet Mike Dean. And then I’d come back to school and be like, ‘I was just with Mike Dean.’ Next thing you know I’m making beats with the homie. It’s crazy.”
Learning To Rap and Produce
Travi$ Scott: “When I was three years old my dad bought me my first drum set. I was playing drums extra hard, like I wasn’t going to fail with that shit. I was a drum master. I used to think engineering was producing.
“Growing up I played the drums and then I played piano. I quit playing piano because it wasn’t getting no bitches. I was making beats because like the electronic sound was getting all the hoes. [Laughs.] Like, ‘I’m a rapper, bitch.’
“But when Kanye came out it was like, ‘Yo, that’s producing .’ I was like, ‘Man, like what the fuck? Now I got to learn to make beats?’ I started picking up beats like at 16. I got really serious at 17. That’s when I put together tight beats.
My first beat was actually pretty sick. I played the first beat I ever made for Mr Hudson because when I first made it, I was thinking about him. Pause. He was like, ‘Oh it’s so ill.’ I was like, ‘I made this in '07!’
“I always wanted to know how to rap. I was just trying to tell my life story, trying to explain who I am. I was rapping—I used to be in a group. I would make the beats and write the hooks. I was like, ‘I got to get better.’ I was studying and learning how to kill these niggas lyrically.
“I started making beats because I used to rap over instrumentals, but that shit wasn’t setting the mood for me. Like I needed that shit more darker. I needed the drums to hit harder, the snares sound like shit, this shit’s got to go. Or like why is this in here?
“So I started making beats. My first beat was actually pretty sick. I played the first beat I ever made for Mr Hudson because when I first made it, I was thinking about him. Pause. He was like, ‘Oh it’s so ill.’ I was like, ‘I made this in '07 my nigga!’
“I be using mad analog shit. It just depends what I start on. [I use every program] minus Fruity Loops. [Laughs.] A lot of producers that use that shit. The radio right now uses Fruity Loops.
“But Fruity Loops has a sound that’s so wack. They don’t curate mixes in Fruity Loops, they just make the beat there. I feel like niggas use Fruity Loops because it’s one of the most easiest, cheapest, fastest ways out there to make beats.
“But like I said, I was into the whole music theory thing so I couldn’t get hip to that shit. The sound was so off and un-fresh. I have every other program but that. I use a lot of like Junos and Rolands.”
Fighting With His Parents
Travi$ Scott: “My dad used to come in my room like, ‘Turn that shit off!’ Ripping my power out, just making beats die off—it was so many beats I had. I was so cold with my dad. It got to a point he was shutting off power in my room!
“Me and my dad used to have fist-fights in front of my friends. I was going hard for this shit. Niggas don’t know. Like your parents are supposed to be 100%, backbone support, it’s fucking like, ‘Fuck that!’
My dad used to come in my room like, ‘Turn that s**t off!’ Ripping my power out, just making beats die off. It got to a point he was shutting off power in my room! Me and my dad used to have fist-fights in front of my friends.
“Hell no [they didn’t want me to do music]! The most ironic thing is my grandfather has his masters in music composition, he was a jazz composer. My dad was a musician too, he played more like soul music. He dad was a drummer and he plays the piano. That’s where I get my whole music theory from, my pops and my grandfather.
“That’s the thing though, they’ve been through it. They wasn’t just fucking [with me doing music] because how the whole music game has changed in this generation. Their mentality was like you need to have something that’s a complete system.
“But I’m like, ‘Yo dad, I got friends who are graduating, fucking pre-med, and they can’t even get a job! But I could do a couple shows and I’ll make more than you do in like a year or two. Just trust me man. I’m ill, daddy!’ That whole struggle was just a pain in the ass.”
Dropping Out of College
Moving to New York City
Moving to L.A.
Travi$ Scott: “After New York, I went to L.A, with my homie. I was like, ‘Man let’s just grind this shit out. We can make it. I know a couple people.’ But my man left me in L.A man. I was by myself. I had nobody and no money.
“My parents cut me off because I dropped out of college. I was using money for college to like buy plane tickets and food. I was lying to my parents like, ‘Man, I’m in school .’ They came to visit me, I wasn’t there. I was like in a whole other state.
I came back home to Houston, and my parents is like, ‘Man, get the f**k out my house, you’re not about to do s**t, you about to be a bum.’
“I told them I left because I was doing rap music. Imagine what the fuck that shit sound like over the phone? My phone turned off next day. So I had no phone and then my homie left me. I thought this nigga was like my nigga so I really just snapped man.
“So I was in L.A. grinding, working on music. That’s when I started putting shit out and getting attention. I left L.A., came back home to Houston, and my parents is like, ‘Man, get the fuck out my house, you’re not about to do shit, you about to be a bum.’
“So I went back to L.A., I was like, ‘Fuck this shit.’ My homie bought me a plane ticket back to L.A . I had no money again, but I knew someone I could stay with at USC. So I was crashing with my homie on his couch at USC.
“When I got off the plane in L.A., I had 14 text messages from T.I. and his camp. They were like, ‘Yo, can you come by the studio?’ And I was like, ‘Yo, this is like nuts man.’
“I don’t know [how T.I. found out about me]. That’s like a good question. [Laughs.] I was uploading like music on the Internet and blogs were picking it up. I was mad Complex wasn’t picking it up. I was like, ‘What’s up? Am I not fresh enough for this fucking place?’ [Laughs.]
When I got off the plane in L.A., I had 14 text messages from T.I. and his camp. They were like, ‘Yo, can you come by the studio?’ And I was like, ‘Yo, this is like nuts man.’
“So I came by the studio and T.I. was there. T.I. was like ‘Yo man, I fuck with you. Keep doing what you’re doing, I just wanted to tell you that.’ This was when I first put out this video called 'Lights (Love Sick).'
“This is when people started hearing about my beats. Mad publishers were hitting me up. My name started floating around and I made some money selling beats. I was sub-leasing this crib, staying in this one room. But then this dude kicked me out because he thought I fucked his girl. My nigga Sickamore got me a hotel, he held me down.
“I couldn’t be here without my friends. I wouldn’t like have a place to lay my head some nights but my friends held me down that’s how much they believed in me.”
Meeting Kanye for the First Time
Travi$ Scott: “When I was in this hotel, all of a sudden, I got a call like, ‘Yo, when can you come to New York ?’ I was like ‘Yeah. I’m homeless right now.’ This nigga like, ‘Yo, Kanye wants to fuck with you.’ I was like, ‘Oh shit!’ Next thing you know, I was on next plane back to New York.
“I don’t know [how Kanye found out about me]. I think it’s just like people in his camp being like ‘Man, you should fuck with this shit.’ He didn’t call me directly—someone else called me, like an engineer.
“Next thing you know, I was out there, and I stayed out there for a while. That was during like the whole ‘Mercy’ saga . That’s like before ‘Mercy’ was even out. So I been there through like the whole saga. I been there since the top of that.
First thing Kanye gave me was a Doritos taco from Taco Bell. He gave it to me on this fancy platter. What’s crazy is, I don’t eat like sour cream. I opened it and it was loaded with sour cream! He’s like ‘Why aren’t you eating it?’ All my ni**as know that would make me throw up. But I ate the whole thing! [Laughs.]
“The first time I met Kanye, this nigga came in—he had on these yellow Balenciagas—and I’m like, ‘Man, this nigga is really here.’ He’s got on like seven chains. He came in, and he was on the phone. I’m like ‘Fuck, this nigga’s on the phone.’ He dapped me up, he said my name, like ‘This nigga actually know who I am!’
“First thing he gave me was a Doritos taco from Taco Bell. He’s like, ‘Yo you want a taco?’ I was like, ‘Yeah!’ He gave it to me on this fancy ass platter, like some Hermes shit. What’s crazy is, I don’t eat like sour cream.
“So I opened it and that shit was loaded with sour cream! He’s like ‘Why aren’t you eating it?’ All my niggas know that shit would make me throw up. But I ate the whole shit! [Laughs.] I wasn’t going to be like, ‘No, I’m not fucking with this taco man. You put this shit on this nice plate, but I’m not about to eat it.’
“That taco was so fucking disgusting. But man, I wouldn’t even notice it. Just playing him my music and just to see him nod his head even a little bit was just ill.
“After I stopped, he’ll be like, ‘This shit was dope,’ or ‘This shit’s ill. Then he’ll like critique it fast as fuck. Like, ‘I think you should pull this, but other than that it’s ill.’ It was fresh, other than that like sour cream in my fucking mouth.”
Working on Cruel Summer
The Making of “Sin City”
His Upcoming EP, Owl Pharaoh
Travi$ Scott: “I want to say it’s 90% done. It’s definitely going to drop in the next month and a half. I’m revisiting beats because every day I feel like I evolve. After like this whole Cruel Summer shit I learned a lot. I’m stepping up this whole rap content. By not putting this tape out right now, kind of like builds me more of a story I can tell, so I’m like revisiting raps.
“I had a time where me and Pusha T was like chilling. Like the world needs to like know the shit I’ve been through. I feel like a little thing in my head is telling me like I shouldn’t drop this yet, that I can probably make this whole story grander. My beats can be way more iller, my raps can be way more iller.
I’ve been bouncing ideas back and forth with Kanye just to make it’s the illest shit ever. Kanye will be like ‘Dumb that down’ or like he’ll tell me something to inspire me. Like, ‘Stop working on that,’ or ‘Sit here and listen to this. Don’t do nothing else until you get through listening to this.’ [He’s tells me to] dial in and really figure out who you are as an artist.
“I’ve been bouncing ideas back and forth with ‘Ye just to make it’s the illest shit ever. Kanye will be like ‘Dumb that down’ or like he’ll tell me cool shit to inspire me. Like, ‘Stop working on that,’ or ‘Sit here and listen to this shit. Don’t fuck with nothing else until you get through listening to this shit.’ [He’s tells me to] dial in and really figure out who you are as an artist.
“Owls are my whole life man. When I was in Stadium Red in New York, we used to go to that shit from 10PM to like 10AM. That was my everyday life. I would not see the day until like I woke up in the studio. From my time in Houston, that’s when I could just get everything done, in the night.
“All my homies from Houston to New York, they just call me like a fucking owl. I just don’t sleep. I’m just like always up doing shit. I be dumb hype at five in the morning, like what the fuck is wrong with you right now? I’m smart man and owls are wise.
“Then I came up with the Pharaoh title. I feel like I’m a king of this whole young generation, I’m building a new face for Houston. I just want to give off that presence of what a Pharaoh would’ve gave off. And it’s no Egypt shit—like none of that extra Egypt gold, extra quote-un-quote Illuminati bullshit. It has nothing to do with any of that shit. It’s just like a genuine—it feels like I am as a character.
“The music on that tape fits the whole stature. All that shit. Drums is all Pharaoh’d out. Pharaohs, if they were here today, this nigga would would come out on Travi$ drums like, ‘I need Travi$ in Egypt cooking this shit for when I come out to talk to the peasants.’ [Laughs.] I feel like I’m [next] to rule and take over.”