Album: ASTROWORLD
Producer: Hit-Boy, OZ, Cubeatz, Tay Keith, Mike Dean, and Rogét Chahayed

Mike Dean, the Houston-reared multi-instrumentalist, posted a video earlier this year showing a young Travis Scott performing in what appeared to be the opening set of a small festival stage. You could count the number of people in attendance on one hand. Mike Dean stood in the corner, playing the keyboard, likely smoking a blunt, recording the burgeoning rapper with all the fondness of a mother watching their child at a swim meet. He then posted another video of Travis Scott performing to a packed-out arena. The point was to show that hard work pays off, but also that Travis Scott had arrived.

And no song has hailed his arrival more than track three on his third studio album. A three-part sage, “Sicko Mode” represents everything great about ASTROWORLD. As staff writer Kiana Fitzgerald noted, the album is at its best when it’s being “extraordinarily cohesive” while making sure to never feel settled. Nothing embodies that more than Travis’s first Hot 100 No. 1 record. Produced by an honor roll of current hit makers—Hit-Boy, OZ, Cubeatz, Tay Keith, Mike Dean, and Rogét Chahayed—the song does a funny thing by feeling hyper modern, even while harkening back to the ’90s with vocals samples and nods to the Notorious B.I.G. and Houston legend Big Hawk.

Then there’s the rapping. Drake doing what amounts to a warmup on the opening verse, but then comes back with his expertly tailored brand of cool-to-the-touch midnight rage. Yeah, we heard the rumors about the verse being partly about him riding through Hidden Hills looking for Ye, but the more important and memorable part comes from the intro/chorus where he does that thing where he reminds us all of how little he had, before cleverly noting how much he’s attained. He also rapped the most responsible drug lyric of the past decade.

But while Drake gets most of the credit for showing out on “Sicko Mode,” Travis punches above his weight, with some slick lines detailing the chasm between what he sees and what everyone around him—girls, homies, jewelers—sees. Bet you didn’t expect the jeweler-selling-fruit line, did you? Of course you didn’t. But going forward, you should. If nothing else, “Sicko Mode” shows that Travis’ insistence on honing and building his sound is unrelenting, and even though he’s made it to the top of the charts, there’s more he wants to do. —Damien Scott