Stop Trying to Be God: The Kanye West and Travis Scott Cold War
Kanye West, as we knew him, is gone.
The incredible musical ear that gave us The College Dropout and produced The Blueprint is in the past, and we are now left with a Trumpian shell of his persona. Kanye’s ego always has always come with his creativity. As a longtime defender, I accepted that you couldn’t have one without the other. Unfortunately, we have now reached a point of diminishing returns with Kanye’s explosive unpredictability. The Life of Pablo was the first sign of West slipping in his perfectionism and quality control. Ye was close to a mess.
Being a longtime fan always meant you tolerated Kanye’s attention-whoring and pseudo-intellectual pronouncements in exchange for genre defining music. Now, however, West’s lack of judgment appears to be bleeding into his art. From the abrupt ending of what was to be a legendary world tour, to ill-advised Oval Office meetings, to a truly terrifying Migos snippet that I hope never sees the light of day, the last few years have been a rollercoaster ride for any Kanye West fan.
This applies to his superstar fans as well. Kanye is directly or indirectly responsible for almost every young voice that dominates contemporary hip hop, from Kid Cudi and NoName to Chance the Rapper and Jaden Smith. Some artists like John Legend, Soulja Boy and G Herbo have openly vocalised their discomfort with his political propaganda. Some have taken their disappointment to their art. This is where we find the likes of Drake, J.Cole and the subject of this investigation, Travis Scott.
Kanye West was one of the very first major proponents of Travis Scott, heavily involving the Houston rapper-producer in 2012’s Cruel Summer and 2013’s Yeezus. Travis Scott’s hip hop nihilism, elaborate set pieces and autotuned style all come from Kanye and Kid Cudi’s influence. The two rappers are also now essentially related through their associations with the Kardashian-Jenners. In the last two years or so, it has seemed that Travis Scott - who maintains a relatively chill and media-shy persona - has grown fatigued with the nonstop Kanye West spectacle. Scott’s contributions to West’s last three projects - 2016’s The Life of Pablo and 2018’s Ye and Kids See Ghosts - have declined with each consecutive release. Although recording a verse for Kanye and Kid Cudi’s joint project, it didn’t make the final cut.
Kanye and Travis’s final collaboration was Watch, a May 2018 track which was initially posited as the lead single for Scott’s long awaited album Astroworld. The song begins with a sample of a little girl at the now-defunct theme park where Scott’s current era is set. The sample, “Because it's the last ride ever gonna…. / That I'm ever gonna take at Astroworld”, introduces themes of childlike wonder, reflection and nostalgia that form the framework of the Astroworld age. Although it has excellent production from Pi’erre Bourne, Watch was a worrying intro to the much-hyped follow-up to 2015’s Rodeo. It featured a very weak verse from Lil Uzi Vert and an unbelievably low-effort contribution from Kanye West. You can almost feel Scott’s disappointment in the song. Unsurprisingly enough, Watch ended up not being included on Astroworld. The album’s eventual official introduction, Stargazing, felt like a more polished premiere of what went on to become a blockbuster hit, spawning an incredibly successful stadium tour and Scott’s megastar-making moment. Kanye has made it no secret he misses his ability to dominate the commercial charts as well as public conversation. It feels to me that the release of Watch and the direction turn of Astroworld signified Travis Scott breaking away from the need to associate with West for success. Kanye’s successive projects since then have not been as successful as Astroworld, and the two rappers have not shared a stage since.
Sicko Mode was released with the rest of Astroworld in August 2018 and ended up being the breakout hit of the album. When not paying homage/biting Famous Dex’s Japan, Drake spends the song making barely veiled subliminal disses and threats to Kanye West, literally stating he has “lost [his] respect”. He has his own complicated relationship with Kanye West, soured last year by West’s supposed betrayal in the beef that Drake catastrophically lost to Pusha T. The lines that can be read as shots to Kanye are as hilarious in their malice as they are impressive in their structure. They include descriptions of Drake sneaking around the streets of Calabasas (where he and the Kardashian-Wests are neighbours) to handle his beef personally:
“I still got scores to settle, man
I crept down the block, made a right
Cut the lights, paid the price
N****s think it's sweet, it's on sight”
Drake in Sicko Mode
In Astroworld sleeper hit Stop Trying to Be God, Travis Scott (in a more subtle fashion than Drake) ruminates on celebrity hero worship. He reveals his frustrations with increasingly damaging and consuming God complexes that obsessive fandom can create. It is not a large leap to relate this to his mentor who is currently being reported to be developing his own church and is following up Yeezus with Yandhi. Scott has never acknowledged that the lines are directed to Kanye himself, but I have learnt that what rappers say and what they do are often very different things.
“Is it the complex of the saint that's keepin' you so, so still?
Is it too long since the last open conversation you had?
Stop tryna be God
Hmm-hmm, That's not who you are”
Travis Scott in ‘Stop Trying to be God’
It is difficult to not associate Stop Trying to be God’s lyrics (above) with his terse relationship with West. Scott has also added fuel to the fire with a cryptic post of Nike socks, public embracing of Drake even after Kanye had a meltdown about him on social media, and his confession that the message young black kids got from Kanye’s political endorsements bothered him.
Aside from noting his displeasure at Travis Scott for “allowing” Drake’s disses in Sicko Mode, Kanye has not made any other public remarks towards his protege. The two have been pictured together at family functions and Travis has said that West is his “family”. Kanye has not released new music except for head-scratching features with Tekashi69 and YNW Melly, along with a spot on the recent Tyler, the Creator album. He has had plenty of energy for Drake with regards to tabloid fodder about their love lives. He is considered to have replied to Drake’s shots in Sicko Mode in No Mistakes from his last solo album:
“Too bold to type you
Too rich to fight you”
Kanye West in ‘No Mistakes’
It remains to be seen what direction West and Scott’s creative relationship will take in future years, but perhaps this juvenile diss sums up the entire saga.