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Travis Scott: In Orbit With Rap’s Newest Superstar

Pizza with Kylie Jenner, love from the mayor, and quality time with Grandma Sealie: A Lamborghini tour of Houston with hip-hop’s newest superstar
Dana Scruggs for Rolling Stone

T ravis Scott wants to see Kylie Jenner before her private jet takes off, but he’s running late to meet her, so he punches the gas on his Lamborghini SUV and sends the speedometer into hysterics: 80 miles an hour becomes 95 becomes a screaming 110, or exactly double the speed limit on this particular stretch of Houston highway. It is pouring rain. Farther up in Scott’s lane, where traffic is thicker, a Land Rover brakes, but Scott — left hand on the wheel, right hand on his phone, eyes on a maps app — does not. The Land Rover’s rear bumper is maybe 200 feet away, then 75 and then, sickeningly, 25. Scott has stopped accelerating but, for unclear reasons, he hasn’t touched the brake.

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Travis Scott photographed in Brooklyn on November 20th, 2018 by Dana Scruggs. Dana Scruggs for Rolling Stone

It is the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Scott, 26, is in a great mood thanks to the first-ever Astroworld Festival — a celebration that this Houston native has fantasized about throwing ever since his career launched in earnest. He finally managed to pull it off yesterday, basically on top of the site of the city’s old Astroworld amusement park, which was shut down, to his dismay, in 2005, when he was 13. “When they took away Astroworld, they took away a piece of my heart,” he says. In tribute, he rented a Ferris wheel, a drop tower and a chair-o-planes, and he filled two stages with sets from some hitmaking friends (Young Thug, Post Malone), hometown legends he grew up worshipping (Bun B, Lil Flip), and younger stars whom he helped inspire (Sheck Wes, Smokepurpp). The festival was a hit; 40,000 people came, undeterred by ticket prices that started at $150 and got as high as $650 (plus a $104.26 fee). “The merch sold out too,” Scott says.

Out in the crowd, kids screamed and thrashed, got bloody noses in mosh pits and hung out in a “planetarium” featuring hallucinatory projections that Scott intended to represent the contents of his skull. Backstage, Jenner hovered in a fitted black jumpsuit, carrying her and Scott’s infant daughter, Stormi, on her hip. Swae Lee, of Rae Sremmurd, carried his own infant-size jeroboam of champagne into a black-lit tent. Scott’s manager says that, during the festival, James Harden hit him up from the Toyota Center, where the Houston Rockets were playing the Sacramento Kings, and asked if Scott could maybe, possibly push back his headlining set so that Harden could catch it? Nothing doing, alas, but the Rockets won and Harden made it just in time to see Scott perform “Sicko Mode” anyway.

“Sicko Mode,” the biggest single of Scott’s career, had been at Number Two on the pop charts for weeks (and would climb to Number One in early December) — a feat all the more remarkable given that it bears no resemblance to a single. The song contains zero choruses, nothing like a traditional hook and three different beats that transition into one another with intentional ungainliness. Sixty seconds in, an opening guest verse from Drake cuts off abruptly in something like the pop-music-flex equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock offing Janet Leigh early in Psycho — before long, the track shape-shifts again. The song comes from Astroworld, Scott’s platinum-certified third album, which has established him as the most intensely beloved hip-hop star to emerge since Drake himself. It is a melancholy LP — a nostalgic, narcotized mix of despair and hedonism — about chasing evanescent thrills in an opulently appointed wasteland. Which is not a horrible way to describe America circa 2018, which may help explain why younger listeners see themselves reflected in his warped sound (and why Ellen DeGeneres recently called Scott “the voice of a generation” when she had him on her show). 21 Savage shows up and talks about dressing his possibly literal dogs in fine Parisian menswear. Stevie Wonder shows up with a ghostly harmonica solo. Kevin Parker of Tame Impala plays hazy guitar. All of it is held together by Scott’s druggy, droning, digitally distorted flow — a gray-scale kaleidoscope centering a long, strange trip.

Scott, who was born Jacques Webster, spends most of his time these days in Los Angeles. But Astroworld is a homage to his hometown above all else, and earlier today his hometown officially reciprocated: Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, invited Scott to City Hall to issue a proclamation naming November 18th “Astroworld Day.” The ceremony was scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. and, according to a member of Turner’s staff, the mayor flew back from a trade mission to New Delhi and Mumbai in time to be there with Scott. So when word arrived around 12:35 that Scott hadn’t even left the house he owns just outside town, some 45 minutes away, Turner was less than thrilled. When Scott got there, though, all was instantly forgiven — Turner gave him a hug, the kids in attendance mobbed him for photos, and Scott encouraged them, in turn, to “activate everything you want to do” when they grew up. After some more photos, police officers escorted him to his Lamborghini, and it was not long afterward Scott got a call from Jenner, wondering where he was.

The two have been dating since April 2017. They first hooked up at Coachella, where Jenner, smitten, hopped on Scott’s tour bus and followed him on the road. Scott was smitten in turn, and at some point, he thinks in early May, after a matter of mere weeks together, they conceived Stormi, who was born last February. “At first I was like, ‘Man, I need a son,’ ” he told me. “When we found out it was a girl, I was like, ‘Huhhh.’ But after a while I was like, ‘Yo, this might be the illest thing that ever happened.’ And when Stormi was born, I was like, ‘Life is fire, bro.’ ” Here in Houston today, Jenner was finishing up an appearance at a beauty store promoting her cosmetics line. She had to get to her jet pronto, she told him over the phone. Was Scott close by? Google said he was about 31 minutes away. “I’m 10 minutes away,” he replied, hung up, and started slaloming between cars on the highway, which brings us to that Land Rover from before.

I’m in the passenger seat, wondering what a Lamborghini airbag will feel like as it shatters my face, when Scott finally snaps to, whips the wheel left and avoids a collision by perhaps five feet, tops. It is a testament to fine Italian engineering and/or the improbably reflex-enhancing benefits of the sativa-dominant hybrid weed Scott’s been smoking by the bluntful. Either way, he soon pulls into a Best Buy parking lot, where Jenner has been waiting for him in the middle row of a chauffeured Escalade. She’s wearing a pink silk pantsuit. (Stormi is with a caretaker.)

Hiii,” Jenner says. He hops in with her, and a bodyguard passes them two boxes of pepperoni pizza through a tinted window. And, like that, the best year of Travis Scott’s life continues to be the best year of Travis Scott’s life.

The early years of Scott’s life were very different, and he wants to show me where he spent them. Behind the wheel of the Lamborghini, he places a call: “You at the house, Granny? I’m about to pull up.” We drive to a working-class neighborhood on the city’s southeast side, where Scott’s grandmother Sealie owns a home. En route, he pulls over at a desolate gas station. Scott’s personal videographer — a mulleted former dishwasher and current part-time model who goes by the nickname White Trash Tyler — films this errand, as he does nearly every other seemingly mundane moment of Scott’s existence, the premise being that there’s no such thing as a mundane moment when it comes to Travis Scott.

There are two other cars in the lot: a rusting Buick Century at the pumps and a Nissan Sentra off to the side. Even if Scott’s Lamborghini doors weren’t equipped with little high-lumen projectors that shine the word “Lamborghini” onto the ground beneath them in glowing cursive, the SUV would stick out. Scott’s bodyguard, who has been following us in a matte-black Mercedes truck, remains close at hand. “Hey, Travis, I could get a picture? I make music too, bro,” says a dude standing in a puddle in a pair of house slippers, going for his phone.

Scott steps inside for cigars — his blunt stash is depleted, so it’s time for a re-up. “Let me get some Backwoods,” he tells the clerk. “A whole box.” On the counter, near packets of pistachios and fake eyelashes, someone has abandoned a 16-ounce jar of pickled pigs’ feet. The clerk takes Scott’s order from behind a wall of bulletproof glass with a handwritten sign taped to it: “Food Stamp Not Working.” Back out front, Backwoods in hand, Scott takes a photo with the house-slippers guy, ignores whatever it is that the folks in the Buick are yelling at him and drives off. White Trash Tyler sits behind me, and Scott’s old high school friend Nate — now a podiatrist, just beginning his residency in Fort Worth — sits beside him. “He was in theater — real theatrical,” Nate recalls of high-school-age Scott. “Freestyling, clowning, roasting on everybody at the cafeteria lunch tables. He was the outspoken funny guy.”

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Scott and his dad, a drummer. Photograph courtesy of Travis Scott. Photograph courtesy of Travis Scott.

That upbeat attitude notwithstanding, Scott tells me there were hardships at home. His mother worked (and still does) selling phones at an AT&T store, and became the family’s sole provider when his father, intent on making it as a musician, stopped working around 2005. “He quit. Or retired. And shit got rough,” Scott recalls, his tone matter-of-fact. “Can’t afford shit. And my mom’s disabled. I’ve never seen her bend her leg — she’s been on crutches my whole life. Pins and shit. She takes medicine that fucks with her whole state. She’s had strokes and shit. I think she rode her bike into a ditch or something crazy when she was young. And still she looked after me, my brothers, sister, my dad, putting up with my bullshit. Strong woman. That’s why I move the way I move. Nothing stopping me, bro.”

His dad’s unemployment was a source of tension for a time. “Big tension,” Scott says, sounding more exasperated. “We used to really get it in. I’m trying to make music in my room, and he’s in the den trying to make music. He had all this fire equipment he wouldn’t let me fuck with. ‘Turn that shit off, I’m recording!’ ‘Turn that shit off, I’m making beats!’ ” (Their relationship today is good — among other things, Scott tells me, “I get my whole swag from Pop Dukes.”)

Scott got serious about a music career when he was in high school. With his friend Jason Eric, who today raps as OG Chess, he formed several groups, with Scott both rapping and producing. Their music was sunnier, on the whole, than Scott’s music today. Scott briefly enrolled at the University of Texas in San Antonio, but spent much of the money his mother gave him for school supplies on music equipment and airfare to New York and Los Angeles, where he crashed with friends, slept in cars and tried to persuade industry types to give him a shot. In some Kanye West album notes he saw the name of Anthony Kilhoffer, an engineer — Scott scrounged up his e-mail and wrote to him cold. Kilhoffer heard some stuff, agreed to meet him at a Coffee Bean across from Amoeba Records, in Hollywood, and afterward they stayed in touch. Scott kept working on beats, and after a couple of years Kilhoffer finally told him to come to New York with an irresistible proposition: Kanye West liked his sound, and wanted him to pitch in on the G.O.O.D. Music showcase album Cruel Summer. Around this time, Scott signed a production deal with Kanye, and then T.I. caught wind of Scott and signed him. Scott soon earned production credits on West’s Yeezus and Jay-Z’s Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail. In 2015, Scott’s debut, Rodeo, debuted at Number Three on the pop charts — today it’s certified platinum.

When we arrive at Sealie’s modest single-story home, a young guy in cornrows, khakis and shower slides joins us from across the street, where he was standing amid cars parked on a lawn. He’s Deshon, Scott’s cousin. “That’s my OG,” Scott says. He points at a house nearby and laughs. “These niggas were always doing some weird shit. Moved in, probably selling crack, all types of shit out that ho. Niggas used to come back here and steal my lawnmower. Coming out that house like zombies. This block right here was crazy.”

Deshon joins us in Sealie’s living room, where family pictures hang in shiny frames and a white plastic sewing machine sits on a table. “I wanted to be there,” Sealie says, referring to yesterday’s festival. “You always be fronting on me!” Scott replies teasingly. “Pull up the gang way, man!” Sealie smiles. “What gang way?”

Travis’ uncle Lawalia Flood III invites us into his bedroom, where production equipment fills one wall and a platinum record hangs on another, commemorating the million-plus sales of the old R&B trio H-Town’s 1993 album, Fever for Da Flavor, which Flood had a hand in making into a hit. Scott lived here from birth till he was about eight, he says, with his parents and his older brother, Marcus. (He has two teenage siblings, too.) Music runs in the family: Sealie’s husband was a jazz musician. Scott’s father drummed. Another uncle, also named Travis, played bass and served as the inspiration for Scott’s stage name.

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Photograph by Dana Scruggs for Rolling Stone.
Hair by Yazmin Adams. Grooming by Jenn Hanching. Styling by Renelou Padora. Pants by Undercover.
Photograph by Dana Scruggs for Rolling Stone

Not long ago Scott bought his parents a home in an upscale Houston suburb. He’d do the same for Sealie, he says, but “she ain’t never leaving this house.” Marcus, meanwhile, lives with full-time assistance, because he is diagnosed with autism. Scott hasn’t discussed Marcus much publicly, though he did make passing, pained mention of him on an early song called “Analogue”: “Nights was dimmer/Had nobody to look to, older brother was iller/Seen the look in his eyes, led me straight to his soul/What he feeling inside, damn, I never would know.” Scott tells me, “He knows how to walk, take a shower — but he can’t really talk or articulate words or communicate to you.” Nate offers, “You can tell that his mind is elsewhere. Like he’ll be focused on something completely different.” “But he’s a really good drawer,” Scott goes on. “He used to draw the Power Rangers — super-detailed. All crayon. No traces. Extreme dope. All he wanted was to draw, watch movies and listen to Beyoncé. I have to buy him a Beyoncé CD every Christmas — even if she doesn’t come out with one, I have to buy him a new one.”

He pauses. “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.” Sounding the most emotional he’ll sound all day, he draws a line from this experience to his unofficial policy, playing live, of letting fans rush the stage. “I bring these kids up out of heart, because I know my brother would freak the fuck out if one of his favorite artists invited him up. I’m thinking of Marcus every time.”

We step out front so Scott can smoke. Deshon, sitting beneath a carport in a black wrought-iron chair, catches Scott up on the affairs of people from around the neighborhood: “One of the twins died down there. . . . Down there, she gay now; that’s her girlfriend. . . . Harold supposed to get out in December.” The rain has lessened to a drizzle, but the street is empty. I ask if things would be more lively if it was nicer out. Scott shakes his head: “Today kids are on iPads. There’s so much technology, they don’t play outside anymore. That’s what Astroworld Festival was about. Niggas don’t come outside. That’s why, with Stormi — no TV. That TV shit is out.”

There’s a pretty little flower bed out front that Sealie, who’s about to turn 84, planted and tends herself. She used to have more flowers out back, but “after Harvey, a lot of stuff got messed up,” she says, referring to the devastating 2017 hurricane. Deshon, facing Scott’s Lamborghini, asks me how Astroworld Festival turned out yesterday. He couldn’t attend, he explains, because he had to wake up at 4 a.m. to make it to his job at the post office. That’s a bummer, I say. Deshon musters a small shrug. “I ain’t complaining,” he says. “It’s money, so. Got to.” Scott gives Sealie a big hug goodbye. “Are you gonna be here for Thanksgiving?” she asks. “We’re gonna try, Granny,” he tells her. His hope is to celebrate first with the Kardashian clan, in L.A., then come back to Texas. “Oh, by the way,” he says. “My chef makes spaghetti exactly like you used to. What’s your secret? You put sugar in the sauce?”

Sealie smiles and shakes her head. “Ketchup,” she says.

Back in Scott’s SUV, we approach Southeast Community Church, where Scott used to worship. He hands his blunt back to Nate: “Put this out, bro — I can’t be smoking in front of the church.” Religious faith is one of the things Scott and Kylie Jenner have in common. “We both believe in God,” he says, and so, when she told him she was pregnant, “we felt like, ‘This is something special.’ And kids are something we kind of talked about when we were getting busy.” He describes their bond as rock-solid, the speed of their courtship notwithstanding. At first, Scott says, “we was just two kids, fucking around. Maybe, like, the first week, you don’t know if it’s real or a fling. Then the second week you’re like, ‘Whoa, I’m still talking to her, she’s responding, I’m responding. We ain’t run out of a thing to say.’ And it got to a point where I was like, ‘I need her with me to operate. She’s that one.’ ” He adds, “We’ll get married soon. I just gotta sturdy up — I gotta propose in a fire way.”

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Photograph by Dana Scruggs for Rolling Stone Photograph by Dana Scruggs for Rolling Stone

He tells me that, because of Jenner’s high profile, “people don’t understand how real my girl is. How ill she is. They have assumptions, bullshit-ass remarks of what they think is going on. Nah, bro.” They bonded early on over shared favorite movies and directors — “She’s a Tim Burton fan, which is fire. Wes Anderson fan, which is fire” — but what really impressed him about Jenner was how “chill” she is. “I like to just go outside and walk. Knowing a girl that famous, you’d think she’s like, ‘I need to go send somebody to do this for me,’ or ‘I need 15 motherfuckers around me,’ but we just walk out the crib.” He had privacy concerns, too. “Me, I hate cameras. I don’t like people in my business. Going into a situation like that, you’d think it would be a whole public fest. You never know. ‘Maybe she’s into all the photos, or worried about this and that.’ And then you realize motherfuckers is normal as possible. I realized what really mattered to her, which is none of this shit. She’s the coolest motherfucker of all time.”

When it comes to parenting, he says, “We don’t let nothing come over Stormi time. Stormi Saturdays. We don’t fuck around with those. Even with me on tour, Stormi pulls up. She’ll travel. She got more stamps on her passport than a lot of motherfuckers.” Her current favorite tracks, he adds, include his own “Stargazing” and the “Baby Shark” song. Also: “She loves thermostats — you know those Nest things that spin? Oh, man.”

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Travis Scott, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West in Paris in June. “Everybody go through shit,” Scott says of West. “He still a dope musician.” Photo credit: Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock Broadimage/REX/Shutterstock

I ask what he made of it when his onetime mentor — and, if all goes to plan, soon-to-be brother-in-law — Kanye West came out in support of President Trump. “I don’t know, bro,” Scott says, laughing with evident discomfort. It’s a delicate topic. “I mean, shit, I’d tell him, ‘Bro, chill. What you gotta understand is, young black kids are looking up to you, and the message you used to preach in your earlier music? It’ll make a young black kid — it’ll make any kid — confused.’ That shit was — come on. But when Ye get on some shit, he on some shit. I don’t know if that nigga just liked the hat or what, dog. Ye deals with different shit in his life. That’s family. You don’t wanna desert your bro. Everybody go through shit. He still a dope musician. But he’s definitely hit me up about it, and I’ve told him, ‘Man, you got kids looking up to you, feel me?’ ”

Scott returns to the topic of his own upbringing as he takes us to Missouri City, a more-affluent suburb where he lived with his parents after leaving Sealie’s roof. We approach a large house where one of Scott’s childhood friends used to live. “Damn, his truck’s still out here,” Scott says. “Is the garage door open?” It is. “Oh, shit!” He pulls over, and a fiftyish-looking white couple — I’ll call them Mr. and Mrs. A — emerge from the garage and embrace him in the drizzle. Inside, two armchairs face a flatscreen television tuned to the Eagles-Saints game. Mrs. A wants to see a picture of Stormi, so Scott loads up Jenner’s Instagram page on his phone. Just this morning she posted a video in which she tried several times to get Stormi to repeat the name of her makeup line for the camera. Jenner was unsuccessful in these attempts, but to Scott’s delight Stormi does say “da da” in the video, which he plays now for Mrs. A. “You hear that?” he asks with pride.

Scott tells me that when he and their son were in high school, they’d let them smoke weed in the house. Mrs. A leans over toward Scott, shielding her mouth theatrically with a cupped hand and jokes, “We actually have some good stuff right now if you need any.”

Scott grins. “Ha — no, thank you,” he replies. “I’m sturdy, I’m sturdy.”

The rain is at deluge levels as Scott points his Lamborghini toward his home in Houston’s northeast suburbs — a 9,600-square-foot mansion he reportedly bought for just under $2 million a couple of years ago. On the way, he gets a FaceTime call from Jenner and accepts it to see Stormi looking quizzically at the camera from aboard a private jet. “There she go — hey, Mama!” he says. “You going back to Cali? You know you don’t want to. I know you want to stay in Texas!” Stormi burbles some, and after a bit Jenner says “bye-bye” off-screen. “Look at that face,” Scott says.

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Photograph by Dana Scruggs for Rolling Stone Photograph by Dana Scruggs for Rolling Stone

We remove our sneakers in Scott’s foyer: white-marble flooring means no shoes in the crib. Scott leads me upstairs for a quick look around on the way to his master bedroom. There are vintage movie posters everywhere that bespeak good taste in sci-fi: Mad Max, They Live — “I fucking love movies,” Scott says. Entering his bedroom, he reaches down and plugs in a soda-can vending machine positioned next to the door. A bunch of skateboards with multicolor Warhol motifs hang in a line above his unmade bed. Several thousand dollars in $20 bills sit beside his bathroom sink, and a stack of thousands more in hundreds sits on a table. High-end watches shine from monogrammed Louis Vuitton carrying cases. My eye falls on one in particular, called a Patek Philippe World Time, which has an illustrated globe on its dial and tells you the current hour in foreign metropolises like Caracas and Riyadh. A few feet away stand two vintage arcade games: Terminator 2 and The Simpsons. Of such throwback touches, Scott says, “It’s everything I wanted when I was a kid that I could never have.”

It’s a pleasure palace for an overgrown kid — but Scott says that fatherhood has filled his head with adult concerns he couldn’t have imagined caring about just two years ago. One of these is politics, and another is climate change, the latter of which he says figures into his thinking “majorly. What are we doing? What can we do? How can we fix it? You become a father and you start checking in on shit you never thought you’d be checking in on.” During the 2018 midterms he stumped in Texas in support of Beto O’Rourke. “It’s been ‘Fuck Ted Cruz,’ ” he says. “This guy Beto, he on some shit. He pulled up on me.” I ask if he’s heard of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her push for a Green New Deal. “Un-unh,” he replies, shaking his head. “That sounds fire!”

Scott’s attention shifts to the more immediate future — his head is full of plans. He tells me he’s working on new music even though he’s on the road. “Always,” he says. He fantasizes about putting on a play to promote whatever album he releases after Astroworld. He wants to make the Astroworld Festival annual. He also says he intends to “go to the Harvard School of Architecture,” and that he rebuilt the house we’re sitting in to his own idiosyncratic specifications after the sale closed. To illustrate, he draws my attention to a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf. “See this?” he says, tugging at one side and revealing it to be a secret door into the relatively tiny room where he sleeps. The bedroom is fully carpeted in green Astroturf, as are various pieces of furniture, including a lima-bean-shape couch, a similarly Astroturfed ottoman and some Astroturfed picture frames. “I call this the greenhouse,” Scott says with a cackle. Soon, he excuses himself: He’s got to return a call to Offset, of Migos, to talk about collaborating. Outside, the rain has finally stopped. It’s 7 p.m. in Houston, 4 a.m. in Riyadh, and God knows what hour in Astroworld. Scott closes the door to the greenhouse, and I show myself out.