"I love the pressure, it boosts my motherfucking mental."

“AstroWorld?” the Uber driver echoes solemnly, as if being reminded of a long lost friend. “I used to have season passes for the kids. Used to go there in the summer, it would be packed.” He pauses for a moment, the excitement of his memory quickly burning out. “I still don't understand why they closed it down. I'd end up paying $20 for parking just to get near it.”

We reach the site on the Southside of Houston, where the theme park stood proudly from 1968 until 2005. It was levelled off to be used as an overflow car park for the rodeos that take place in the overlooking NRG Stadium, neighbour to the “Eighth Wonder Of The World” - the Astrodome, home of the Houston Astros baseball team. Twelve years since its closing, it's a sparse wasteland that spends the majority of its year deserted, fenced off to stop intruders from even wandering across it.

To Houston natives AstroWorld represents youth; either through their children, or memories of their own childhood. A young Beyoncé Knowles tasted stardom there, performing as part of Girl's Tyme, and Travis Scott spent his formative years there, allowing his imagination to run wild. The 25-year-old rapper and producer is currently in his hometown for the 'Birds Eye View Tour', in support of his second album 'Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight', which scored him his first Billboard Number One when it was released in September last year.

We're taking an early ride to the site, sounding out the area ahead of our cover shoot later in the day. An icon of contemporary youth culture, Travis intends to reconnect with the “pure life” that comes with being a carefree teenager on his forthcoming third album, which will be named after the park.

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That night two cars pull up to a service road around the back of the site: a blacked-out Escalade and a white Maybach. Upon arrival, Travis and his crew hop out of the Maybach, and he wanders over to the industrial wire fence, wrapping his fingers around it and peering through over the land that was once so important to him.

“It got taken away from the city. It was like taking our heart out,” he laments. “We were having fun at that place. It represented imagination; it was our Disneyland. A lot of my ideas were sparked at AstroWorld.”

We shoot a few pictures as we loiter for a couple of minutes. Travis has arranged for Paul Wall, veteran Houston rapper and entrepreneur, to supply some cars for the shoot, as his own fleet of luxury vehicles aren't deemed colourful enough in the vision he has for our cover.

As Travis gazes over the site, lucid memories flood back to him. “It was always the craziest around Fright Fest,” he recalls, a grin drawing across his face. “When I was a kid I was on some other shit. It was around Halloween time and it was mad scary and shit. It was too trippy for a kid at the time.” The park rebuilds in his head, as he retraces it across the wasteland. “Greezed Lightnin' was one of my favourite rides,” he says. The aqua blue vertical loop rollercoaster could be seen rising proudly from the park in its day.

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It's how I see the city; where I think it is now...

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“It was a lot of mobbing going down at AstroWorld too,” he admits. “A lot of shit happened there. You found yourself there, you found your friends. There are people that I used to go to AstroWorld with that are still with me to this day.” Suddenly the air explodes with booming bass, as a trio of cars joins us from the nearby service road. Paul Wall's crew has arrived; two slabs coated in candy paint, one fuchsia, the other forest green, followed by a white SUV. Travis approaches the driver of the latter, greets them and passes over a wad of crumpled bills. They suggest moving to a spot beneath the AstroDome, to allow more room for manoeuvre. Everyone jumps back into their cars and we move on, hoping that the very conspicuous convoy doesn't get flagged by stadium security.

We pull into the new spot, where the SUVs provide makeshift lighting as darkness rapidly descends on the scene. The translucent paint pops even more against the contrast of the night sky, as the trunk is opened to reveal neon lights. One of the cars begins blaring Travis' 2014 mixtape 'Days Before Rodeo', as our team gets to work on the last couple of looks of the shoot.

Despite his busy tour schedule, Travis is also finding the time to put the finishing touches on his third album. This timely return to this site serves as a pilgrimage for Travis, who lights up when it comes to discussing the sound of his next record. “It's like pure imagination, pure liveliness,” he describes. “I'm taking you on a ride through the city. [Previously] I had people on my quest, trying to find out where I was going, who I am; it was more about me. But now it's outside looking in. It's how I see the city; where I think it is now and what I think the tempo is for the city.”

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It's 10pm when we finally wrap our shoot, and Travis graciously poses for selfies with the car owners who have been waiting since mid-afternoon. Despite an initially menacing appearance, their excitement betrays them as they grin, shaking hands with Travis and thanking him for carrying the torch for their city. He hops into the back of his Maybach, welcoming us in for the ride back to our hotel.

“The tour so far has been fucking crazy,” he says excitedly, as talk turns to the hometown show that he'll be playing at Houston's Revention Music Center the following night. “I'll be honest, I look forward to some of theses cities I've never been to before, because this is new because it's way bigger [than previous tours] and some of the places I've never been to by myself [as a headliner]. But I always love coming back here to my hometown, it's amazing every time.”

The following night downtown Houston is abuzz with excitement. Despite being such a sporadic city, with broad streets and spaced out buildings, it feels like the entire population has flocked within the radius of just a few blocks. This might not be far off the truth: it's an important night for Houston, beyond Travis Scott fans. The Houston Rockets have a home game against the San Antonio Spurs at the nearby Toyota Center; a vital match that decides whether they will progress to the NBA Western Conference Finals.

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I feel like now people can understand it more...

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Ahead of his anticipated hometown show, Travis takes a court-side seat next to Kylie Jenner (much to the delight of gossip blogs the following morning). His presence is felt across both venues: special edition T-shirts are handed out to those at the Toyota Center, with “Run As One” scrawled across the front in Scott's handwriting.

“It means a whole lot to be able to come back and curate the city you grew up in,” says Travis. “I have an opportunity to do stuff, like working with the Rockets. I used to work for the Rockets; it's like a mental switch-up. I've always been into making the city more fun, and it usually has a whole lot of life. We just need that lamp on it; I feel like people always overlook it for some reason.” A few weeks later he'll partner with the Rockets once again, enlisting star player James Harden to star in the video for 'way back'; an album cut that references his 3-point shooting skills.

While Travis was growing up, the city's regional sound was at the height of its mainstream success. Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire, Bun B and Lil Flip would all release Top 10 albums, with Paul Wall being the first Houston rapper to bag a Billboard Number One, and you couldn't turn the dial to any hip-hop station in the world without hearing Swishahouse anthem 'Still Tippin'. “It was ill as shit,” says Travis, remembering the time fondly. “I was really into Lil Flip after [his] swag. And the whole Rap-A-Lot movement in general, every artist on that label was a major inspiration. They invented that whole independence, of just doing your thing and not worrying about nobody.”

Travis has been working to redefine the city for his generation, to take it beyond its lean-sipping, chopped-and-screwed pigeonhole and shine a light on its eclecticism. “I feel like now people can understand it more,” he offers. “Now they might not have [such a narrow] opinion about it, they might look differently at it. There's a lot of eclectic dudes coming out of Houston, it's not just this one way of music. It's sped up to where there's me, Sauce Twinz, whatever; there's more kids.”

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Inside the Revention Center word begins to spread that the Rockets have been defeated in what many were expecting to be a straight-forward hometown victory. While the news temporarily dampens the atmosphere, fans queue up to view the wide collection of merchandise that's available, including pieces created exclusively for the hometown show. Once they've pulled on their 'Birds Eye View' shirts, it's a deep dive into the crowd to get a spot that's as central to the action as possible.

“You have to be a whole experience,” Travis asserts. “I try to give people my whole life when they pull up. The fans are not around you all of the time, they only get this one moment, this hour to kick it with you. So I try to bring it to life.” For an artist like Travis, the lifestyle he's designed around his music is just as important as the output itself. And it's clear that his hands have been involved in every aspect of the night; from the merchandise - which easily competes with sought-after streetwear labels - to the production of the show, which he enthuses is his favourite part of creating a tour. “I'm always into production,” he says. “I still haven't even reached a quarter of what I'm trying to do with that. I'm just trying to make these steps, then let people know I'm here to be known as the top performer of all time. I'm striving to be on that level.”

'Birds Eye View' is his biggest headline tour so far, and certainly showcases a level of performance that's rarely matched by his peers. Despite every rapper and their weed carrier claiming to be a rockstar, Travis is the rare exception in which the comparison actually stands up. From opening track 'the ends', his usually laid-back demeanour is substituted for the cult leader prowess of a metal band frontman, injecting his audience with the perfect balance of fear and excitement as he roars commands to besotted on-lookers. “The exits are to the left and right,” he warns. “If you're not going to survive this get out now.” The tribe moves as one, firmly in the moment as Travis' auto-tuned melodies extract their inner rage. When stray members of the crowd escape and brave a dash across the stage during the performance, Travis stares them down, never missing a bar, faces inches apart, until they take a dive back into the throng.

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I knew who I wanted him to be, I wanted to make him alive.

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Raw energy blends into the theatrical: between tracks, veteran Houston producer Mike Dean will break down into lush extended arrangements, while Travis stares up into the sky screaming for “Jack,” the screech of an eagle calling back to him. Later in the set Travis trudges from backstage with a huge piece of meat draped over his shoulders, he hurls it off into the sky, before Jack finally emerges; a gigantic mechanical eagle. “I always had this idea of Jack in my mind,” Travis tells us later. “I knew who I wanted him to be, I wanted to make him alive.” The idea for Jack's stage incarnation came from a trip to Legoland last year.

“I saw Legos blown up crazy. I just wanted to make that a part for my show, so I had this idea for Jack. I still wanted to go huger! I'm still limited to the amount of stuff that I can do with him.” Nonetheless, when Travis performs his 2015 hit 'Antidote' from the eagle's back, it's a spectacle that won't be quickly forgotten.

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Sweat-drenched fans begin spilling out into the warm night air, 'goosebumps' still ringing in their ears. A diverse sea of kids of mixed ethnicity and gender, they walk, talk and dress like Travis; infesting the sidewalks, in their red-and-black tour T-shirts, singing their favourite lyrics and allowing the aftermath of a spiritual experience to wash over them. Similar scenes are commonplace for Travis' shows all over the world, and it's not something that's gone unnoticed.

“You start seeing motherfuckers everywhere, and it's like,''Man, I think we have a responsibility bro,'” Travis admits. “Sometimes I just sit back and analyse shit. When you realise you have an influence on so many people, you have to do shit in a way that you want people to reflect. You don't want niggas doing crazy shit, in the name of you! I love the pressure, it boosts my motherfucking mental.”

As his career continues to accelerate - 'Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight' and his 2015 debut 'Rodeo' will go platinum on the same day a few weeks later - Travis finds a measure of success in his own mental stability rather than sale figures: the more sane he feels, the better he's progressing. “I'm proud of inspiring and not letting the ones I love down. I'm ultra proud of being able to stay focused on music and not get driven down. It's so much shit I've had to overcome [to get to this point],” he admits, back in the Maybach. “My album ['Rodeo'] was not coming out and then people not believing I could sell out shows, even relationships with people changing, you've got to overcome that. In my mind, I kind of put the focus on like, if something's going against you, you've only got one thing to do: prove them wrong.”

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I love the pressure, it boosts my motherfucking mental.

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Those early doubters have been silenced, but Travis remains fighting an uphill battle as he enters the next chapter. He lights another Backwoods, the Houston city lights whizzing by through the window, then lays back and takes a breathe before sharing some words of advice.

“I think one thing people get twisted in this whole thing is that your big responsibility works backwards. People say, 'You first and then everyone else.' But then that can get misconstrued, especially when you've got people counting on you.” He takes a puff of his cigar, before illustrating the reality with his hands: “It's kind of like them first, and you last!”

He looks up in disbelief, as though the realisation is still fresh. “Which is awkward, because you would think once you get all this shit it would be like, 'Ahh man, I'm okay.' Nah man, now you've got to make sure everyone is okay.” He exhales a cloud of smoke. “And that's the hardest task of all time.”

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Words: Grant Brydon
Photography: Simon Rasmussen

Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

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