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As pop singer Tyla’s sultry Afrobeats hit “Water” caught steam in the late summer heading into fall, talk of a remix quickly arose. The young South African artist has been bubbling steadily for the last year or two, but this was the moment she’d been waiting for. The song, a sexy smash that sounds like a late July night at your favorite backyard spot, had already earned praise amongst the perpetually tapped-in as one of the best of the summer and the year at large on its own—all it needed was a stamp from an artist of a certain stature to take it all the way to the stratosphere.
“Water” is so organically beloved, and Tyla’s rise so feverishly invested in, that it even inspired some old school hype around who she should and would actually tap to hop on it. Would it be a fellow female artist, like one of R&B’s reigning princesses Summer Walker, who already extended Tyla an alley-oop on her own “Girls Need Love”? Or would the remix get an infusion of male energy to really ratchet up the sexual tension? Drake was the Vegas favorite, even as listeners growing tired of the 6ix God’s antics prayed against it. There was even more mixed reaction to the idea of Chris Brown—a highly divisive figure who has not lost his R&B fastball—and even offered Tyla an opener slot on a past tour. Whatever the case, as long as Trevor Jackson was kept far away from the official Pro Tools files, we’d be good.
So imagine the collective surprise and headscratching when the artist Tyla ultimately chose ended up being none other than… Travis Scott. The Lord of the Rage, king of unruly suburban teens sweating and thrashing at shows, on a track that demanded sensuality? Talk about a swerve!
I get the confusion, but it’s a little misplaced. Sure, it’s not his first, second or even third go-to bag, but R&B hits + a little La Flame has proven to be a winning formula in the past. “Love Galore” is the obvious example, a breakout smash that helped give SZA the runway to roll out her instant-classic debut album, and a track with impact so lasting it necessitated a Scott/SZA reunion on her latest project, for the underrated album cut “Open Arms.”
But before Travis became a household name, he was as quick to lace a vibey R&B cut as he was a trap banger. My real heads remember Tinashe’s mid-2010s, pre-”2 On” mixtape run, which yielded the immaculately moody “Vulnerable,” featuring none other than a young Travis on his own parallel track to stardom. And those of equally distinguished taste can’t forget Travis adding some seasoning to imperial-phase PartyNextDoor’s avant-garde break-up missive “Juss Know” a few months later. With Party’s voice pitched up to unnatural heights for dramatic effect, Travis’ strained Auto-Tuned warbles barely last 30 seconds, and his words are rarely legible, but his vocals are ingeniously deployed, the perfect complement to a headtrip of reflection and regret.
Those other songs are a little more straightforward, but the effect is the same. Used the right way, that raucous bounce of his as heard on “Love Galore” or the gothic tone he adopts on “Vulnerable” end up adding a slightly unorthodox but all the more appealing counter-balance to the tracks. You’re not expecting him to croon or even drop a slick, playboy one-liner like Drake would, but Scott staying true to his sound with the dial turned down ever so slightly actually works as a winning R&B ingredient when used the right way.
And if we want to take it a step further, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight—his sophomore album, which a fair amount of music fans would argue is his best—features a bunch of love songs disguised as rowdy anthems. “I get those goosebumps every time you come around;” “You’re sweet like cocoa;” “Don’t like what I saw—this life without yours”... —all heaters, all simping translated for the rage crowd. (Those who were there at the time remember who those songs were likely about—you can’t blame him for being caught up, if so.)
The “Water” remix actually gets more than just the Travis aesthetic, with a full, clearly-delivered verse that finds him in a more mellow zone than we’d typically expect. It blends perfectly with the track: not too distracting, but not overly showy enough to threaten to steal the spotlight from Tyla either. It’s no “Love Galore”—Tyla doesn’t exactly need to play this without Travis at shows, the way SZA lets his verse ring off whether he shows up or not—but it works, as evidenced by its live debut last night in Los Angeles at GQ's Men of the Year party. Salute to artists making the unexpected choice every now and then! Good job, everyone! Now let’s get Tyla that Grammy.
Originally Appeared on GQ