On a scorching hot day in lower Manhattan, the rapper, singer-songwriter, and producer Travis Scott and the sculptor Tom Sachs are catching up over burgers and fries at Sachs’ studio. The two first met in 2019; Scott was inspired by Sachs’ work and process, and they quickly found an abundance of correlates: a joyously non-stop work ethic, an appreciation for democratic objects and materials, a knack for engineering, team leadership, and a contempt for vacations.
Scott, carefree and charismatic, with a sharp sense of humor and a voice that booms when he gets fired up, is the type of person who naturally becomes the center of the room. Sachs, known for his subversive, conceptual work that often satirizes pop culture, capitalism, institutions, and the art world itself, keeps pace, guiding the conversation with levity, curiosity, and a touch of mentorship. Both are Americans shaping art and culture—Scott hailing from Houston, Texas and Sachs from New York. Both have designed Nikes, both are fathers to three-year-old children (Scott and Kylie Jenner’s daughter, Stormi, and Sachs and art dealer Sarah Hoover’s son, Guy), and both identify as life-long learners.
Before Sachs turns to his piece of paper printed with official questions for Scott, the pair are talking about building, specifically Scott’s ingenious live performances complete with elaborate sets and feats of flying. “I don’t want to touch the ground [on stage] no more, I just want to fly,” says Scott, fittingly dressed today in a slim, black zip-up flight suit accessorized with fine diamond jewelry and Air Force 1 high-tops. “Every other artist touches the ground.” As he gears up (at press time) for the release of his forthcoming album, Utopia—his first in four years—it’s clear Scott is preoccupied with putting his own unique stamp on everything he touches, right down to the Pantone color he suggested for the logo on his cover of this magazine. And while he’s recently become known for breaking the metaverse with his concert in the Fortnite video game, like Sachs, he’s more interested in the tangible. Scott’s real fantasy, he says, is to do the wild and ethereal stunts that are possible in the virtual world, in real life, “if the insurance would cover it,” he says with a laugh.
Through his company Cactus Jack, which recently collaborated with Kim Jones on Dior’s Summer 2022 menswear collection, Scott is finding new ways to spread his creative wings, with the intent of creating something bigger than himself and bringing others up in the process.
Tom Sachs: Let’s talk about the life of the artist Travis Scott. I’m really interested in your methods and your ways. But first, how did you get started on this path?
Travis Scott: I actually started in New York City, a little more uptown from here. I left Houston and came to New York when I was nineteen, just trying to figure it out. I was starting these little studios, making beats for people, writing songs, helping people with their albums.
Tom: But before that, were you making beats at home as a teenager? Where does it begin? How did you get from being a child—everyone’s a child playing—and then you turn into an adult who gets to continue to play?
Travis: My dad makes music, and he played the drums and was a music fanatic. He put drumsticks in my hands when I was three years old. I was like, “OK, this shit’s tight.” I always loved music. I love plays. I was always into theater and film. My first studio, I created this Dolby surround sound out of speakers on the wall. I used to take old shoe boxes, cut a hole in them, and stick a speaker in—I had them all over my room. That was the only way, because I couldn’t afford the equipment. I’d go down the street and get all the homie’s home theater shit. That was my studio. It’s like another way of seeing things. Your everyday usage shit. The things that you have to your left and right, how can you evolve them? The things that we grew up on, how can we incorporate them? Not everything is about the Rolex, the all-gold.
Tom: Do you still drum?
Travis: Yeah. I’ve been working on this album. There’s not a lot of drums on the album, but I’ve been trying to pick the sticks back up and cook up break beats and make my own different drums, just to make beats with.
Tom: And when you make music, do you start with a beat?
Travis: For sure. Or it’s like a sound, an instrument, or some music, and I add drums later. When I was a kid—you know what’s so crazy? My pops, he was in a group, so they were recording. And then I had my groups. All my homies came to my house to record. I wanted to be the producer in the neighborhood, so I made all the beats. I recorded everybody.
Thomas: How old were you?
Travis: I was like fifteen, sixteen. All my friends, anybody who really rapped, came to my house and made music. At that time, there were way better rappers [than me]. I wanted to master beats to another level. I love producing and watching people produce and seeing other people cook up. That’s what really inspired me. That’s why, when I came out, I had so many beats and songs. And then I just went and attacked that. I really stood on that, and I pushed on that super hard.
Tom: I work seven days a week and I know you do, too. It’s always a big point of contention between me and my wife. Like, I don’t like vacation. Maybe it’s easier for you because your music is always with you, and I have this epic shop. But my greatest privilege is that I love what I do. I love working seven days a week, and why take a break if you love what you do? All my friends are like, “Oh Tom, you gotta take a vacation, you work too hard, it’ll be good for your art.” And I’m like, fuck you, you just hate your job. Even though you’re really successful at it—no diss.
Travis: That’s what I be saying!
Tom: When you’re trapped on a plane for a bunch of hours nonstop to another part of the world, do you have a laptop or a music set up you travel with?
Travis: I keep my laptop with me everywhere I go.
Tom: Can you use it to make music?
Tom: Do you use GarageBand [laughs]? How do you do it?
Travis: Pro Tools, Logic, Free Loops . . . I make beats on all of them. There’s definitely a joint on my album that I made on a plane, like dropped a beat and put some janky drums on there and got to a studio to finish it. I sleep a lot on the plane too. I don’t really get a lot of sleep on ground.
Tom: No connection. No phone. No Wi-Fi. One of things we were working on this past semester in our weartesting program was output before input. This is a thing that I do and we’re teaching. So, first thing in the morning before you look at your phone: output. Sing, dance, write, compose a beat, touch clay, draw. Anything out of you, so you can connect to your dreams before the external world—good things, bad things—whatever comes through the device. I have my rituals. Do you do output before input? What do you do first thing in the morning?
Travis: First thing in the morning, I probably need to start doing output/input. I wake up and the first thing I do is like, “What’s going on?” I don’t start looking at my phone for calls, I start making them. I wake up and I’m like, “Yo!”
Tom: That’s output.
Travis: There’ll be fresh shit on my mind. Or like, “Yo! This shit is crazy!” I like getting all my homies on the phone. We talk about whatever we did the day before. I just like conversations. And then, maybe I’ll roll up a smoke, sit in my bathroom, and turn on the water for like thirty minutes, and I’ll be sitting in that motherfucker all day.
Tom: That’s hydrotherapy. Sometimes when I go to the symphony to hear classical music, which I don’t do very often, I’m always thinking about sculpture. It’s like, because I’m in this place I know I’m not looking at my phone because that would be fucked up and rude, disrespectful, but they can’t control my thoughts [laughs].
Travis: Exactly! I’m going CRAZY in my head right now! [Laughs].
Tom: It’s a really soothing environment and it helps you meditate, unless it’s Stravinsky or too modern, then it’s a little more challenging. In the studio here, we have sacred space. This table is like the foundation and we’re using the fuck out of it. I can’t tell you how many countless meals and friends [we’ve had here]. This is the center [of the studio], and very often I just sit here and draw. These little things make all the difference, because when I’m trying to pull out an idea from the ether, you know, it’s hard. That’s why you’re a genius because you can find maybe a small little thing that you amplify into being great.
Travis: Man! This is how I know I’m not tripping. I was just saying this the other day. I might be in the studio and just be blown off by somebody in there. Not even in a bad way. It’s like they should just literally be two steps outside the studio.
Tom: I had to tell someone in the studio today: quit eye-fucking me. Like they’re poking at me with their eyes!
Travis: It just depends on the moment. When you’re in that moment when you’re working a lot and you’re crazy, that’s when you start getting like that. Sometimes you need certain people to your left and your right. It might just be a reference point. Sometimes you need somebody to be like, “Yo!” Just to make sure I’m not going crazy in here, like, am I tripping? That’s why I came here to New York. In LA there’s a lot of things, like we’ve got this meeting at three and this meeting at three thirty and this meeting at 3:45 and this meeting at 4:15 and this meeting at 5 p.m., and I only came into the office to record. And now I’ve got to start recording at 7 p.m.
Tom: And then you’re burnt out, and you don’t have your magic powers. That’s one of the strategies I’m always working on. Being very selfish. For example, I don’t take meetings before lunch, ever. Ever. Unless Obama’s calling me, like, seriously. Do you have times like that?
Travis: Yeah, but I’m still a kid at heart. I respect people who do that. Like, I went to the studio with Pharrell, who’s like, “After whatever time, I go to the crib.” It probably wasn’t like that when he was younger but where he’s at right now, he’s like . . .
Tom: He’s made boundaries for himself.
Travis: He’s made boundaries for himself. And there’s people like that. A lot of successful business people they’re like, “Yo! eleven o’clock, don’t talk to me.” I’ve never been like that. I don’t want to strike out time because I don’t know if that shit might come at 12 p.m. But I think when people get into an older space, it’s healthy. And I kinda see myself getting to that point. Now I became a pops, you want to be there to eat food together and turn up for little Stormi.
Tom: And she has to have the perfect schedule. The more precise to the five minutes, the happier she is.
Travis: But she’s so cool. That’s why I love her so much. She’s so fire because she goes to sleep now. We try to do a more natural vibe [with parenting], like more self-discipline. Like, OK, you know you got to go to bed at nine, are you going to stay up till eleven or are you going to go to sleep now? And it’s so cool [to hear her say], “I’m going to sleep ya’ll!”
Tom: Another reason why I don’t take meetings before lunch is that I’m not as good after I eat. When I was a contractor and I had to do negotiations, I would never eat before, I would always want to be a little bit pissed off to get like a couple extra percent on the deal. When I negotiated this space, I would always starve myself. Because it could have meant like tens of thousands of dollars!
Travis: Man, I’m on so many projects, construction shit man. I’m done.
Tom: Besides Houston, what have you got going on? Give me the highlights.
Travis: We were talking about output? That’s my output early in the morning.
Tom: Elon Musk, when he sold all of his houses and stuff, he said, I could spend my time renovating some old Hollywood actor’s home all made out of wood—Gene Wilder’s house—or I could make a spaceship to go to another world. So, next project, hire the most expensive GC you can, it will be a bargain. You’re worth more. You’re worth way more.
Travis: I try, bro, you know what pisses me off, bro? It’s the cap, it’s a lot of capping.
Tom: What does that mean?
Travis: BS, bullshit.
Tom: Oh, you mean the LPMs. Lies per minute.
Travis: Man! I’m going to have to borrow that.
Tom: It’s an art world term, we use it for art dealers but it’s exactly the same with contractors. Working with teams is hard, whether it’s a record or a stage show or a sculpture or a space program or a house or a city. There’s a lot of waste that goes on in the management. And as the leader of your team—you are the supreme leader of your team—what has been something you’ve learned that you could share with people about how to do it right?
Travis: What’s very important in getting somewhere and being where you’re at is the team. And I’ve been learning how to manage it. Communication is literally the underlying problem for any team. You’ve got to have good communication.
Tom: Are you patient?
Travis: I’m patient but I’m not. I’m patient within means. If I know something takes time, I’m sitting. If I know it can be done, I’m not patient. If I’m working on an album—I haven’t dropped an album in four years. I could be impatient and be like, “Let’s just drop some music!” But nah, for it to be great, shit takes time.
Tom: What challenges you? And I mean this in two ways. We talked about contractors and all that fucking cap. But there’s another kind of challenge that’s a little less shitty, like, the beautiful challenge.
Travis: My peers challenge me—in the best ways. I get inspired when I go into the studio. You see great creations . . . you want to just go and make things and put things back into the world.
Tom: So, you see something in a sculpture and you’re like, “That challenges me. I’ve got to rise to that in my own way”?
Travis: I’ve got to rise to the occasion. Because people put information into the world and one thing we’re all trying to get to in society is everyone putting out good product. I think there’s this one thing about, “There can only be one person that puts it out or only a group of people or only five big companies be putting out good product.” Like, no. And it’s supposed to be affordable? That’s why I fuck with Elon. It’s like, I’m gonna make the coolest thing and sell it for ,000. This is a car that I could sell for 0 to 0,000, like any other premium car, but I feel that everyone should be in something cool, nice, futuristic, that’s affordable and accessible—it shouldn’t be too hard to reach. Why is all the fire shit so hard to reach? I saw a girl outside earlier eating out of that [Tom Sachs NASA] clay bowl. See how happy she was? Maybe that bowl could inspire someone to write the craziest book ever. Water is the most consumed thing. What if the bottle was at an inspirational level to all people? It might not be art, it might not be music, it might not be fashion, but it’s going to put something back into society. Medicine, nursing, being a better person, talking, language, communication—you know, a utopian state. That’s what my album is about. You think utopia is a society where everything is good: health, buildings, architecture—nah. It’s just about proper lines of communication. Because that’s the dystopian shit we’re in right now. It’s all hate, hate, hate, and all of that is drawn from what? Miscommunication, non-communication, non-understandable communication, ignorance to communication. “I don’t like this person.” Why? Because somebody told me something to not like this person? Because in history I read to not like this person? Why?
Tom: Last question: What brings you joy?
Travis: Damn, that’s a good ass question man [pauses]. I don’t think it’s one specific thing: it’s like multiple connected things. I’m in a spot now where I’m where I wanna be and I’m putting out amazing things—that makes me happy. I’ve done enough of that. Now it’s about fulfilling things out and more team shit. So, for the person to the left, to the right, in front of me, behind me, it’s like, what the fuck they doing? That’s why I started Cactus, my company, to help bring up the people that I fuck with and give more stability for the people around me. Now it’s about building that up—that makes me happy. Putting out the illest shit—back to the music—really makes me happy. To be totally honest, I love the ragers, the kids. Going out on stage and seeing people lose their mind, it ain’t got to be no festival, we could have a little shindig right here.
Tom: Yeah, we can have a party here [laughs].
Travis: Just seeing people in a good mood, legit brings me joy. And, knowing that you can kinda curate that? Makes it even better.
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