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How Much of ‘Utopia’ Came From Ye?

Online, rap fans have theorized about songs on Travis Scott’s new album originating from Ye’s various projects

Travis Scott Kanye West

Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images; Victor Boyko/Getty Images/Kenzo

One of the prevailing observations of Travis Scott’s Utopia album has been how much it sounds like a Ye West project. Listeners have called out the bevy of features, momentous beat switches, and sparse, reverbed landscapes as noticeable effects of being around Ye as much as Travis has. Chance The Rapper once called himself “Kanye’s best prodigy,” but Travis may have claimed that crown by default on Utopia.

Over the last week, fans have revealed that the Travis-Ye parallels aren’t just about inspiration from Ye but tracks allegedly swiped from his album sessions. On Wednesday, writer Zazie Bae published a sprawling list titled “UTOPIA sounds like a Kanye record because it is one” on the indie rap blog No Bells. The outlet qualified the blog post by noting, “parts of this are based on knowledge that isn’t public, we can’t claim these details to be 100% fact, just our estimations from what leakers have told us.”

The post is an exhaustive account of Utopia tracks that allegedly started out as far back as the Yeezus sessions. “Circus Maximus” samples Yeezus’ “Black Skinhead,” and “Modern Jam” has elements of an early version of “I Am A God” that Travis co-produced with Daft Punk during the Yeezus era. ”Thank God,” “Telekinesis,” and “God’s Country” were allegedly crafted for Ye’s Donda album, which was originally titled God’s Country. Zazie notes that with “Parasail” and “Lost Forever,” there’s “no concrete evidence of a connection of Ye,” but Travis and the featured artists on those tracks were present during the Donda 2 sessions.

There’s an older version of “Lost Forever” on YouTube with a slightly different beat, including samples of a woman’s vocals that the Utopia version doesn’t have. The production aligns with Ye’s modern zest for minimalist, pensive soundscapes, and Travis’ rhymes reek of Donda-era Ye, from the stilted cadence to the line “‘bout to go up a level of disrespectful.” “Parasail” also has the Ye feel, but there’s no smoking gun to tie it to any particular session.

Ye has announced several albums that never materialized over the years. Many of those tracks likely ended up on other albums, and YouTube is rife with leaks that never officially dropped. Even some of the tracks he showcased at a February 2022 Donda 2 listening event had audibly unfinished vocals and have never officially come out beyond his Stem Player. As the 46-year-old veers away from hip-hop and delves deeper into his fashion and “political” aspirations, those partially done songs have apparently become fair game — and Travis may have been first in line to get them. After all, he let us know on Utopia’s “Skitzo” that “I’m loyal, bitch, I got Ye over Biden.”

For his part, Travis Scott needed all the help he could get. The rapper is still facing lawsuits from 2021’s Astroworld tragedy, where 10 people died, and hundreds more were injured during his festival-closing set.  He caught the ire of detractors for egging on “rage culture” at his shows which some believe caused attendees to be less empathetic toward suffering concertgoers. Last week, Houston PD released a report that suggests Scott may have known that at least three concertgoers had died before deciding to continue with his performance. Still, Scott would eventually get the opportunity to return to the stage. He performed at the Billboard Awards last summer and at this year’s Wireless Festival in the U.K. He almost performed at the Giza pyramids as part of Utopia’s rollout before satanic panic prevailed and the show was canceled. Nevertheless, Utopia is a big moment for him, and he apparently sought to leave no stone unturned for the grand comeback from tragedy and 2018’s Astroworld. No Bells reported that Utopia’s “Looove” is a holdover from 2014’s Rodeo and “Skitzo” was reportedly from a Young Thug session in “ballpark “2017-2019;” the majority of Utopia seems to have been initially conceived for other projects.

It’s no surprise that when a commercial giant needs good ideas to stay a commercial giant, aspiring artists and frequent collaborators find themselves giving to the bigger cause — but the full details don’t always get revealed. The fervid, youthful fandom around Ye and Travis makes their music more ripe to be leaked — and their hyper-attentive supporters remember every morsel along the online trail toward their big releases. Both artists strive to drop star-studded “event” albums, but the moving pieces involved in those grand endeavors call for a piecemeal recording process that leaves every version of a song susceptible to leaks from hackers looking to sell their music.

A 2019 Fader piece detailed how leaker groups gain access to music that they then auction on message boards, discord servers, and other online communities. The leakers’ tactics are as gumshoe as obtaining the phone number of a target, then convincing a phone carrier to switch that number to their phone’s SIM card to gain access to their text and audio messages. A person who claimed to leak Playboi Carti tracks in 2019 told Complex’s Eric Skelton that “[leaks] will keep happening because there are die-hard fans of the artists out here. It’s just the nature of things.”

Standom is both advantageous and perilous for an artist. The diehard fandom that spurs leaks ends up poking holes in an artist’s legacy. Travis and Ye are lauded as geniuses, but nowadays, it’s difficult to know whether to give a so-called “curator” credit for their creativity or for merely greenlighting the final results of a collective of talent. Today’s extravaganzas of writing camps and co-produced epics muddy the rapper-producer’s mythology. Some like to think of Kanye still being “locked in a room doin’ five beats a day,” but as No Bells noted, both Ye and Travis are in the business of selling products, with great minds helping them along the way. The exposal of Utopia’s life cycle, rife with co-production and reference tracks and rehashes of songs already written for someone else, gives us all a glimpse of what product development looks like in rap, further eroding whatever illusions we held about solitary brilliance.

From Rolling Stone US