The Travis Scott Meal, Astroworld, Cacti and Nikes: The suddenly omnipresent rapper's playbook for disrupting pop culture

·5 min read
Travis Scott performs at the 2019 edition of his Astroworld Festival. (Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)
Travis Scott performs at the 2019 edition of his Astroworld Festival. (Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)

A day ahead of his 29th birthday and in celebration of 30 years of the Air Jordan 6 silhouette, Travis Scott released the latest rendition of the shoe via his website on April 29. The $250 "British Khaki" Jordan 6s, a dark khaki sneaker with hints of crimson and cream, were made available through a raffle and accompanied by a collection of merch. And like a majority of the Houston hip-hop star's other sneaker collaborations, they sold out in minutes.

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"I do have a mission statement," Scott told GQ in a 2020 cover story. "Everything is for the performer and the performance athlete. Performing is a sport, and it's a drive. It's so dope to play on the same fields as sporting events. So the whole mission is just to create — whether it's footwear, or whether it's apparel — for that mindset. For just living your life on the go."

And Scott has been living on the go since breaking through with 2015's Rodeo. With his auto-tuned, anti-establishment anthems and wildly thematic performances, the album created a lane for Scott and made his moody raps and unique production more palatable for the mainstream rap world while cultivating a dedicated fanbase of "ragers" who let loose at his shows. His second and third albums — Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (2017) and Astroworld (2018) — solidified his persona and established him as a one-man brand.

Dubbed "king of the youth" by GQ, Scott's energy and appeal to a young audience were recognized early on and he was inevitably sought out by major companies to be the face of their products. "Scott probably earns about $10 million a year or so from his Nike deal, but that figure belies its true worth," noted a Forbes cover story. "His shoe's popularity has granted him tastemaker status. That, in turn, had led to more deals — and, most significantly, the standing to change the rules of celebrity sponsorships."

From the outset of his career, the Houston rapper collaborated with a handful of clothing brands, including Diamond Supply Co., Bape and Helmut Lang. But as his profile has expanded into the mainstream, helped in part with his on-off relationship with fellow mogul Kylie Jenner (the two share a 3-year-old daughter, Stormi), so has his portfolio.

In 2017, Scott reimagined a pair of Air Force 1s for his first in an ongoing partnership with Nike and Jordan Brand. He then dabbled into the breakfast food realm with his Reese’s Puffs collab in 2019. A video game version of him famously dropped in on Fortnite for a virtual Astronomical performance in 2020, an event that revolutionized the idea of a concert experience during the coronavirus pandemic with 12.3 million concurrent viewers. And back in September, he launched his own meal at McDonald's with a collection of exclusive merch. "Same order since back in Houston," his action figure says in the commercial.

"I try to do things with people I know or someone I have a connection with," Scott told GQ. "Sometimes a lot of these companies are so big, they kind of forget about the people who walk the streets every day, [the people] that keep everything moving. So it's just about giving people that access, giving something that caters to them."

With numerous platinum records, several brand deals, a record label and a music festival (this year's Astroworld tickets sold out in under an hour), his rage aesthetic has translated to lucrative side hustles that send fans into a buying frenzy.

Scott, says Eric Holt — an assistant professor of music business at Belmont University, who teaches a course on the business of hip-hop — has established himself as a pop culture fixture, even with those unfamiliar with hip-hop culture. "He is making three or four times off of his corporate deals than he is off of his music," said Holt. "It's been reported that the McDonald's deal was around $20 million and the video-gaming situation that he has with Fortnite and PlayStation [is] right around $40 million. And just that alone, between hamburgers and video games, he's making well over what the average successful artist makes in music.

"With Travis Scott and the areas that he's ventured into corporate America, I think he's been able to do very similar to what Jay-Z's been able to do [which is] to get into ventures on his own terms and do it in an authentic way," Holt continued. "When you step into that realm for dollars, when you do it in a non-authentic way, that's when it jeopardizes the culture and jeopardizes the brand for the artist."

Scott prefers not to be labeled with the words "branding" and "marketing"; instead, he sees his business deals as an extension of his artistry. "I'm just more about putting out very cool things that inspire me and I hope one day inspire other people. I'm trying to bring a utopian effect," he explained to Adweek, "hoping to inspire the next person to just get creative or even just live their life in an aesthetically pleasing, vibed-out way."

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Ultimately, designing sneakers and attaching his name to cereal brands and fast-food chains allows him to connect with his fans in a way other than music. Scott has become notorious for his ultra-exclusive limited-edition merch and sneaker drops (his next Air Max 1 Cactus Jack Nike collab is slated to drop in time for the holidays). However, his partnerships with Reese's Puffs, Fortnite and McDonald's and the recent launch of his own agave spiked seltzer brand, Cacti, provide an all-access experience for fans who have missed out on or can't afford his other releases. Scott wants his fans to eat, both figuratively and literally. And while something like the Travis Scott Meal might not make sense at first glance, it is guaranteed to be a zeitgeist moment to remember — inevitably leaving fans hungry for more.

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