It’s been quite the year for 21-year old Travis Thompson: Last week he had a Li’L Woody’s burger named after his delightful 2017 record Ambaum. As a result of his involvement with Macklemore’s Gemini album, last month he performed on a little-known late-night TV show called The Tonight Show, and he’s been a regular sidekick on ol’ Mack’s North American tour, playing stadium shows across the country, including this Friday at Key Arena, where he’ll be standing in front of 17,459 people.
Not that long ago I saw him perform at the Crocodile back bar, in front of a dozen people, so congratulations on the big step up to these much bigger stages.
So let’s talk about Ambaum, his mixtape from August 2016. The Tyler Dopps production on the early tracks, and the pop hooks, and the earnest lyrics might leave you the impression that Travis is a worthy Mack-lite protégé. While I suppose he is—three tracks in, during “Born in ’96,” this record begins to defy those expectations. There’s a tonal shift where Travis repeats a self-aware comment that, while this may be his moment to shine, “every day they make another one.”
Indeed, at 21, he’s already questioning when the next generation will be nipping at his heels. And it’s an inflection point that pushes this record in a completely different direction, more serious and inventive, one of proud underdog autobiography.
Here are a couple of moments I love: When on “Candy & Corner Stores” he raps, “Them kids from the back of the class know a lot more about living than anyone.” Any time there’s a smart, sexy guest feature from MistaDC, Nyles Davis, or Parisalexa. The inventive house beat (courtesy of Nima Skeemz) that closes “Party Favors.”
Also on this closing song, Travis jokes that his music covers the “Lifestyles of the broke and rapping.” Perhaps a little less so after this year of success. Hats off to you, man. That Ambaum burger was solid.