Five Burning Questions: HipHopMagz Staffers Discuss Travis Scott’s No. 1 Debut With ‘Highest In The Room’


On this week’s Billboard Hot 100 chart, Travis Scott crashes in at No. 1 with new single “Highest In The Room,” earning the Houston rapper his second Hot 100 No. 1 and his first debut in the chart’s top spot. “Highest” is only the 35th song in the Hot 100’s history to start in the top spot, and follows the huge success of Scott’s “Sicko Mode” last year at the chart’s summit.

While Scott is now firmly within hip-hop’s elites, the No. 1 debut is a particularly meaningful achievement. To put “Highest In The Room’s” high start into context, Billboard staffers discussed the No. 1 debut, what previous Travis Scott song deserved such a splashy chart placement, and which artists could also secure a Hot 100 chart-topping bow before year’s end.

1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how surprising is it that Travis Scott is now a big-enough artist to score a lofty No. 1 debut on the Hot 100?

Jason Lipshutz: I’d say a 5. Travis Scott has only topped the Hot 100 chart once before, so to see him launch a song — especially one without any guest stars — in the top spot is a bit startling. However, anyone who has been paying attention to Scott’s accomplishments over the past 18 months, from the massive debut of Astroworld to the longevity of “Sicko Mode” to the success of his self-curated festival to the major collaborations, could deduce that he is now an unquestionable A-lister in popular music. Consider this No. 1 debut worth a quiet “Oh!,” but certainly not a full-on gasp.

Carl Lamarre: 7 or 8. Initially I was pretty shocked, only because part of me — and that's a tiny part — thought the commercial success of Astroworld was a fluke. I mean, that album scored a much bigger debut than Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight did back in 2016; and "Highest in the Room" is a quality record, but when matched up against his other Hot 100 No. 1, "Sicko Mode," it falls a little short. Either way, Travis' ascension into superstardom has been an experience to marvel at, and is well-deserved.

Lyndsey Havens: To be fully transparent, I only became a huge Travis Scott fan after Astroworld, so by the time I was getting into him, he was already a pretty huge star. Because of that, I wasn't entirely shocked by his No. 1 debut; I'd say I was at a 4 out of 10, and I think as he continues to roll out his next project, we can expect many more moments like this for him.

Josh Glicksman: Three, and the only reason it’s that high is because it’s just his second top 10 as a solo artist (technically third, since “Sicko Mode” is listed as a solo effort, but it’s hard to argue that Drake didn’t boost the song significantly). Travis Scott is a streaming giant — all 17 tracks from Astroworld hit the Hot 100 upon the album’s release — so any chart success for the Houston-born rapper isn’t too shocking anymore. There’s only a small handful of artists that have the potential to go No. 1 with any new single, and Scott just proved that he belongs in such a group.

Trevor Anderson: Survey says, a 3! Just 18 months ago, it would be a different conversation, but the tidal wave of hip-hop recently washing over the charts has buoyed even established rap stars to new commercial peaks. Travis, already a fan favorite, dwarfed his previous success with Astroworld and “Sicko Mode.” He’d been No. 1 on the Billboard 200 before, yes, but Astroworld rode in on over 500,000 units – that’s more than Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys started with, for the scorekeepers – and “Sicko Mode” debuted at No. 4 on the Hot 100 on its way to topping the chart and lasting 32 weeks (almost 8 months!!) in the top 10. The hunger for new Travis material clearly exists, but my hesitance in calling for a high debut versus a No. 1 debut lied in Travis not having the same track record and pop-friendly appeal as, say, Drake or Post Malone, in terms of hip-hop’s current top class. It’s a mistake I won’t make again.

2. Although it's now Scott's highest debut on the Hot 100, do you foresee "Highest In The Room" having the same staying power as his biggest hits?

Jason Lipshutz: Tentatively, yes — “Highest In The Room” creeps up on you as an earworm, but that melody is unabashedly fun, and Scott’s blissed-out chanting should work well as it gets adopted by more DJs and radio stations. That said, Scott has the power to drop even bigger singles out of thin air if he really wants to, which could potentially limits “Highest’s” run at the top of the chart. It all depends on whether or not Scott wants to flood the zone or let his latest single breathe; neither is a bad option, by the way.

Carl Lamarre: It's tough to say. Travis is an artist who I've learned to expect the unexpected with. I think Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" ran its course at No. 1, and I don't know if Dan + Shay's "10,000 Hours" with Justin Bieber has enough steam to outrace La Flame. I do think that the timing of the single release — during a highly publicized split with Kylie Jenner, and the same week he headlined Rolling Loud — was spot-on for Travis. I'm not saying this was pre-meditated, but he played his cards right after being dealt a crappy hand.

Lyndsey Havens: While it's always exciting for a song to debut at No. 1, I think it's more fun when a song climbs to No. 1 — or even into the top 10 — because you can see it gaining steam. When "Sicko Mode" came out, it felt like a moment because we all saw it rise to No. 1 over time. Whereas with "Highest," the track immediately trended on Twitter and entered the Hot 100 at No. 1, so there's less of an arc to follow — unless, of course, the song stays atop the chart long enough to start entering record books. So while I realize I have completely avoided answering this question, I think that the song could become a classic within Scott's catalog, but am less certain how long it can hold on atop the chart.

Josh Glicksman: Admittedly, “Highest In The Room” has grown on me since my first listen, but it still doesn’t have the same stickiness as some of his biggest hits. I don’t see it being in any sort of danger of falling off the Hot 100 anytime soon, but I don’t expect it to be enjoying a notably long stay atop the chart, either. It feels like the No. 1 debut is fueled by sheer excitement for new Travis Scott material more than anything else.

Trevor Anderson: We’re grading on the “Sicko Mode” curve; what a mighty bar to clear. I’ll take it from this angle: comparing “Room” to the other 2019 No. 1 debuts – Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” and Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” – I expect it to follow the latter’s trajectory. That is, it won’t be a multi-month No. 1 a-la “7 Rings,” but instead debuts at No. 1, settle back and have a steady ride in the top 10. Urban radio is latching onto the song already – debuting on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, Rap Airplay and Rhythmic – so there’s keen interest in that sector, but more chart competition will hinder it.

3. Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" falls to No. 2 following a six-week run at No. 1. How soon do you think until Lizzo gets back to the top spot — with "Truth Hurts" climbing back up, or with another rising track?

Jason Lipshutz: In case you haven’t noticed, Lizzo’s “Good as Hell” is rocketing up the Hot 100 chart, jumping up six spots this week to a new peak at No. 24, even though (just like “Truth Hurts”) it was released years ago, back in 2016. “Good as Hell” is an endlessly catchy and deeply likable single; even if it never reached the summit of the Hot 100, I wouldn’t count out the song — or Lizzo, for that matter — for upending expectations.

Carl Lamarre: I don't know if "Truth Hurts" can muster another run to the top of the mountain, but how dope would it be to see "Good As Hell" follow its predecessor's trajectory? "Good As Hell" was released in 2016, but its message of loving yourself is still so endearing and purposeful. That's why "Truth Hurts" remained impactful two years after its release: Lizzo's ability to empower continues to serve as her calling card, and because of that, it may help "Good As Hell" zip its way to No. 1.

Lyndsey Havens: Lizzo had to wait far too long to be embraced — and to have a No. 1 hit ("Truth Hurts" was first released two years ago!). And while I don't see it climbing back to the top of the chart (unless, hypothetically, she were to perform it on Saturday Night Live or somewhere else with a big-enough spotlight), I do think that she now has the proper recognition and enough steam that whatever song she releases next could debut at No. 1.

Josh Glicksman: My track record with chart predictions is historically terrible — seriously, revisit my old Five Burning Questions takes, they’re all wrong — but I don’t see Lizzo going No. 1 again with “Truth Hurts.” It’s down 8% on Digital Song Sales and 7% on Streaming Songs this week, and given today’s heavy reliance on DSP performance, making the jump back up to the top may be unattainable. Lizzo isn’t in the same conversation about any single having the potential to go No. 1 yet, but if she turns in a strong couple of new singles now that all eyes are on her, she’ll be getting closer.

Trevor Anderson: “Highest in The Room” sold 50,000 copies this week – that seems like the big determinant in whether it can secure the No. 1 spot in week 2. If the sales collapse, Lizzo could rebound in a tight race. The “Truth Hurts” airplay and streams are waning, so the song needs to rebound soon if it wants to add to its six-week stint. “Good As Hell,” meanwhile, is bounding up: a 40-28 move on Radio Songs and it returns to the Streaming Songs chart, and people are just rooting for all things Lizzo at the moment. Even if “Good” stops short, there’s all-but-surely a Justin Timberlake collaboration coming soon, which isn’t an automatic lock for No. 1, but the all-star lineup only helps. Don’t be surprised if Lizzo’s back to No. 1 before we hit 2020. 

4. Looking back at his career, what's one Travis Scott that deserved to go No. 1, but didn't quite blow up?

Jason Lipshutz: This is a Travis Scott-21 Savage-Offset-Metro Boomin song, but “Ghostface Killers,” the lead track from the latter trio’s 2017 Without Warning project, remains explosive, and with one of Scott’s most effortlessly entertaining guest spots to date (“Drop from the heavens, straight in the wild!” he crows at the start of his verse). The song did actually hit the top 40 of the Hot 100, but never became an enduring single like “Ric Flair Drip” did from that album, and thus was denied its run at No. 1.

Carl Lamarre: "Butterfly Effect" is a jam. I think we all underestimated how much juice and punch that song had when it first came out; when the beat drops, mosh pits quickly assemble and mayhem ensues. It's a Travis Scott classic.

Lyndsey Havens: "Pick Up The Phone" only hit No. 43! I love the beat to that track, even though the production is noticeably years behind that of Astroworld.

Josh Glicksman: How did “Goosebumps” only peak at No. 32? That song absolutely rules. Chalk it up to its 2016 release — just a bit ahead of Scott’s mainstream blow-up — but it deserved so much better. Just when you’re six brr ad-libs deep and think the song has reached its ceiling, boom, here comes a Kendrick Lamar verse to take the track straight into the stratosphere. And give an honorable mention to “Maria I’m Drunk,” the Rodeo standout that never hit the Hot 100 at all.

Trevor Anderson: I’ll always scratch my head at how “Stargazing” was left unnoticed. Today, labels are smarter about picking singles based on a wealth of streaming data, so, when “Stargazing” was the highest Astroworld track to debut on the Hot 100 besides the already-a-single “Sicko Mode,” it felt like the heir apparent in the mold of other proven examples such as Cardi B’s “I Like It” and Post Malone’s “Better Now.” But somehow, Epic Records missed the memo. “Stargazing” isn’t any odder than “Sicko Mode” in terms of radio potential, and though it doesn’t bring out surprise Drake vocals, the beat, flow and psychedelic loop are all catchy ingredients. Plus, the sonic shift about two-thirds in really unveils the most straightforward part of the song – and, if anything, that part is too short! Maybe with too many guest stars to work with on the Astroworld album, the guest-less “Stargazing” was lost in the shuffle.

5. "Highest In The Room" is the first song to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart since Jonas Brothers' "Sucker" in March. Which A-list artist, who has the perceived power to launch a single at No. 1, do you most hope drops a new track before the end of 2019?

Jason Lipshutz: It’s hard to believe it’s been four whole years since Adele’s whirlwind comeback with “Hello” and her 25 album, but Oct. 23 will indeed mark a full presidential term from the moment Adele’s pristine voice emphatically crashed back into our lives. She’s apparently working on new music, and based on her most recent outing, a No. 1 debut is all but assured given the right release format. Can the next numbered album release arrive sooner than later, pretty please?

Carl Lamarre: I'm probably going to sound extra spoiled, because this year alone Drake gifted us So Far Gone on streaming services, Care Package and a pair of singles all before Christmas. Despite his altruism, I still need one more record from the 6 God. Every time The Boy drops, it's a moment, and we have no choice but to press play. "Money in the Grave" was a cute appetizer, but let's hope Drake can sink another buzzer-beater before year’s end.

Lyndsey Havens: Obviously Rihanna — we're all ready whenever she is. Lady Gaga could also top the chart if she were to release a new track; same with Justin Bieber, if he drops a solo single. And one more artist that I would love to have new music from before the year ends is Demi Lovato. I definitely think she has the power to debut at No. 1, and it would surely be a celebratory comeback if she does.

Josh Glicksman: I just mentioned Kendrick Lamar, how great would it be to get a new song from him before the end of the year? We’ve yet to get anything from him in 2019 where he’s the lead artist, and the follow-up to 2017 masterpiece Damn. still eludes us — while he helmed the Black Panther soundtrack, it doesn’t feel quite the same as an entire body of work from the Compton rapper. The results are always worth the wait, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to do so.

Trevor Anderson: Assuming Robyn Fenty’s standing invite, I cast a vote for Bruno Mars. We’ve barely heard much from him in the 21 months since “The Bruno Mars Show” (a.k.a his unexpected sweep of the 2018 Grammy Awards), save the Cardi B duet “Please Me” and guest turns on songs by Gucci Mane and Ed Sheeran. Though he’s dabbled across genres for some of his career, will Bruno’s richly rewarded R&B embrace encourage him to double down on that winning formula? Or, as we’ve seen from other major stars, does that push him to the absolute opposite on the spectrum – a Bruno Mars rock album?! I’d bet the six Grammy wins threw a welcome wrench into planning BM4 – now, he’s got the rare standing of being adored by the institutions and the public. With any option available to him, how does that play out?