Though he may have hit the news for entirely non-musical reasons as of late – namely his blossoming and incredibly publicised relationship with Kourtney Kardashian – one would be hard pressed to name a modern-day drummer more influential than Travis Barker.
Beginning his career playing drums for defiantly goofy ska group The Aquabats, Barker’s big break came in 1998 when he was asked to join the now iconic pop-punk trio blink-182. Barker’s first record with the band, Enema of the State, marked a turning point for pop-punk as a genre.
Though blink-182 remained the central focus for much of his career, Barker has always had a deep affinity for hip-hop. His side project Transplants regularly incorporated rap into their gritty vision of punk rock, and after collaborating with and remixing artists the likes of Lil Wayne and Rihanna in the late 2000s, Barker eventually released his first solo record, a hip-hop album titled Give the Drummer Some in 2011. From there, his relationship with the world of hip-hop has only grown.
I thought it high time we looked more deeply at Travis Barker and his many contributions. So here, I’m doing a deep dive into the world of Travis Barker, tracking his ever-evolving interests as a musician and ranking his 20 best tracks of all time, while hopefully giving insight into the unique talent of pop punk’s premier drummer. Here we go.
20. Soulja Boy – “Crank That (Soulja Boy) (Travis Barker Remix)”
Built upon the charismatic ad-libs of Soulja Boy and a truly undeniable hook, the unfairly derided “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” remains a cultural touchstone of the late 2000s. Barker’s remix may sound dated in 2021, but the melding of the drummers’ intricate (and shameless) rock-rap production with one of the hip-hops catchiest choruses is hard to refute.
19. blink-182 – “Black Rain”
After the departure of Tom Delonge in 2015, Blink-182 quickly enlisted Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba as the band’s new guitarist and co-vocalist. Though this era of Blink-182 is perhaps less musically ambitious than previous incarnations, their radio-friendly approach is not without its perks. Case in point: “Black Rain”. The song is most striking during its verses, where Barker’s urgent, glitchy rhythm section acts as the perfect accompaniment to Mark Hoppus’s tension-wracked vocals.
18. willow - “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l (feat. travis barker)”
Released amongst a slew of pop-punk throwbacks – everyone from Olivia Rodrigo to Halsey to Machine Gun Kelly trying their hand at the genre – Willow Smith’s “t r a n s p a r e n t s o u l” may be 2021’s most convincing blast from the past. Smith’s low vocal register gives the songs drawling chorus a prog-rock edge, her lyrics here as vulnerable as they are dramatic. Barker’s drumming is merely icing on the cake.
17. The Aquabats! – “red sweater!”
Though ska is certainly not something one generally associates with Barker, he navigates the reggae-inspired drum patterns inherent in the genre effortlessly here, acting as the perfect foil for The Aquabats! upbeat guitar and horn section.
16. blink-182 – “First Date”
Written by Tom Delonge after studio executives complained that the follow-up to Enema of the State – 2001’s Take off Your Pants and Jacket – was lacking in ‘good-time summer anthems’, “First Date” remains one of Blink-182’s most shamelessly saccharine singles. In spite of this (or perhaps because of this), it also one of the band’s most unpretentious and tender odes to adolescent longing. Barker’s drumming is at its most straightforwardly pleasing here, the opening fill iconic to any Blink-182 fan.
15. Travis Barker – “Saturday Night (feat. Transplants & Slash)”
Anchored by a typically bleak Tim Armstrong chorus (“Every night is a Saturday night to me” he mumbles), this funky, low-key collaboration between Transplants and Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Slash finds Barker working in a more restrained register than one might normally expect. Always up to the task, Barker’s looped rhythm section provides a perfect backdrop for Slash’s expressive guitar work.
14. blink-182 – “Snake Charmer”
Barker’s drumming is the glue which holds this song together, a mishmash of Tom Delonge’s sincere affinity for 1980’s synthpop with the grungy, guttural guitar riffs found in his angst-ridden side project Box Car Racer. Filling in the gaps between these two seemingly incompatible elements, Barker’s drumming gives the song a forward momentum which marks it as a highlight in the band’s 2011 reunion record, Neighbourhoods.
13. Lil Wayne – “Drop The World (feat. Eminem)”
Controversial upon release, time has been kind to Lil Wayne’s 2011 rock-rap hybrid Rebirth, an ambitious experiment which in many ways laid the foundations for much of the melodic, emo rap that has become mainstream today. Barker provided drums for this track – released as Rebirth’s lead single – and adds an appropriately heavy edge to Wayne’s snarling chorus.
12. blink-182 – “The Fallen Interlude”
Acting as the interlude for 2003’s self-titled Blink-182, this track finds Barker cycling through a barrage of different percussive techniques over nothing more than a simple looped piano and some funk-infused guitar licks. One of the simplest (and most underappreciated) illustrations of Barker’s raw talent as a drummer.
11. +44 – “Lycanthrope”
Written in the aftermath of Blink 182’s initial break-up, When Your Heart Stops Beating is perhaps the most outright bitter record Barker and Hoppus ever recorded – and productively so. This opening screed sets the tone for the album – angry and pained – with Barker’s high impact drumming working hard to emphasise this.
10. Travis Barker – “If You Want To (feat. Pharell & Lupe Fiasco)”
Driven by a warbly, pulsating synth line, Pharell’s’ typically energetic production here proves the perfect playground for Barker’s dynamic percussion section. Lupe Fiasco navigates the beat with ease, modulating his robust flow with seemingly effortless precision throughout.
9. Run The Jewels – “All Due Respect (feat. Travis Barker)”
Barker’s hard-hitting drums feel right at home within the grit and grime of Run The Jewels’ acclaimed second record, Run the Jewels 2. Playing against the glitchy, sampled yelps employed by producer El-P, Barker’s unconventional drumming patterns help to accentuate the frenetic, anxiety-inducing sensibility which the rap supergroup are known for.
8. Box Car Racer – “Tiny Voices”
As Tom Delonge’s grungy, bruised guitar tones reverberate in the background, Barker’s sophisticated sensibility as a drummer here helps to build a bridge between the pop-punk instincts of Delonge as a songwriter and the post-hardcore aspirations of this record. Like many of the songs on the band’s self-titled debut album, Delonge’s voice is at its most snotty and self-lacerating, snarling through a chorus built around the blunt-force proclamation; “Everybody will be let down”.
7. Unotheactivist & Travis Barker – “Taste The Rainbow”
Working with underground trap artist UnoTheActivist, “Taste the Rainbow” acts as the elegant, dreamy conclusion to the duo’s collaborative EP, Might Not Make It. With vocal acrobatics comparable to that of Young Thug, Uno utilises his elastic flow to float above Barker’s dreamy, subdued production. As synthetic strings and mumbled harmonies swirl evocatively around the song’s central hook, it’s hard not to think that this may be one of the most plainly gorgeous tracks in Barker’s long career.
6. blink-182 – “Not Now”
“Please stay, until I’m gone” yelps Delonge in the desperate and emotive chorus of “Not Now”, Blink-182’s final single before their initial break-up in 2004. This song is perhaps the best representation of the sophisticated brand of pop-punk (perhaps even post-pop-punk?) which the band perfected in their 2003 self-titled record. It is both angry and refined, the final bridge allowing each member a chance to flex their respective musical muscles.
5. +44 – “Little Death”
Resembling a gloomy, pop-punk nursery rhyme, Barker’s rhythm section here – built upon nothing more than some simple, layered hand-claps – gives added weight to Hoppus’ already downbeat, sombre meditation on human connection and loss. As bleak as it is beautiful.
4. Transplants – “Diamonds And Guns”
Drawing from punk, ska and hip-hop in equal measure, “Diamonds and Guns” is the debut single by punk rock supergroup Transplants. From the infectious piano which opens the song to the airy “woo-hoos” that recur throughout the chorus, this is a track filled with simple, unaffected pleasures. Barker confidently provides the backdrop for vocalists Tim Armstrong and Rob Aston as they trade verses, both evocative in their own specific way (Armstrong in particular, whose iconic slurred delivery acts as a terrific counterpoint to the clean, upbeat production).
3. blink-182 – “Violence”
Delonge’s garbled guitar tone and Barker’s pulsating electronic drums form the backbone for the anxious and claustrophobic Violence. Jumping between an anthemic, thrashing pop-punk chorus and restless spoken word verses, this among the most unique tracks the trio ever recorded, the adolescent angst of their early work transformed into something which feels genuinely volatile.
2. blink-182 – “Adam’s Song”
Though best remembered for its matter-of-fact lyrical content and Hoppus’s blunt, pained delivery, Barker’s drum fills here give an added depth to Delonge’s relatively simple palm-muted guitar work. Melancholy and anthemic in equal measure, “Adam’s Song” remains of Blink-182’s most deeply-felt pop-punk ballads.
1. blink-182 – “Feeling This”
Barker’s echoey, flanged drums act as the introduction to this track – one of Blink-182’s most tightly constructed and infectious singles – remaining a driving presence throughout. From this opening, we move into Delonge’s snarky, screeched verses followed by Hoppus’s wistful chorus, every element coming together here with a ferocious sense of purpose. It is perhaps the platonic ideal of pop-punk, counterposing Blink-182’s penchant for naïve, adolescent melodrama with a genuinely elegant (and ridiculously catchy) hook. The sound of a band at the top of their game.
This is an opinion piece written by Luke McCarthy, a filmmaker, writer and critic based in Naarm (Melbourne). Follow him on Twitter @lukempmccarthy.
This image was photographed by Shayan Asgharnia sourced via Men's Health; read the profile here.