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Don Toliver’s Life of Don released on Oct. 7, 2021 (Photo provided via @DonToliver on Twitter)

Album Review: 'Life of a Don' is an opportunity missed

Concluding a year that included collaborations with Justin Bieber and Kanye West, Travis Scott-protégé Don Toliver has released his much-anticipated sophomore full length LP, Life of a Don. 

Since his breakthrough with a kaleidoscopic vocal feature on Scott’s “CAN’T SAY,” Toliver has spawned viral hit after viral hit. His work on the Cactus Jack imprint’s collaboration album JACKBOYS and the massive internet success of singles such as “No Idea” and “After Party” set up the Houston native’s 2020 debut album, Heaven or Hell, which was met with critical and commercial success. 

One of the golden-boys of the rising class of melodic rappers, Don Toliver’s style is one marked by washed-out psychedelic instrumentals and his distinct, reverb-heavy vocal timbre. 

Straying away from his previous record’s high-octane beats and pop-laced melodies, Life of a Don, sees Toliver take a more melancholy approach to his songwriting and beat selection. Gone are the vivid, upbeat instrumentals and vocal lines of his previous work, which are instead replaced by lush, spacey arrangements by trip-hop producer extraordinaire Mike Dean. 

Though there are flashes of his hit-making flair and he was assisted by absolutely stunning production, Toliver falls short of living up to the caliber of his past hits for most of the record. With a few exceptions, the rapper’s vocal performances and writing on each track were mediocre and trite. 

Songs like “Smoke” and “Get Throwed,” amongst many others, feature repetitive vocal lines lacking any melodic achievement or lyrical depth. Even the features on this project seemed to be just a continuation of Toliver’s vocal ordinariness. For instance, on the track “Drugs N Hella Melodies,” the usually-vibrant Kali Uchis delivers a monotonous vocal hook that, compared to her collaborations with Tyler, The Creator and SZA, was vastly disappointing. 

Though this album lacks any narrative cohesion and Toliver’s energy is at a fraction of what it was on Heaven or Hell, the record’s saving grace is the phenomenal production by Mike Dean and others. Dean, the synth-mastermind that was behind Travis Scott’s Astroworld was the shining star of Life of a Don and his elaborate, careful approach to production made one wish most of these tracks were instrumentals. 

There are a few tracks here and there where Toliver showed what we all know he is capable of. Don Toliver is one of the most celebrated and exciting up-and-comers in modern hip-hop, but on Life of a Don, his lack of care for lyrical depth or melodic variety outshine his clear talent. With that being said, here are some of the tracks that caught our ear:

1. “What You Need”

After a dull beginning, the album’s fifth track, “What You Need,” delivers what is this album’s first impressive vocal performance from Toliver. The driving percussion and catchy vocal hook remind me of the finesse present on previous Toliver hits such as “After Party” or “Had Enough”. 

2. “Swangin’ On Westheimer”

Two words: Mike. Dean. The producer’s luxuriant synth leads and gripping beat switches, coupled with Toliver’s delicate account of his romantic journey with a woman from his hometown makes for easily the best song of the album. 

3. “BOGUS”

The album’s closer is the vigorous trap rager we needed throughout the whole album. Wearing his influences on his sleeve, notes of Travis Scott and Migos at their best shine through on this up-tempo banger. The fiery trap beat and Toliver’s lively verse delivery created a needed shift in style, but it came all too late. 

Rating: 2.5/5


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