Texan-born Don Toliver flies the flag high for Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack Records collective. His debut album, ‘Heaven Or Hell’, was utterly flawless with its hyper-lucid atmosphere and addictive hooks; a year later and it’s a Gold-selling record. Between then and now, Toliver’s fame has only risen – he’s leant vocals to notorious musical collective Internet Money’s Lemonade’ – and his follow-up ‘Life Of A Don’ has a lot to live up to.
‘Life Of A Don’ doesn’t solely take on Toliver’s trademark ethereal aesthetic. There are still spaced-out synths that orbit around – sees the serene and astral ‘5X’ and ‘Way Bigger’ – but Toliver ups the tempo a smidge from ‘Heaven Or Hell’ and there’s an attempt to add trappier hi-hats and more commercial styles. On ‘Flocky Flocky’, the first of two collaborations with Scott, the duo court that moody sound but also add the tinny melodies popular in pop-rap nowadays. It feels chaotic and rushed, never mind Travis Scott’s mostly nonsensical lines: “I keep a place to bait, to tune your brain up / She stuffs her face in cake, no way it’s safe“.
Yet this trappier sound really packs a punch on ‘2AM’. With zooming melodic piano notes melting into one another, Don hits his bird-like falsetto so well that the dated circa 2014 production become infectious. It shouldn’t work: it’s sloppy and feels rough. ‘2AM’ feels like a late-night brainstorm that was initially shelved, but still made the album. Showing off Toliver’s vibrato and range, it is a perfect link from the album’s early whimsical sounds to the upbeat, experimental tracks to follow.
Baby Keem and Toliver are quite the tag-team on ‘OUTERSPACE’; the second Travis Scott collaboration ‘You’ is otherworldly and sultry; and Toliver should be commended for the bouncy, feel-good pop track ‘Crossfaded’. Songs like this help elevate him to more than just a simple hip-hop star. ‘Crossfaded’ feels reminiscent of Post Malone and Swae Lee’s ‘Sunflower’, but for those late nights out, as Toliver double-checks that he and his lady of interest are “down for each other? / ‘Cause I’m down for you”.
From the singles of the album, you might have wondered if ‘Life Of A Don’ would be a carbon copy of his Gold-selling debut: ‘What You Need’ and ‘Drugs N Hella Melodies’ (featuring his soulful crooner girlfriend Kali) are ethereal bops. But Toliver adds a new flavour to his popular sound here, and while the result is a less cohesive record than ‘Heaven Or Hell’, the result is a similarly cosy sonic comfort blanket.
Release date: October 8th
Record label: Cactus Jack/Atlantic