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Sex, drugs, fame: Don Toliver's newest release 'Life of a DON' is captivating, unique

With sultry vocals and star-studded features ranging from Kali Uchis to Travis Scott, Don Toliver's "Life of a DON" is an intriguing project from the Houston rapper. – Photo by Don Toliver / Twitter

Don Toliver positioned himself as his own toughest act to follow after his near-flawless debut studio album, “Heaven Or Hell,” was certified gold. The 27-year-old Houston rapper solidified his place in rap’s elite with his silky smooth vocals, irresistible hooks and astral sound. He came out of the gate strong, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

Toliver released his sophomore album, “Life of a DON,” on Oct. 8, and on this project, it's evident he has cemented his signature sound and reputation in hip-hop and rhythm and blues (R&B). This album remains true to his euphoric aesthetic and lyrical depictions of sex, drugs and fame.

But this time, he ups the tempo with trap-inspired, smoke-clouded production that's hard-hitting at times, and comforting and soulful at others, pleasantly contradicting itself.

Toliver carefully curated a small class of features to elevate the album, including Travis Scott, Kali Uchis, Baby Keem, HVN and SoFaygo. His choice to only include three major artists on the album is refreshing, and shows his desire to only include artists that synthesize and add to his vision, rather than recruiting a team of big names solely to maximize streams.

Toliver is a protégé of Travis Scott, and is signed to his record label, Cactus Jack Records. With Travis Scott as his mentor and a talented group of acts signed to the label, including SoFaygo and Sheck Wes, Toliver is the epitome of a natural talent who was given the right opportunity to grow into one of the most talented artists taking over the game.

Toliver and Scott collaborate twice on “Life of a DON": once on “Flocky Flocky,” an underwhelming, generic performance from the duo that sounds chaotic and rushed, and a second time on “You," an album highlight that redeems the pair. The track is sultry and rhythmic, with a captivating introduction, as both artists harmonize, “You couldn’t get any better, baby/Your lips taste like candy cane.”

The album’s introduction, “XSCAPE,” takes a serene approach, welcoming listeners into the moody, elegant tracks that follow. Shortly after, the artist turns up the tempo after “XSCAPE,” with the entertaining, smooth and bouncy “5X,” and the trap-influenced, drum-heavy “Way Bigger” that's energetic, yet calm. 

The four-track run initiated by the album’s lead single, and one of the more polished tracks in Toliver’s discography, “What You Need” show his more vulnerable side, and is the most impressive set on “Life of a DON.”

“Double Standards” showcases his dominance in both the trap sound and R&B ballads as he somberly expresses the struggles that come with fame through his melancholic sound and engaging lyricism such as, “It’s so hard to be human/It’s so hard to just live and learn with all of your mistakes.”

“Double Standards” is followed by “Swangin’ On Westheimer,” the project’s highest point, and is one of the best slow jams of the year. This track is both refined and sublime with its true R&B vocals and synth-heavy instrumental. What's most impressive about this track is Toliver’s absorption in its energy as listeners can feel him release his perception of space and get completely lost in the track.

The four-track set concludes with another single, “Drugs N Hella Melodies,” where Toliver collaborates with his girlfriend, Kali Uchis, for an enthralling, therapeutic R&B track. The hazy production blends with the alluring, whispered vocals from Uchis and the satiny, luxurious vocals from Toliver as the couple cleverly compares drugs, sex and romance in an outstanding performance.

“2AM” continues the momentum on the album, shifting toward the more experimental tracks in the latter half of “Life of a DON.” This track showcases Toliver’s vibrato and range over a hard, trap beat blended with melodic piano notes. Although this track lacks a sense of cohesion between its production and vocals, it's an intriguing song that delivers variety to the album.

“Get Throwed” begins with a piano sample that hints at a reflective track, before flipping the script and building into an upbeat, repetitive track about having casual sex. Nonetheless, it’s definitely catchy.

"Company Pt 2” had high expectations to meet from its outstanding predecessor on “Heaven Or Hell.” On “Company,” Toliver longs for a woman he once had, and on its follow up, he realizes that he has moved on. Although the new track isn't as compelling as the first, its production, courtesy of Metro Boomin, features some of the most masterful and riveting beats on the entire album.

Baby Keem appears on the next track, “OUTERSPACE,” a two-part piece separated by a beat change in signature Baby Keem style. Toliver and Baby Keem are a hypnotic duo, and on this track, we see Toliver takes a step into his counterpart’s world and style, rather than welcoming him into his own. 

While HVN and SoFaygo aren’t new to the game by any means, “Smoke” welcomes them to step into the world of Toliver and the industry’s upper echelon for a major moment in their careers. With a catchy hook, "Smoke" allows the trio to relish in their lavish lifestyles.

The album’s final two tracks couldn’t be more different, with “Crossfaded,” an elevated, feel-good pop banger and “BOGUS,” a dark, eerie conclusion that's strikingly similar to his mentor’s own sound. 

Overall, “Life of a DON” showcases Toliver’s ability to create unforgettable moments while solidifying his identity and mark in the industry, though it's slightly less cohesive than “Heaven or Hell,” and definitely not flawless. Nevertheless, this album delivers a unique, comforting and captivating body of work that is unlike any other artist prevalent right now. Toliver’s moment is here, and through it, he has truly created the life of a don.

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