Don Toliver – Hardstone Psycho

Cementing his position in rap's top tier...

By now, each new album from Don Toliver is a bona fide event. 2023’s ‘Love Sick’ sealed his place in American rap’s top tier, balancing creative nous with the ability to craft stadium-shuddering hip-hop bangers. Working with alacrity, the Houston rapper is back once more, on an album that dials up his ambitions while also introducing fresh aspects.

A work of evolution, ‘Hardstone Psycho’ actually succeeds when Don Toliver dials into his core aspects. ‘Brother Stone’ features Kodak Black, and the two work perfectly on a club shaker; ‘Glock’ pinches from the Griselda cookbook with its pitched-up soul vocal sample, and the Prince-referencing ‘Purple Rain’ reunites Don Toliver and Future, who produces one of the best features on the album.

Curiously, the record tumbles when it moves beyond these confines. The rock influences on opening ‘Kryptonite’ are jarring and the brash hair metal guitar on ‘Tore Up’ feels clumsy. Closer ‘Hardstone National Anthem’ has a post-apocalyptic feel, but its over-wrought, lacking the subtlety of the album’s finest moments.

And there are, it should be emphasised, some fine aspects to this release. Cactus Jacks’ boss Travis Scott joins his protégé for ‘Inside’, the low-key guitars impressing with their nuance; ‘5 To 10’ meanwhile drops the tempo a little, the swaggering beat opening up space for a superb showcase for Don Toliver’s word play.

Indeed, the most impressive acts of evolution here are often the most understated. The emotion of ‘Deep In The Water’ for example, or the brash confidence that lies behind recent power-play single ‘Attitude’. Joined by an expertly curated cast, ‘Hardstone Psycho’ reinforces Don Toliver’s stature, while also providing new arenas for him to explore. It’s fun, and for the most part is executed perfectly, underlining his position in the upper echelons of the new rap generation.

7/10

Words: Robin Murray

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