Don Toliver works at an electrifying pace. Refusing to let a little thing like, y’know, a global pandemic get in his way, the Stateside rapper has peppered the Billboard charts with a string of single releases, smashing his way into hip-hop’s Major League in the process. Debut album ‘Heaven Or Hell’ dropped last year, solidifying the Houston rapper’s place in rap’s upper echelons.
If the velocity of his rise was breathtaking, then ‘Life Of A Don’ moves to solidify his reputation. It’s a broad, diverse statement – punchy throughout, and soulful when it needs to be – eschewing the vagaries of feature culture to finesse down his art, using a carefully curated array of guests to broaden his own vision.
The standouts rank as some of his best work, and some of the most potent Major League rap to emerge from the States this year. ‘Drugs N Hella Melodies’ remains enthralling, it’s codeine-thick production offset by whispered vocals from Kali Uchis, while Don’s own performance lifts the song to another level.
Opener ‘XSCAPE’ is an incisive introduction, with Don Toliver emphasising his bond with the art. ‘Flocky Flocky’ is an addictive Travis Scott burner – the Cactus Jack head honcho also returns on later highlight ‘You’ - while ‘Double Standards’ matches the bluntness of its message with Don Toliver’s engaging lyrical abilities.
‘Get Throwed’ hints at introspection in the fragility of its piano sample, before building into something akin to dancehall in its club-focussed exuberance. An album that relishes contradiction, ‘Life Of A Don’ moves effectively from the bombastic P-Funk synths of the Baby Keem enhanced ‘OUTERSPACE’ to taut eerie-ness of closer ‘BOGUS’.
A record that refuses to divulge its secrets immediately, ‘Life Of A Don’ is packed with immaculate sonic detail while also relishing a certain directness. Of all the artists in the Cactus Jack stable, Don Toliver is the one who could blow much further than others – an example of natural talent given the landscape to grow, ‘Life Of A Don’ is one of Stateside rap’s most electrifying statements in 2021.
Words: Robin Murray
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