Don Toliver’s ‘Life of a Don’ falls flat despite stellar production

Riley Millette, Sports Editor

For all my chill vibe playlist listeners out there, this album is for you.

Rapper Caleb Zackery Toliver, known by his stage name Don Toliver, released his second studio album “Life of a Don” on Oct. 8, his first drop in a year and a half.

I first listened to this album with my roommates at 1 a.m. with the lights low, the vibe I was expecting to match the tone of the album. I often find these types of albums to be underwhelming and leave me wanting more.

And based on the first track, I was right.

The leadoff track “XSCAPE” was a very mellow, synth-driven track that intrigued me. I liked the production and Toliver’s presence was attention-grabbing, although somewhat minimalistic.

The third track, “Way Bigger,” was the antithesis of that first track. The bass-heavy, Sonny Digital-produced track snapped me right out of the slumped-into-the-chair funk that the second song “5X” lulled me into.

But most importantly, Toliver gave a taste of his biggest asset that made me want to listen to this album in the first place. Previous tracks of his like “Lemonade” and “2 Lil Shorty” feature some of my favorite verses in recent memory because his vocal passages were so bold and unafraid. His angelic voice in accompaniment of trap beats that admittedly are overused in today’s rap scene was a recipe for hit after hit.

Even though I hoped this was just the surface, Toliver’s vocals caught my ear at the end of “Way Bigger.” I concede that there was a fair bit of autotune at play, but it still fit the track and was calming to listen to.

“5X,” a mediocre track that has to perfectly match the low-key vibes of any function at best, was sandwiched in between the two tracks I enjoyed, but the highs at the top of the album were monumental compared to this one.

Before this album was released, I was banging the drum for Toliver. I thought he was an electric performer who had yet to reach his peak. But as much as I wanted to root for this album, it underwhelmed me.

Given his prior work and the fact that he’s a former understudy of rap megastar Travis Scott, I was expecting Toliver to blow me away with grand production and killer verses. Scott and Toliver’s collaboration on Scott’s album “ASTROWORLD” is an unbelievable merge of talent and similar styles, and it created fireworks.

But Toliver leaned away from that on “Life of a Don.” Every track is a slow burn that leaves the listener wondering when the next banger will be. I have nothing against a slow jam, and Toliver does it well on multiple occasions on this record, but I just wasn’t expecting this change. The tool that made Toliver so different from the rest of the rap crowd, his voice, took a major backseat on this album.

Lyrically, Toliver doesn’t show much growth. On the track “Swangin’ On Westheimer,” Toliver reflects on where he came from before his rise to fame, but it doesn’t reach far past surface level. The lead single for this album, “Drugs N Hella Melodies” featuring his girlfriend, Kali Uchis, is just a steamy relationship track that’s personal to the two of them and leaves little to the audience.

I can appreciate the sentiment, but Toliver is far from the lyrical skill required to make a track like that engaging. On the bright side, the production of this album is very

clean. There are some star-studded names working behind the scenes, like Mustard, Metro Boomin and Mike Dean. They deliver some silky, buttery tracks that are pleasant to the ears and complement the 1 a.m. vibe that I had going for the Toliver listening party, but I know he’s capable of so much more.

Seeing Toliver take such a step down as a vocal performer was a major letdown. This project lacks the uniqueness that his previous two projects had in abundance.

2.5/5 Leather couches.

Illustration by (Connor Lawless)