Life Of A Don actually exceeed my expectations my a very long mile, and that's exactly what I didn't expect. Given the cloud of rumors around Don Toliver lately and the fact that I wasn't a fan of a majority of his features lately, I didn't even plan on checking out this record. However, some of the features made me think of listening to this before today's supposed central festivities! (Magdalena Bay and James Blake), and I was pleasantly surprised by how pleasant this project was.
Life Of A Don is a great record from a budding artist with a lot of potential, and I see him doing even brighter things in the future, but I really hope he didn't do what he was accused of. It's a horrible allegation, and if proven true it'd probably marr my enjoyment of his music and this record with immediate effect, so that's something I still feel very sickened about given how much I liked this. I'm not someone to tolerate stuff of that nature, even if it's an artist I adore, so I really hope it was nothing but a false allegation, but if it truly is true than I sincerely hope the victim is given first priority, but since there have been no updates on the case so far and some evidence suggesting it was a false alarm, I think I can go through with my run of praise for this record, which has nothing to do with my perception of Don as a person for now.
Life Of A Don comes after the now Kanye West co-signed Travis Scott protege's commercial debut with Heaven Or Hell, a project that didn't stick to its concept and suffered from excess ubiquity and cohesion between tracks. Of course, tracks like No Idea and Euphoria have always been dear to me (the latter in particular, because I used it as an activity alarm for a while in 2019 or 20, and it helped me get a fresh start to my everyday activities)
For the most part, the production on Life Of A Don is surprisingly NOT generic for the most part, but post Get Throwed, it feels like the production quality takes a hit. The front end of this record was so genuinely mesmerizing, filled with everything from subtle, muted guitar work and grandiose outros from synth maestros like MIKE DEAN himself. While Don sounded eerily similar to Travis on here, to the point of which I called him Travis at the start of this review before erasing it!
Now, this album isn't without its flaws. The pair of Travis Scott features could've been better, but I think the production remains great except for the two odd tracks that drop the ball (Get Throwed and Company Pt.2), and even these songs are pretty decent, but they just pale out as mediocre in comparison. Don has always struck me as a, particularly artistic newcomer artist with a good hand at picking out instrumentals, even though he is rumored to have massive industry backing, a lot of artists with an equal amount of free endorsement.
He is given some creative freedom here, but it's kept at a minimum. Like I said, given how this is being considered as a project in the echelon of every trap record out there, there are some genuinely transcendent moments on this record. People enjoyed Astroworld, so I don't know what kind of biases are seeping in with a semi-recreation of its sound. The heavy guitar/synth sound that's synonymous with a lot of Kanye, Kid Cudi, and Travis makes a brief appearance on Outerspace. And songs like Smoke straight-up sounds like it could be a snug fit on Die Lit. The same goes for Crossfaded, with its soft, lush synth-work.
I've been a fan of a few conventional pop-rap records this calendar year, Montero, The Melodic Blue and Roadrunner to name a few, but this one stands out as something that's almost leagues a lot of those records. The production feels way more tactile, the vocal effects are perfected, and even though some songs fade into the background, it just works. If people find this to be solid mood music, there's no need to ridicule the fact that they do, because it works just about well.
Sometimes the outros and intros carry the songs, they sound more passionate than the bodies of music themselves, but that's ok, because they only add to the already great songs. Honestly, the only song I wanted to skip was You, because Don's vocals aren't the best, and the strings are too low in the mix to help the song out. But there comes some mellow guitar work to save the day, god bless! Crossfaded features Mike Dean as his relative creative peak in a while, creating yet another beautiful synth syncopation.
I feel like the lack of a cloud rap genre tag on this record is near blasphemous, because songs like Way Bigger and Bogus have both vocal work and atmospheric production settings that easily deserve this tag. It's seeming to shape up to be yet another pop-rap/trap-rap record that doesn't get the love it deserves, and that's just disappointing. Don Toliver comes to his own as a performer here, his vocal performances sound less like they're delivered out of spite, and his vocal palette spikes in its quality even though there isn't much difference in vocal tone across the board that is this album.
Don's lyricism here has also gone up, and even though that was the once facet of his music that's relatively irrelevant because he makes music that's focused on how the production gels with his unique brand of vocalizing. Just like Travis Scott before him, the lyrics don't really matter, but sometimes he does get a little introspective with it, which comes to the said track's advantage.
XSCAPE is a beautiful, barebones song that lowkey sounds like a flamenco pop song, and given Rosalia's affinity with Travis Scott as an artist, I'd love to see someone like her feature on a hypothetically remix for this track. It almost feels like a bridge between cloud rap and the said genre, because Don's vocals float over the acoustic guitar, and MIKE DEAN brings in the synths for a dramatic closure to the festivities.
5X is the typical unimportant yet solid cut you'd find on a previous Don Toliver record: the drums come in and it sounds pretty tight even if it brings nothing new to the table. It's one of those tracks on an album where you enjoy on the album run but it barely makes sense as an individual track.
Way Bigger's structure almost makes it sound like what a slowed-down, moody drill instrumental would sound like. There's a lot going on here, and the subtle transition into plodding 808s is something I personally adore! The plucking synth on the outro is something I enjoy as well.
The oddly titled Flocky Flocky didn't even require the Travis Scott feature to hit, you have a little frantic-sounding synth sample in the background that adds a lot to what would otherwise sound like a conventional guitar-powered trap instrumental. Don delivers a great performance here, even better than the last two songs in a way, and the atmosphere builds a little only to bring back the original hook, but I'm not complaining.
What You Need wasn't something I enjoyed as a single, but it's absolutely gorgeous in the context of this record. The intro and the outro are absolutely beautiful, and it sounds like the mix might as well've been tweaked, or it's a mere case of the placebo effect coming into play. Pianos appear for the first time on the record, and the synths sear true yet once again.
These piano keys play into Double Standards, which has a sample I can't exactly trace, and this sample loops in the back on the prechorus, albeit very subtly. There's a little bass effect on Don's voice on the second verse, which creates a sea of difference, and the piano on the sample is absolutely gorgeous. This plays into what is possibly the most gorgeous outro on the project so far, this is one of my favorite musical moments of the entire year.
The drums on Swangin On Westheimer aren't the usual Don Toliver affair. They almost sound like the drums off Remote Control by Kanye West & Young Thug in a way. These drums create a much-needed stylistic switch-up, and exponentially bolsters the front end of this record.
Drugs N Hella Melodies, the famed collaborative single with his supposed flame, and singer-songwriter extraordinaire Kali Uchis, is a great song, and I prefer it on the album than how I perceived it as a single. It's surprisingly poppy for this record, and it works like a charm, nor does it drop its atmospheric sound in the pursuit of catchiness. The guitars bloom.
2AM is a unique spin on a piano trap beat, with a reversed sample utilized quite well. The mixing is particularly solid, and Don does his thing, even though once again he does sound like a mirror image of Travis.
On Get Throwed and Company Pt.2, he drops the ball a little bit, much to my surprise because I absolutely adored the album till that uninteresting segue of tracks. Gone are all the flashy outros and piano work, instead you have a Mustard-produced beat, which may be a little fun, but I've never been a fan of his signature style, it sounds unnecessarily generic and out of line from this record. Company Pt.2, a Metro Boomin powered cut is a little underwhelming too, but I don't mind it as Don does rather well on it.
Smoke may not have a flashy outro but it has the energy of an odd Playboi Carti song, add to that the frantic piling up of both the features created quite an interesting experience even if it's a bad idea as a post-release single.
You is the least interesting song on here, but my god, I'd be lying if I said the outro wasn't straight up amazing! And OUTERSPACE features not only Baby Keem vocally, dropping one of his best verses so far on his second visit to the track, and I say visit because this sounds like it's straight out of a space station, but it also features Baby Keem's recently established style of beat switches, and it works like a charm, and serves as the chaos after the storm the two tracks before it were to this record's quality.
Crossfaded serves the same purpose, it has some great synth work, and Bogus is just a typical Don Toliver trap rap banger rather than a proper outro, but I won't lie that it's still a great song.
At the end of the day, it fills all my boxes, and that's all I'm going to say. It's a great album for what it is at its core, and what it's being branded as.