Cactus Jack Records is slowly garnering the perception of an artist graveyard. The pull of Travis Scott’s star power hides the flaws of the management of the label, to the point where the likes of Sheck Wes and former signee Smokepurpp are overshadowed and overlooked, despite hot starts to their careers. Current artist Luxury Tax doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page to his name.
Don Toliver is the only artist under Travis’s supervision to transcend past underling status and become a star in his own right. He’s succeeded by focusing on the construction of vapid tracks that hinge on vibes and aesthetics. Toliver gets by on his unique vocal delivery and warbling crooning that makes him just unique enough to keep peoples’ attention.
On Life of a DON, Toliver embodies the same qualities that make his label-head so appealing to the masses: an uncanny ability to cook up flawless hooks and a vast set of melodies that make listeners forget he has almost nothing to say. It’s his third project, now blessed with all the bells and whistles to make a major push forward, yet it’s a retread of what he does best without much innovation.
Toliver recognizes there’s an undeniable pre-packaged, made-for-mainstream aura that surrounds his music. Cactus Jack has strapped the rocketship to his back, equipping him with the best writers to ensure his lyrics sound as cool and emotionally detached as possible. To counteract the disengaged lyrics, Toliver surrounds his words with lush melodies that evoke moodiness and after-party vibes.
“Way Bigger” epitomizes easy listening, with subdued bass powering an addictive instrumental that invites listeners to hum along with Don’s voice in the background. The beat’s electronic echoes and whistles turn the song into a magnetic chamber that’s difficult to tear away from. “Company, Pt. 2” hinges on the same structural power. The murky Metro Boomin production provides the perfect backdrop for Toliver’s empty brooding, as quiet hi-hats match his crooning at every turn.
Needing to use smoke and mirrors to distract from the emptiness of his writing, Toliver relies on production and atmosphere. “OUTERSPACE” utilizes sound effects from what feels like NASA’s control room from the ‘80s, coupled with Baby Keem’s endless momentum and a glorious beat switch that’s wholly unnecessary. On “What You Need,” he jumps between falsetto and regular tones, layering his voice over and over again to create complicated melodies over the standard, dreamy instrumental.
But despite the slickness of his delivery and the varied production, the polished, cookie-cutter sheen starts to wear off when the listener is forced to focus on what Toliver and others are actually saying.
The Kali Uchis-assisted “Drugs N Hella Melodies” features one of the deepest sentiments on the album: “I just wanna love you like a hundred racks.” If listeners are looking for more emotional depth than that, they’ll sadly be disappointed. It’s meant to be a love song of sorts, but with insipid lyrics and a dragging instrumental that’s only saved by intermittent starry tinkles, it lacks all sense of emotion.
Even if Toliver’s singing is supposed to sound brooding and mysterious, it doesn’t mean he’s intending to make people feel something. Life of a DON shows Toliver has a clear understanding of the strengths that have made him into a star already. It’s not a wack album, more so it’s just there, destined to be nothing more than late night background music. Toliver is set to ride formulaic, product-tested song construction all the way to the top and that’s fine, even if he has the vocal chops to offer more.
we just some niggas that listen to Don Toliver & mind our business
— EL? (@Eldablin) November 3, 2021
maybe it’s just me but i didn’t really feel the Don Toliver album fr.. .
— Woo ♋︎ (@woofaasa) November 3, 2021
Don Toliver’s leaks > his last album. Still disappointed. Life of A Don probably won’t grow on me. I liked Heaven or Hell from jump.
— Sli♏️ Legend (@_abnormani) October 24, 2021