Caleb “Don” Toliver was making music for a while before being picked up by Travis Scott’s Cactus Jack Records. Prior to this, he released his first project, a collaborative effort with Yungjosh93 titled Playa Familia in May 2017. He then released two singles, “Make Sumn” and “Checks” at the end of that year. It was the following year, 2018, that Don’s career would really take some steps forward.
In March 2018 he signed a deal with Atlantic Records. That August, his debut mixtape Donny Womack was released, and the VERY next day, his standout feature on Travis Scott’s “CAN’T SAY” was released to extremely favorable reviews. Along with the feature came the news: Don was picked up by Cactus Jack Records. Don would only get hotter from there, dropping a bonafide TikTok hit in “No Idea” the following year, performing with Travis at his Astroworld Festival, and being widely recognized as the star player on his new label’s compilation album, JACKBOYS. Moreover, it had been revealed that Don would accompany The Weeknd on his 2020 The After Hours Tour. Perfect time for him to release his debut album, Heaven or Hell, to positive reviews, just before the tour.
And then… the pandemic put a pause on everything. While everyone was confined to their houses, Don got back to work doing more features, securing one on a top 10 Billboard hit “Lemonade” with Nav and Gunna in the process. Eventually, it came time for him to release some more solo work, and that came in the form of this album’s lead single, “What You Need”. One month later, the Kali Uchis-assisted “Drugs N Hella Melodies” was released. And now here we are, about to listen to an album that probably wouldn’t have existed if not for the pandemic. I’m ready to hear how Don continues his career. So let’s see if Don can give us a good second effort, Life of a DON.
1. XSCAPE Produced by Dougie F, TheLoudPack, Chase B, Mike Dean, & Mirela Beats They get a mariachi band in the studio or something? Not how I expected him to start the album, but it’s sliding. The title kind of gives away what the song’s about, with Don trying to persuade a woman to break up with (or escape) the guy she’s with so she and him can do their thing. And there’s a Mike Dean outro. Strong first track for a Don Toliver album, and a good sign of what’s to come.
2. 5X Produced by Mike Dean, Cardo, & Saint Mini He follows up the great intro with something that sounds so filler to me, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. I just know he can do better. I never understood why people said Don sounds like Travis Scott because he sounds way more soulful to me, but I’m definitely hearing it in this song. Very head-scratching decision to have this track come after the last one.
3. Way Bigger Produced by Sonny Digital, Sir Dylan, Bryvn, & Frankie XY I hear it in this song too, but I like it better than “5x”. The vocalizing after the hook is catchy and I find myself humming it sometimes throughout the day. I like Don’s vocals in the ending, though I wish they did a little more on the production side. Still a cool song. Pretty good outro too.
4. Flocky Flocky Featuring Travis Scott; Produced by MU Lean, Cardo, & Dez Wright This is a snippet that I’ve been waiting on for a FAT minute, and it delivered. There’s wild wild west elements with the guitar and the cowbell, and then there’s the spacey synths that ripple throughout the instrumental. This was made for space cowboys. Of course, you’ve got a small Mike Dean synth solo in the beginning, but I would’ve preferred him at the end. Save the best for last.
Don did his thing. So did Travis. But the beat & the matching melodies are the real saving grace here. Either way, I’m glad this track is finally in my possession.
5. What You Need Produced by Sir Dylan, Hit-Boy, & Corbett I forgot this was a single, and I don’t know why it was. Definitely, the weakest song thus far; didn’t like it when I first heard it and still don’t love it. The outro wasn’t really worth it either. Not too much to say about this one other than… skip.
6. Double Standards Produced by Sool Got Hits, Sir Dylan, Mike Dean, & Go Grizzly The sample, in the beginning, is “Groupie Bitches” by Lil Jack. Not sure what that adds to the song, but it’s still one of the better ones so far. I think Don sounds a little better over slower beats like this one.
It’s so hard to be human It’s so hard to just live and learn with all of your mistakes
Facts bro. Kinda basic lyric but it still hit me hard.
Of course the track also has a great synth outro. Basically the cherry on top of a great track.
7. Swangin’ on Westheimer Produced by Peter Lee Johnson, Mario Winans, & Metro Boomin I recognized the drum break from “Until The End Of Time” by Justin Timberlake as soon as I heard it. Love hearing it. Everything felt a little spaced out like he was just letting the sample do its thing. I also had a hard time focusing on the lyrics because that brought back so many memories. Call me biased if you want to, but I love this song.
It’s kinda worth noting that there aren’t too many quotable lyrics thus far in the album either. I guess he’s focused more on making vibes than having quotable lyrics, which I can respect.
8. Drugs N Hella Melodies Featuring Kali Uchis; Produced by Sir Dylan, Los Hendrix, & DJ Dahi Released in June, this was the second single from the album and it’s MUCH better than the first. I wasn’t crazy about it at first, but in context of the album, it’s so much better. The title of the song also perfectly describes the song: it feels like hearing hella melodies while/after you take drugs.
Sex full of adrenaline This pussy put you right to sleep just like a sedative
9. 2AM Produced by Jahaan Sweet This song’s alright, but it should’ve had a bass. I like the reversed piano a lot, I just wish they did more with this. Don’s already doing a lot, showcasing his vocal range on the chorus, but the beat isn’t matching his energy. The melody’s cool but it felt a little redundant at times. I wanted to like this more but… I don’t know.
10. Get Throwed Produced by Omar Grand & Mustard This sounds like a continuation of the last song. I was very surprised to see a Mustard production credit on this album. The two are kind of an awkward mix that shouldn’t work but do to an extent. Good on Don for doing something he’s not used to, but I’m not sure how often I’m gonna play this. I don’t dislike it though.
11. Company, Pt 2 Produced by David x Eli & Metro Boomin I remember enjoying the synth-heavy spacey feel from “Company” on Heaven or Hell. Here he continues the story, but at this point in time, he’s over her. He sounds especially over it by the time the track comes to an end, it’s kinda funny to me.
She’s so in love with me I can’t condone it, baby I needed your company
We also see another big producer make an appearance: Metro Boomin. Very Metro-esque beat; solid track.
12. OUTERSPACE Featuring Baby Keem; Produced by Jahaan Sweet, Mike Dean, London Cyr, & Dez Wright THIS. THIS IS MY ONE. I LOVE this song. The first half is my favorite beat on this album by FAR. And Keem slid on it perfectly.
You mistreat that ho, make her feel out of place, yeah
The vocal in the back when this line plays sounds magical. And Don slides in the same way Keem did, showcasing some great chemistry.
I can never lie, only way to try I cannot decide, middle of July
I like the notes he hit and the flow he had here, but he’s gotta find a way to say it in a way we can understand.
And then the beat change. You guys know I love me a good switch up. I wish that Don came with a little more energy after the shift, and I was also hoping to hear Keem come on this the same way he came on “family ties”, “Praise God”, and “trademark usa”. However they both slid, and Keem’s contribution to the second half didn’t go unnoticed.
I gotta run through the fire, I need a ho like Mariah I wanna swerve with the tire, I make the family retire I gotta see the hope, be the way I gotta free the folks where I lay I gotta show the light to the weak Dodgin’ the fake woke in L.A.
And right after that we’ve got a guitar solo at the end. Some songs are just songs, but some are a whole experience. “OUTERSPACE” was a great example of the latter.
13. Smoke Featuring HVN & SoFaygo; Produced by Sam E Lee Jones, Broadday, & 1Mind Not a fan of the monotonous one-word hook, but I can definitely see myself having fun to this song. When you’re trying to get your friend to smoke more weed, just play this song and you’re back in business.
I’ve been pretty high on SoFaygo for a while. He came in harmonizing, which sounded great and reminded me of Travis. There’s also some Young Thug influence in his delivery, and while a lot of people don’t really like it from what I’ve seen, I’m not mad at it. But I don’t like HVN’s verse or his hook as I stated earlier. Especially the one that goes in between his and Don’s verses. On top of Don saying it sixteen times, they had him say it fifteen more times. C’mon. They could’ve kept this between Don and Go, to be honest.
14. You Featuring Travis Scott; Produced by Allen Ritter, Mike Dean, & Travis Scott Fellas, listen up… if you put this song on around a girl and don’t walk away with a higher body count, you have NO GAME AT ALL. This song was made with the SOLE intention to increase the population by at least 50%. These two harmonizing together sound GREAT.
Body good, body great Below the waist, real estate
When Travis gets in his R&B bag, it generally makes for an enjoyable experience. Nice to hear him do something other than trap.
You couldn’t get any better, baby Your lips taste like candy cane, do tell
This should’ve been the chorus. Only knock I’ll give this song. Other than that, A+ tier song.
15. Crossfaded Produced by Blair Taylor, Mike Dean, & FKi 1st The beginning of this samples “Surreal Smoke” by Tyler Myerberg and it works pretty damn well. Another good track with a great outro. Probably would think higher of the entire song if I knew what the hell it’s about. That aside, definitely enjoy a good blunt and/or drink to this playing in the back.
16. BOGUS Produced by Motif Alumni, Pas Beatz, & Cardo Another headbanger. The last song on the album features a hard-hitting beat that Don seemingly effortlessly glides over. That flute flickering in the background is wavy, man. I don’t know if it’s a sample or not, but it sounds great. And Don makes it all come together so gracefully. I would’ve expected more than a fade-out to close out the project, though. Doesn’t feel like an outro.
The Good First things first: the production. You can expect any Don Toliver album to have a top-notch sound if Mike Dean’s gonna have any part of it. “XSCAPE”, “Double Standards”, and “OUTERSPACE” all boast strong outros curated by the man himself. Endings aside, the beats on this thing stick to an overall outer space-like theme, making you damn near transcend into a different dimension. We know Dean and Metro Boomin can and have made numerous songs fitting that description, but even Mustard stuck to the motif with his basic and almost one-way production style.
Don Toliver has a voice like no one else. As soon as you hear it on a record, you know it’s him, which is something I’ve always loved in music. His vocal performance is probably what keeps me coming back to a few of these songs, like “You” and “2AM”.
As for the features, Travis did his thing both times, and Keem and SoFaygo were great. Still not sold on this HVN kid though.
The Bad A negative point is the sequencing. I definitely wouldn’t have had “5X” come right after “XSCAPE”, and I also wouldn’t have ended the album with “BOGUS”. All of them are good or great tracks, but they probably would’ve been better if they were put in different places. Of course, you’ve got your inevitable filler tracks, like the aforementioned “5X” and “What You Need”, but putting them in the right place can make or break an album.
The Conclusion This album feels different than the other ones I’ve reviewed, on the fact that I didn’t find too many lyrics to quote, which isn’t necessarily a bad or good thing.Life of a DON relies more on melodies and vibes than quotable or even groundbreaking lyrics. Hell, he could’ve called the entire project Drugs N Hella Melodies if he wanted to.
I sometimes have a hard time coming up with things to say about this project as a whole, but I know I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about it. The highs are towering, and the lows aren’t very low. I can say with full confidence that Don Toliver has successfully avoided the sophomore slump, and that did what he had to do and then some.