Don Toliver Hits the Gas on New Music

Only a month after the release of Life of a Don, Toliver tells V he’s already back in the studio doing what he does best.

When asked to describe his latest album in a couple of words, Don Toliver replied: “tasteful, powerful and exciting” – seemingly without any hesitation or afterthought. And after streaming it for a few weeks now, that it is. His latest release, Life of a DON documents Don’s trajectory as an artist and a person since he first signed onto the Cactus Jack label. “The installation is basically me as a person evolving into who I am today and everything that goes with Don Toliver,” the 27-year-old artist shares.

And while it’s no doubt been a whirlwind couple of months for the artist, bouncing between major cities for sold-out shows and riding the high of his album release, Toliver is excited and energized. “Now that people actually know what I’m capable of and what I can do,” he elaborates. “Now it’s time to really have fun with it and make this a real thing.” Adding he wants to lift spirits, reorient headspaces and push his listeners to achieve their goals. 

For those who don’t already know, Life of a DON is a follow-up to Don’s debut album, Heaven or Hell, which was released in March of last year. Since his feature on Scott’s song “Can’t Stay,” Toliver has created quite the buzz. Not only did the project debut at #7 on the Billboard Hot 200, but also earned 44,000 album-equivalent units, which is all the more impressive considering Toliver first began creating music at age 17 with no prior knowledge or guidance on what to do. In the intervening years, Toliver has proved he’s someone to know and someone everyone wants to work with (most recently, Rico Nasty, Gucci Mane, Big Sean). 

For this album, however, Toliver flew out to Miami, making his new album alongside some of his favorite producers and engineers (most famously: Mike Dean, Mustard, Cardo). And with each song they expertly craft, Don puts his journey on full display; one moment he’s showing bursts of loud, rambunctious energy and another he’s softly spinning his spellbinding sound. Over the phone, he shared that his songwriting process is unique, involving a simple beat and pure creativity. “Whatever rhythm that I catch is kind of the inspiration and I just feed off of that. I start getting in my own head and really start channeling energy into that microphone just whatever I got going on at the moment.”

Check out the rest of our interview with Don below and don’t forget to stream The Life of A Don (if you haven’t already). 

Photo by Cian Moore.

VMAN: First congrats on your new album The Life of Don. What were the main influences for this album, artist-wise and life event wise you were exploring with this project?

DON TOLIVER: Honestly, I just wanted to give people an updated version of Don right now. Basically trying to keep people up to date with the music because I make so much music. So the installation is basically me as a person evolving into who I am today and everything that goes with Don Toliver.

V: Did you want to talk about any specific life events with this project? 

DT: It’s not really specific life events, it’s just a basic song that I’ve written that captures certain moments. A moment of history and now, but more now than ever. So that’s basically the main gist of the topics and the things that I’m talking about. It’s a more current version of who I am as a person. 

V: It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for you with the album release and touring – what were some of the best moments after the album launched that you’ll think back at?  

DT: One of the best moments was when I dropped it and I drove straight to New York from Philadelphia. It was like a ball drop for me like New Year Eve’s type shit. I had a race to New York and then everybody was there. All my friends was at this party waiting. It was just a great night. And my whole experience after I dropped it was crazy.

V: And what were some of the emotions that were going through you at that moment? 

DT: Yeah, it was a lot. It was a lot of like relief. It was happiness. It was excitement. And then it just made me realize I had to do it all over again, but just even bigger, just go even crazier. 

V: The album also topped #1 on Apple Music the day after it was released and currently Flocky Flocky has 21,800,000 streams – What’s that like seeing your songs been embraced by so many? 

DT: It just feels great. It feels good. I just been blessed to be able to let the music touch so many people. People are really starting to understand it for what it is. I’m really grateful and blessed that people are taking it the way I wanted them to take it. 

V: Now that you’ve released two albums – What’s your favorite thing about music making (working in the studio, concerts, music videos, etc)? 

DT: I definitely love recording. When you’re an artist, you have so many different things going on. But it’s always this one thing when you get on that microphone, that you get that you don’t get nowhere else like you just catching yourself as an artists and you’re doing what you do as artist and you really get on a microphone and say whatever you have to say, or put whatever melody you have to put on a mic. It’s like a it’s a bit of happiness that you get from it. And I feel like every artist knows what I’m talking about when it comes to just being an artist and making your own music and recording. So I think the process of just recording sometimes really gets me. It’s like something that I love to do. 

V: What do you think changed since your debut album, Heaven or Hell

DT: The things that have changed growing up is basically the notoriety of who I am. I feel like I’m a big artist these days. I feel like people know my music well. People know what I bring to the table. Those really are the main key points. I feel like it is just me being bigger as a person, and me being a more known artist and that puts a little different type of energy into the new album, because now that people actually know what I’m capable of and what I can do, now it’s time to really have fun with it. And make this a real thing.

Photo by Cian Moore.

V: Bring us through attending a concert or yours – What are the emotions/thoughts going through you?

DT: So before a concert, I drink lots of tea. Sometimes I’m a little nervous, depending on how like freshly I am into a performance. Say if I’ve been performing for like five days straight, I won’t be as nervous as if I hadn’t been doing it for a month – it’d be a different type of thing. I’m just trying to vibe out with the crowd, since I try to really see what the crowd is into. And after the show I usually go to sleep unless I like an after party or something. But I usually go to sleep. I really don’t like to do too much after a show.

V: Yeah that makes sense because you just put it all out on the stage. What type of tea do you usually drink? 

DT: Ginger tea, lemon and honey. 

V: From a performer standpoint – What’s the energy of the crowd? What are Don Toliver fans like? 

DT: It’s a lot of energy. I have all types of different fans. I have all types of different music. So sometimes they want to get into the love song era. Sometimes they just want to get into the happy melodic eras. Sometimes they just want to turn up and have a good time. So it’s all dependent on the songs I’m spinning at the moment.

V: I also saw that you went back to Houston Texas – what was that reception like? How did it feel to see people of your hometown vibing with your music? 

DT: It was it was crazy. Yeah, it was crazy. I was happy to see everybody back home really vibe with it. And I was happy they liked the album. And you know, it was good.

V: Is there like specific people that you went home to see? 

DT: Yeah, I went to go see my mom for sure. My family’s there and my close friends. 

V: That’s nice and what did your mom think of the new album? 

DT: She loves the new album. She jams every day. 

V: What’s her favorite song? 

DT: Her favorite song right now is Get Throwed

V: And how do you think Houston as a city has affected your sound and who you are as an artist today? 

DT:  Man, it’s affected me a lot because my family’s very musical. And my father was an artist as well. And he made music as well. And I just took after a lot of what I’d seen as a kid and what I listened to as a kid. I just carried it along with me over the years.

V: And what artists would that be? 

DT: One of my biggest, I want to say the things that I listened to that I just thought was the craziest music ever. And that was, of course, Travis. I really liked Future a lot, I thought Future was something that I’ve never experienced or heard when I was growing up. Dom Kennedy was something that really stuck with me when I was coming up in high school. It was the way he approached things. Kendrick Lamar, as well – a lot of his catalog music. Stuff that really stuck with me was Overly Dedicated. It’s like one of my favorite pieces of art from Kendrick, ever. 

V: What’s your songwriting process like? And where did you pull inspiration from? 

DT: I made a lot of this project in Miami. I just really caught a big vibe out there. I don’t really go to Miami a lot so when I did I really, really locked in at the studio out there.

V: How does inspiration strike for you? 

DT: Musically, I just go to the studio, listen to a beat and hear whatever the beat is talking about. I just get into the rhythm. And whatever rhythm that I catch is kind of the inspiration and I just feed off of that. I start getting in my own head and really start channeling energy into that microphone just whatever I got going on at the moment. It’s kind of like the biggest inspiration for me. Whenever I’m trying to create it’s something that happens sporadically.

V: So when did you become interested in music? 

DT: I love music all my life, but I feel like when I got out of high school I really started taking — when I was in high school, I was slowly getting there to become my own artist, but then when I got out of high school, I really kind of took it seriously because there was nothing else I really wanted to do. So I kept creating and creating until I made a couple of songs where I felt strong enough to really go to the main clubs and the main venues in Houston, where I’m from, and get these songs played and it just started becoming a thing. 

V: And if you could describe this new album in a few words, how would you describe it? 

DT: Tasteful, powerful and exciting. 

V: What do you hope that this album provides for people? 

DT: I hope it lifts spirits. I hope it puts people in a different headspace.  Helps them achieve whatever they’re trying to achieve within their goals. I hope it really takes people to a whole other level in life.

V: And last question – Now that tour is done what are you going to do? 

DT: I’m trying to work on as much music as I can possibly work on, just trying to master my craft. Just learn me more. And build, build, build, build, build a lot of different things I’m working on.

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