By Ryan Croke
Coming off a year in which an album as massive as The Weeknd’s Dawn FM was released in late January, it’s safe to say that compared to 2022, 2023 has gotten off to a slow start in terms of new music releases, especially in the realm of hip-hop.
This meant that when Don Toliver announced his third studio album Love Sick slated for a February 24th release, it was a bit surprising, albeit understandable, that the news wasn’t met with the same level of anxious excitement that Toliver’s 2021 record Life of a Don was. For starters, Life of a Don wasn’t as well received as Toliver’s 2020 debut Heaven Or Hell, but more importantly, Don’s single cycle leading up to the release of Love Sick had been quite underwhelming.
Despite some incredible features on Metro Boomin’s Heroes & Villains and a stellar performance on Used off of SZA’s new record SOS, Don’s solo work had not come anywhere near that standard. With three singles (Do It Right, 4 Me [feat. Kali Uchis], and Leave The Club [feat. Lil Durk and GloRilla]) being released in anticipation of his new project that all surprisingly left much to be desired, a lack of optimism for Love Sick among Don’s fanbase makes sense.
Luckily for them, however, Toliver delivers with Love Sick another strong addition to his growing catalog, continuing to explore new sounds while maintaining his signature flare. Like each record before it, Love Sick has its defining styles and songs that separate it from the rest of Don’s catalog, but Don doesn’t lose what makes him Don Toliver in the process of this artistic exploration. This is a very difficult thing for an artist to pull off, but the 28-year-old Toliver continues to impress with every release.
This quality of Don’s is what makes each one of his releases so special and unique. Each of them holds its own distinct identity, aesthetic, and soundscape. Whereas Heaven Or Hell was beloved for its blend of hard-hitting bangers with slower, spacey cuts, and Life of a Don fully embraced the melodic sound while still featuring moments of Don tapping into his energetic side, Love Sick finds balance in the middle while still featuring its own standout hits.
Don pushes himself and toys with new flows and styles, and most if not all of them pay off beautifully. The listener is left with punchy, ethereal tracks like Company off Heaven Or Hell, slow, melodic cuts like Swangin On Westheimer off of Life of a Don, or in the case of Love Sick, an indescribable, infectious cut in Bus Stop that sees Don make an energetic thrill-ride that is capped off by a Brent Faiyaz that slows down the song’s pace and turns it into a silky smooth R&B cut.
On LoveSick, Don’s willingness to collaborate with some new faces and to let their signature styles dictate the mood and sound of the song they’re on is nothing short of remarkable. It’s a risky move, as it leaves a possibility that with all the collaborations, what makes Don Toliver’s music special could get lost in the shuffle. Despite this, Don manages to place his collaborators in situations that allow them to shine while also being able to utilize his own unique skill set. Let Her Go is classic Don Toliver up until James Blake comes in with his unmistakable vocals, and completely changes the vibe to something far more slow. Go Down featuring TisaKorean is an energetic, fast-paced blitz of a song, Slow Motion with WizKid is a cut perfect for a late night drive, and If I Had with Charlie Wilson is a beautiful display of Don’s ability to produce a slow cut, and he even keeps pace with Wilson’s undeniable gift for songs in this style.
Although it does add extra incentive, working with another artist is not necessary for Don to switch up his flow. Don has consistently proven this with each record, but perhaps none more so than with Love Sick. Time Heals All is a cut akin to his Heaven Or Hell days, featuring a low-pitched instrumental that fits perfectly with his slower pace but still manages to sound fresh. Leather Coat sees Don blend acoustics seamlessly with his R&B/hip-hop blend in one of the most unique tracks he’s made to date. And to close off the record, Encouragement is a gorgeous track featuring building synth lines that back his ethereal vocals to create a vibe that one can only describe by attributing it to an arcade sound, and in the best possible way.
Not nearly enough time has passed for Love Sick to be properly digested and judged against Don’s other projects, but at the moment, it seems to be just a notch below his previous two records. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth the listen, however; it has a lot to offer and is another incredibly strong release in what will surely be a career full of them. It’s Don Toliver doing what he does best: making a fun, enjoyable album that features a wide array of styles and sounds while remaining cohesive and keeping his unmistakable flare. It’s a testament to Don Toliver’s ability as an artist that an album of this quality can be disappointing in the eyes of many, and that makes it a must-listen.