The newest evolution of Don Toliver has arrived. He likes motorcycles and leather jackets now.

This isn’t breaking new ground. There were rappers on hogs long before the late Earl Simmons spit his “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem.” I still find it an interesting development though, because despite “Hardstone Psycho” being his fourth studio album, Toliver is still looking for a bigger mainstream audience. I’m not sure why. He’s already achieved a comfortable level of success with the emo rap style that took over hip-hop in the last ten years. Even though the “Deep in the Water” video opens with him riding his bike down a lonely highway, the aqua tinted visuals and morose lyrics are as blue as it gets. This is the opposite of the “macho biker” stereotype, which I have to admit makes it more interesting.

“Guess we movin too fast
Whatever you do right now, you know I can’t go back
You try to leave me, damn near caught a heart attack”

Right from the opening seconds of Bugz Ronin & Preme (with others) produced “Kryptonite” you know he’s taking this new gimmick seriously, making sure to let us hear the engine on his hog rev up before the song kicks in. Don doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve — he takes it out and holds it up in the air for all to see. Mr. Toliver literally gets on his knees and pleads with his beau when the beat changes. “I’m begging baby please, I’m hot hundred degrees, pull up like a biker, know a nigga geeked” as if we forgot he reps motorcycles now. “I told her this is forever” he quips. I think in the old days he would have been accused of cuffing these girls, and he certainly wouldn’t let his be passed around to run a train with the other bikers in his gang.

If the juxtaposition of these disparate elements wasn’t so extreme I wouldn’t have been nearly so inclined to write about “Hardstone Psycho.” The reason for the viral success of a TV show like Sons of Anarchy is that it gave your average couch potato a glimpse into the criminal underworld of outlaw bikers. It’s obviously a heavily exaggerated and dramatized depiction, but one that leans comfortably into existing stereotypes about motorcycle culture in general. In the modern landscape they are the new “cowboys” who live by a code of honor and enforce it at gunpoint. Accidentally or not Don Toliver is doing something transgressive by taking this hyper macho world and injecting emo rap into it — at least as long as you’re not looking at the visuals to songs like “Brother Stone” featuring Kodak Black. The video is every cliche of gambling, drinking, and throwing money at scantily clad women possible.

Against my better judgment I like it. The hard hitting SkipOnDaBeat & 206 Derek track has the mixture of piano and percussion that’s a hypnotic head nodder. This is what happens a lot of the time on “Hardstone Psycho.” If you’re not overthinking the contradictions, accidental or otherwise, the actual music can be a good time. Don Toliver may not be a verbal wordsmith capable of crafting rap poetry, but he can join Charlie Wilson and Cash Cobain on a track with enough “Attitude” to be a catchy tune.

The guest names get far bigger than that. This is a loaded up Toliver album featuring Future & Metro Boomin on “Purple Rain,” Lil Uzi Vert on “Donny Darko,” Travis Scott on “Inside,” and Yeat on “Geeked Up.” I’d be lying to you if I said songs like “Inside” don’t sound good OUTSIDE. Roll down the windows, crank up the volume, and let those bass notes pound your chest while driving. (We’ll just ignore the irony that you can’t do that on a motorcycle.) I’m still skeptical about Don Toliver for all of the reasons I’ve started prior to now and in this review, but “Hardstone Psycho” is polished to an obscene degree. If you read the liner notes and see the laundry list of producers you might be concerned, but somehow they all got on the same page and gave Toliver his slickest album so far.

Don Toliver :: Hardstone Psycho
7Overall Score