Where 2023’s Love Sick provided a means for Don Toliver to live out his funk-soul fantasies, the subsequent HARDSTONE PSYCHO finds him on an arena-rock-star wave. To be sure, this doesn’t at all mean the Houston rapper/singer is awash in gaudy guitar noodling or engaged in performative posturing here. Instead, he treats his chosen premise like a new state of mind, transmuting the weight and complexity of his catalog into this larger-than-life version of his artistry. So when some distinct riffs launch “BANDIT” and “TORE UP,” he effortlessly slips into the leather-jacketed cool in a manner that historically has eluded most rappers who’ve attempted such a move. Divided into four movements, HARDSTONE PSYCHO may mirror classic-rock indulgence in terms of overall structure, but more specifically it delivers on what fans from his Heaven or Hell or Life of a DON days desire. His voice, pliable and otherworldly, carries the muted fuzz of “KRYPTONITE,” the bleep-laden R&B of “DEEP IN THE WATER,” and the trippy trap of “4X4.” On “HARDSTONE NATIONAL ANTHEM,” he follows through on the titular promise with a showstopper that expertly reconfigures the pop-wise power ballad format. As before, Toliver’s brought a few guests along to amplify and augment himself on record. Naturally, his Cactus Jack benefactor Travis Scott makes a handful of appearances, first as a sleek spitter on “ICE AGE” and later as his crooning co-conspirator on “INSIDE.” Love Sick standout Charlie Wilson returns to briefly feature on the Cash Cobain collab “ATTITUDE,” its low-end rumble and inventive Pharrell callback giving considerable chills, while Future and Metro Boomin reignite their “Too Many Nights” torch for “PURPLE RAIN.”

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