Anderson .Paak's Malibu Dream
Anderson .Paak knows his fame has been a long time coming. Though the California native has been recording with various pseudonyms and groups since 2009, he exploded onto a new level of fame this summer when he appeared on six tracks from Dr. Dre’s long-awaited third album “Compton.” Such a hefty co-sign from the gangsta rap legend would suggest that Paak’s follow-up might traffic in the same style of hard-hitting beats and rhymes; the “Doggystyle” to 2015’s “The Chronic.” Instead, .Paak’s new album “Malibu” allows the multi-instrumentalist to flex his muscles on an R&B odyssey.
It’s no surprise to hear the artist, born Brandon Paak Anderson, sing that he likes records on “Your Prime.” The warm atmosphere of his album fits perfectly in the dusty aesthetic of the vinyl revival. He delineates his influences further on the same track, name-dropping Teddy Pendergrass and Sammy Davis. While he’s obviously familiar with the vocabulary and style of hip-hop, it’s clear that .Paak is harkening back to music made last century. On “The Waters,” he sings “I’m glad that you finally made it to the future but you’re late.” For .Paak, the future is about synthesizing the funkiest bits of the past.
.Paak leverages his connection to Dr. Dre for his features, including fellow rising stars ScHoolboy Q and BJ the Chicago Kid, as well as rap veterans like Talib Kweli and The Game. Though he is the sole writer credited on every song, .Paak has a similar variety in his producers, from new-school beat makers Kaytranada and Dem Jointz to crate diggers Madlib and 9th Wonder.
The beats on “Malibu” come from unquantized drums, deep enough in the pocket to make ?uestlove proud. Warm electric basslines spiral around the chords, providing a counterpoint to .Paak’s vocals. He has a singing voice that mixes the cracked charm of Chance The Rapper with the fluidity of D’Angelo. Oftentimes, he finds a middle ground between rapping and singing, imbuing his rhymes with a sense of melody. When he cuts loose to emphasize a chorus, his voice soars.
“Celebrate,” the penultimate track on the album, shows .Paak in full-on Sam Cooke mode. He supports an optimistic lyric with a simple descending chord progression and a lively piano solo. While not explicitly about the recent wave of pro-Black activism, the desire to “celebrate while [he] still can” sounds especially poignant in the face of police brutality.
In a way, this song works like the metaphorical B-side to “Animals,” the standout track from “Compton.” With Dr. Dre, .Paak criticized the media for painting a dangerously unfair portrait of black communities. Here, he urges the listener and himself to take time to enjoy life while it lasts. Like Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come,” .Paak conjures up a rare feeling of optimism laced with sadness.
Not every lyric succeeds. In particular, “Silicon Valley” is a mess. .Paak tries to use the new-school slow jam to tell his lover that he cares about her beyond her body, but he does so by fixating on her flesh. The sophomoric wordplay that follows is similarly tone-deaf. It’s funny when his lady cuts him off and urges him to get busy, but that doesn’t stop .Paak from crooning the cringe-worthy chorus a third time.
At the beginning of the final track, an unknown man verbalizes .Paak’s mission statement. He sounds young but weathered, like he spent all day on a surfboard. “I enjoy some of the old and I enjoy the new,” he says. “And if I can find a balance between it, that’s where I find my satisfaction.” When he’s on balance, Anderson .Paak’s postmodern mix of styles is thrilling. Though he hasn’t quite hit that sweet spot for the entire length of an album, “Malibu” should leave listeners plenty satisfied.
Originally published on NDSMCObserver.