Anderson .Paak’s masterful balancing act

It feels like just yesterday that Anderson .Paak released his long-anticipated Oxnard, a decidedly summery album for the middle of November. The album received mostly positive reviews, although some critics bemoaned its eclectic and aimless nature. Still, .Paak has always had a gift for straddling the line between hip hop and R&B. His breakout album Malibu properly fits the R&B genre, though the work featured verses from prominent rappers like ScHoolboy Q and Rapsody, and .Paak’s hip-hop sensibilities were apparent throughout. Oxnard’s tracks are unmistakably rap songs. In his sophomore album, .Paak returned to the tightly-orchestrated ballads that had previously earned him acclaim, adding more heavily-produced bangers to repertoire. The artist is adept at both styles, but their juxtaposition in the album is jarring to say the least. Oxnard’s lack of direction is the reason that Malibu, while less commercially successful, received more critical acclaim and is still touted as the definitive Anderson .Paak experience.

The wait for a new .Paak album is almost over. On March 14, he tweeted, “Three years between Malibu and Oxnard… you know I couldn’t do that to y’all again.” Attached was an album cover, and the album’s Apr. 12 release date. .Paak also included a handwritten tracklist, which features André 3000, Jazmine Sullivan, and Nate Dogg, the late King of G-Funk. Postmortem features haven’t been well executed by other artists—Michael Jackson’s presence on Drake’s 2018 “Don’t Matter to Me,” for instance, was poorly received to say the least—so fans and critics are on edge to see if .Paak can do something worthwhile with what he’s pulled from Dr. Dre’s vault.

The album cover features a black and white photo of .Paak and a child laying on a bed. Compared to the album covers of Malibu and Oxnard, both cluttered, abstract artworks, Ventura is simpler and much more personal. The album cover hints that Ventura will provide a more intimate listening experience than its predecessors.

In the same tweet, .Paak announced the single “King James.” The song is dedicated to Lebron James, paying respect to the basketball player for his social activism. In the song, he addresses notable social and political issues, such as gun violence. “We couldn’t stand to see our children shot dead in the streets,” he sings. However, he is insistently optimistic, later singing, “Everything they tried to hide, we’re taking back, for yours and mine.”

Though .Paak is no stranger to exploring heavy subject matter with his lyrics, his songs have always maintained a joyful quality. In Malibu’s “The Season / Carry Me” .Paak recalls his childhood spent in poverty and the difficulty he faced in young adulthood trying to make it as a musician while keeping his wife from getting deported. Despite its serious themes, the song is upbeat and accessible. No matter how tragic his words become, the steady beat provides stable support while he gently weaves hope out of sorrow.

With Malibu, .Paak showcased his undeniable charisma in a dreamy album, dedicated to pleasure and love. When Malibu comes on, an hour seems to slide away. Oxnard achieved a different effect entirely: It still oozes charisma, but in a more hedonistic and gaudy way. Despite being weaker than its predecessor, Oxnard remains an accomplished album and melds a variety of influences from hip-hop to R&B to funk. Likewise, in Malibu, .Paak combines lyrical skill and slick beats. Ventura will hopefully meet the high bar set by .Paak’s previous work. Ventura has the potential to be one of the best albums of 2019 now that .Paak has already solidified himself as one of the standout artists of this decade.

 

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