A few months ago, Dr. Dre released an album that gained him plaudits for his utilisation of young, relatively obscure artists. Though Justus, Candice Pillay, Marsha Ambrosius and King Mez undoubtedly did their thing, one name stood head and shoulders above the rest: that of California’s Anderson .Paak.
Paak was by no means an unknown quantity before last summer, though. Having produced as a teenager, Paak made the full-time shift to music after being let go from his job at a marijuana farm in Santa Barbara. Suddenly descending into vagrancy and homelessness with a wife and child to support, it’s not difficult to see where the pain and emotion in his voice come from. Under the pseudonym of Breezy Lovejoy (his later appellation hits the ear better) Paak released two albums and an EP from 2010-2012. Much of his early career was characterised by an intriguing attempt to reverse the tradition of white musicians covering black creations, taking songs by The Beatles and Neil Young and warping them into impressive Jazz-Funk.
This intrigue is only heightened upon taking notice of his wonderfully-varied collaborative work. Not only has he recorded with West Coast juggernauts like Dr. Dre and The Game, Paak has worked with Tokimonsta, Milo, Goldlink, Madlib and JonWayne, among others.
It’s been more recently, however, that Paak has begun to come into his own. With the release of Venice in late 2014, he proved himself as the complete Hip-Hop package. Edge-of-your-seat storytelling on “Milk N’ Honey” transitions impressively into gentle R&B crooning on “Might Be” and then the gloriously-synthetic Electro-Pop sounds on “Put You On”. There’s an overriding sense of change on this project, with Paak breaking into the mould of a neo-R&B singer, keeping the illustrious company of artists such as BJ The Chicago Kid, Frank Ocean, and Miguel. That’s not to say Paak can’t drop some heavy bars though. “Drugs” is a standout track on this album, Paak telling a tragic tale of narco-sexuality through vaulting, high-energy vocal delivery.
As if his last year wasn’t prolific enough, even this week has been a busy one for Paak. Following the release of the excellent “The Season/Carry Me” in which Paak lilts over two fantastic instrumentals (and even goes a little Kendrick on us in the second part), he released the very first single from his upcoming album Malibu. “Am I Wrong” just feels so Vice City. Backed by ultra-cool, demulcent instrumentation, Paak delivers catchy and sexy vocals, before an over-produced (to great effect) ScHoolboy Q comes through with a more-than-worthy guest verse.
Paak’s key talent is, therefore, his cross-category appeal. You could go to one of his albums, pick three songs randomly, and be convinced of his future in three different musical genres. He’s just that type of dude. For any of those wondering, this is a conscious effort. Speaking with DJBooth last year, Paak effectively offered up a mission statement for his music:
“I have a clear vision for what I want. What I’m doing is displaying range. A lot of people that I meet are afraid of an artist with range. They say you can’t do this, and if you do, you can’t do that. What I want to do is really represent this DIY generation of artists that aren’t afraid of their range. Why not put out a trap song? Why not put out R&B? I’m the artist that speaks to that fan who listens to Donald Bird and Young Thug. I want to take people on a listening experience and get people to trust that they’re going to hear something incredible.”
Anderson .Paak does a million and one things on Venice, and if that project doesn’t convince you of his versatility and unique talent, you’ll have to give Malibu another shot when it’s released later this year. If you’ve enjoyed his features this year, then it’s time to stop twiddling your thumbs and give the man a proper listen. It’s worth it if only to be able to say you knew him before he was cool when Malibu drops and overwhelms us all.