Words by Benjamin Freeman
2015 was a cry for help for the welfare of music. It was a generally poor year with only a handful of releases standing out. 2016 however, has been like musical manna released from the heavens above. From Frank Ocean to A Tribe Called Quest, J. Cole to Kid Cudi, I personally have felt like a kid in candy shop with the selection of music released in the preceding year.
From my very introduction onto this orbiting planet that we call Earth, I’ve been a hip hop fan. Maybe that’s slightly hyperbolic – but nonetheless, ever since the silky smooth sounds of I’m single – Lil Wayne stumbled upon my tender ears at the – admittedly, all too early – age of 11, I’ve struggled to listen to little else other than old school hip-hop – a trend that has deviated only on occasion.
This was true until the Jazz-infused beats of Anderson .Paak leaked into my stubborn hip-hop brain. Before I knew it, my music taste was seemingly under a melodical attack – jazzy piano loops and soulful vocals being the perpetrators.
My first encounter with the West Coast native was, in all honesty, an accident. One evening, whilst traversing through the realms of Shakespearean literature for my English Lit A-level, I concluded: Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted is not revision music (albeit a very good album – but not revision music). Upon this revelation, I realised I needed something smoother to get me through a late night of coffee and Othello analysis. After minutes spent sprawling through Google it soon became clear; I needed Anderson .Paak.
That was when I came across Yes Lawd!. A collaborative album between .Paak and producer, Knxwledge. I was immediately struck by how easy the project was to listen to. The album is smoothness personified. There’s a near perfect mix of Hip-hop bars, jazzy beats and R&B vocals. I knew at that point that I had uncovered a gem in the form of Anderson .Paak.
If Yes Lawd! Is near perfect, then Anderson .Paak’s second solo album, Malibu, is perfect. It is the magnum opus of the 30-year-old’s career. Pitchfork described the album as “a sincere, soulful project, brimming with honesty and humble perseverance”. Although this is indubitably true, I believe the album can be greater described with a single adjective; heavenly.
The very first track on the album, The Bird, accounts his childhood. He discusses the difficulty of growing up without a father, whilst his mother battled a gambling addiction. Despite the sensitivity of such topics, the song is not solely focussed on the hardships he experienced. I’d go as far as to argue that, even before the lyrics struck a nerve with me, I gravitated towards the production of the song. It features a whole host of instruments – it is by no means a simplistic instrumental, due to the fact it has so much going on. In spite of this, somehow the song maintains a flowing smoothness throughout. The instrumental is a compilation of human vocals, 808’s, piano chords – there’s even a trumpet that can be heard. But it works.
Fast forward a couple of tracks, and you get to my favourite song of the album – perhaps my favourite song of the year. The Season/ Carry Me was the first single of the album. Particularly in the first half of the track, we see .Paak flexing his vocal prowess, whilst the second half focusses more on the storytelling ability of the artist. It’s the type of track that could work perfectly fine as two stand alone tracks, but by placing them together, .Paak strategically balances a host of techniques, like strong vocals, hard hitting bars, story-telling etc. This demonstrates exactly why the album stands out to me. On so many occasions, .Paak could have taken the easy route – a lot of artist wouldn’t have risked putting these songs together, they’d leave them a two separate tracks; but not Anderson .Paak. He’s not afraid to break the boundaries of what people view as conventional; a motif that reoccurs time after time throughout the album.
Another track that really ranks highly with me is Room In Here ft. The Game. This song, put simply, is a love song. No, not hip-hop’s attempt of a love song that usually just accounts sleeping with multiple women, but a real romantic love song over a jazzy beat. The album does not whatsoever rely on features – but when features are used, they’re used to great effect. The Game can only be described as a hip-hop veteran, so having him on board certainly gives the album an edge and solidifies the album’s position in the hip-hop world. The Game‘s name alone is enough for many to dig the track, and the verse he delivers is the kind of verse that has allowed him to reach the pinnacle of the rap game. According to .Paak, The Game wrote his verse in the studio in five minutes and recorded it in one take.
I said earlier that 2016 has been an awe-inspiring year for music. Malibu has been the standout album to me. The album proved .Paak can stand his ground in a year saturated with good music, while up against some real heavyweights, like Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean for example.
Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert
The project feels like .Paak is acknowledging his newfound position in the spotlight. He’s celebrating, explaining all the trials and tribulations he’s experienced, and he wants to tell the world. Easily this can be done in a way that portrays arrogance and boastfulness – but such is not the case. .Paak takes us on a journey in Malibu, a journey that we ultimately can do little but applaud.
Anderson .Paak is by no means a strictly explicit jazz artist – jazz is all but a facet of his artistry. Malibu was not only part of something greater that saw a revival of the hip-hop/R&B scene from 2015, but it was also a bridge over the troubled waters of my hard headed and excluding music taste. Anderson .Paak’s music has allowed me to explore explicit Jazz musicians like Miles Davis and John Coltrane; the likes of which I’d probably still disregard, had Anderson .Paak not enlightened me to the world outside of hip hop.