Anderson .Paak comes from modest beginnings, having grown up with a dad who was in prison for most of his childhood and a mom who also had her fair share of run-ins with the law. Just five years ago, .Paak was on the streets of Los Angeles, homeless with a wife and infant. He worked on a marijuana farm until he was unexpectedly let go, leaving him without income and with mouths to feed. The only passion .Paak had was music– he played drums in his church throughout his childhood. With no other options and nothing to lose, .Paak delved head-first into the rough beginnings of an album he had been working on in between shifts at his day job.
Now, with three albums under his belt and six features on Dr. Dre’s Compton, those days are long gone for .Paak. But he hasn’t forgotten his past, as is evident on his newest album Malibu.
Malibu is intensely personal. Each song, each lyric, speaks to .Paak’s unique background. “Your mom’s in prison, your father need a new kidney / Your family’s splitting, rivalries between siblings,” raps .Paak on the stunning “The Season/Carry Me”. Listening to each song makes you feel as if you are listening to someone’s diary entry. It’s not just the major life events that Paak focuses on– some of his most beautiful lines describe small details that represent bigger issues. “I’m a product of the tube and the free lunch / Living room, watching old reruns / And who cares your daddy couldn’t be here? / Mama always kept the cable on,” .Paak recalls on “The Dreamer”.
Anderson .Paak is probably one of the most R&B influenced rappers of his generation. His history of church gospel, along with his love of older R&B comes through strong on this record. For the most part, he’s working with a live band, and has prominent electric piano and horn lines backing up his soulful melodies. On several songs, .Paak doesn’t rap at all– the first track on Malibu, “The Bird”, plays as straight R&B-fusion. But unlike some other hip-hop artists who falter vocally while trying to move back to soul roots (looking at you, Kanye), .Paak has a strong and unique voice. His vocals are rough while smooth, passionate while mellow. He transitions fluidly between verse and chorus, rapping and transforming into a melody without the listener even noticing.
In another time, .Paak would have been massive at this point in his career. But in 2016, he stands behind a large shadow: that of Kendrick Lamar. Although the two artists have obvious differences, the music of both calls back to early R&B and funk, playing with the structure of conventional hip-hop. .Paak himself mentions the all-powerful Lamar in “The Season/Carry Me”, saying, “‘Bout the year Drizzy and Cole dropped / Before K.Dot had it locked / I was sleeping on the floor, newborn baby boy / Tryna get my money pot so wifey wouldn’t get deported.” Just as Lamar now has it locked, .Paak is far from sleeping on the floor, but he still has far to go to make something as hugely game-changing as To Pimp a Butterfly. That being said, with the quality and depth of Malibu, I don’t know if we have to wait long for him to get there.
Malibu | Aftermath Entertainment