Anderson .Paak, ‘Malibu’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
Just a year ago, Anderson .Paak was barely a blip on the radar. The artist formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy was an up-and-coming rapper like fellow artists Dumbfounddead, Watsky and Wax. He was associated with Hellfyre Club records with underground kings like Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle. Paak had talent and soul, but not the audience his talents deserved. That changed in the summer of 2015.
Paak was one of the most prominent figures on Dr. Dre’s final album, Compton . In fact, he was on more tracks than anyone else featured on the collection. The LP was a springboard for Paak to expand his audience, making the most of his appearances which included standouts like “Animals,” “Issues” and “Deep Water.” A few months later he had two appearances on The Game’s The Documentary 2.
The 27-year-old rapper-singer is still going the indie route with his just-released album, Malibu. But his new famous connections allow it to be a much more grandiose project than his earlier underground releases. The featured artists are more prominent and the producers are more established.
Yet even with a more expansive and expensive sound, .Paak never sells out. He’s making quality hip-hop and R&B that stays true to his roots. He remembers being homeless with his wife and newborn just a few years ago (“Carry On”). He even talks about how “ain’t s— changed but the bank statements” not wanting to be famous because “that killed my favorite entertainers” on “The Season.”
The most immediate comparison that comes to mind while listening to Malibu is Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album, To Pimp a Butterfly. On the surface, they have quite a few similarities. Kendrick and .Paak are running in the same circles now. They both have heavy co-signs from Dr. Dre. Aesthetically, both albums have a jazzy, soulful sound that paints a picture of Southern California. Anderson’s voice even sounds eerily close to Kendrick’s when he raps; both artists have a higher-pitched, ever-so-slightly-raspy voice in their delivery.
The comparisons end there, though. To Pimp a Butterfly was a generational statement about what it’s like to be black in America in 2015. Kendrick was speaking about things that encapsulate much more than himself. He’s also a lyrical acrobat who can shift his voice and delivery like almost no one else. Meanwhile, Malibu is a much more individual-focused project with much less grandiosity in its vision. Paak’s not the most skilled rapper. He’s good, but not in the same conversation as some of his collaborators (Game, Schoolboy Q. Rapsody all show up), but the man can sing.
Anderson’s versatility is by far his greatest asset. Other hip-hop/R&B hybrid artists sound more like “rappers who also sing sometimes” or “singers who occasionally rap.” Not once on Malibu does it feel like that’s the case. He shifts between soul singing and spitting bars effortlessly. You don’t get the complete picture of Paak with just one of those elements. He uses his singing and his rapping to complement each other perfectly.
Another thing that sets Anderson Paak apart from other hybrid singer-rappers is that he has soul in his voice. People like Drake or Tory Lanez sound great, but they don’t have that extra emotional “oomph” to their voices like .Paak has. Few in this same lane can pull off what he’s doing on Malibu, with Chance the Rapper being one of the other newcomers.
That soul factor could draw immediate comparisons to singer-rappers like Lauryn Hill, Cee-Lo Green or Phonte. Obviously this early in his career he’s not quite ready to be in that conversation, but a few years from now he could be. Malibu is certainly a start.
The sound of the album looks back to older soul records. It’s not hard to find the influence of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye or Al Green on Malibu. There’s some disco in the Schoolboy Q collaboration “Am I Wrong?” There’s funk all over “Come Down.” “Silicon Valley” sounds like a classic slow jam.
Yet at the same time, everything feels modern and fresh. There’s a certain timelessness to the music. Some of this could’ve worked in the 60s or 70s, but Paak doesn’t focus on simply emulating the sounds of old. He mixes that old school with some James Brown, OutKast, g-funk and more to make something unequivocally himself. Anderson Paak’s influences don’t define him; he simply uses those influences to show his versatility for just about any style of R&B or hip-hop that you can think of.
Anderson Paak may be relatively new to the scene, but Malibu sounds like a seasoned veteran. It’s the first great rap album of 2016 and the first great R&B of 2016. If this is how we start off, hopefully this is a sign of good things to come this year.