Album review: Anderson .Paak lets you into his eclectic world with "Oxnard"
Oxnard is the 19th most populated city in the entire state of California. Approximately two hours northwest of: El Segundo, where the transcendent Kamaal The Abstract left his wallet in a legendary tale; Compton, where the cerebral Andre Young recorded a seminal masterpiece titled The Chronic, and; Long Beach, where Calvin Broadus linked up with Young to create a definitive West Coast classic nearly 25 years ago to the day. It's also home to a multi-hyphenate musician by the name of Brandon Paak Anderson - a man working on a lasting legacy of his own.
His laid-back mannerisms embody the spirit of the Greater Los Angeles area that has the essence of summertime year-round. The artist formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy makes his performances on stage and in the studio seem effortless, but a tremendous amount of work was required on this difficult path to reach the crest of his profession. Even after all he's accomplished, he's not even close to his full potential; alike to the next evolution of music consumption after streaming, the listeners won't know what to expect next, but it could potentially shift the way we view this art form.
Seven years ago, he was homeless with a wife and child after unexpectedly being fired as a weed farmer. Today, the GRAMMY-nominated 32-year-old Anderson .Paak dropped an instant album of the year contender: Oxnard, the third (solo) studio album under his current moniker. The previous two are vastly different from each other but are important to the development of a style that can't be replicated. Venice (2014) was an ambitious electro-R&B project, mixed with guitar licks and trap sounds, had a few moments but as a whole, felt unfocused. However, 2016 yielded more fruitful results. At the top of the year, the arsenal of his creative genius was on full display with Malibu, featuring his close friends The Free Nationals. The band's steady yet lively instrumentation and unforced chemistry with Andy helped to congeal any loose pockets that plagued the clunky Venice. This allowed .Paak to settle into his signature groove by exploring and destroying conventional aspects of music by combining neo-soul, funk, rap, and jazz without sounding disheveled.
The results were a critically acclaimed album in a class of its own, unbothered with fitting a singular trend; rather, Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals were inspired by various genres and smartly crafted their own vibe on Malibu. Bookended between soulful, show-stealing guest spots, a highly regarded, more "traditional" rhythm & blues performance as one-half of Nxworries further cemented .Paak as a bona fide star.
While decades of trial & error and a strong background in the church were integral to the process, the free spirit of Yes Lawd! was refined thanks in part to Dr. Dre. “You need that, because you’ll go crazy when you’re making these albums if you don’t have nobody to be your co-pilot,” said .Paak of Dre and his meticulous focus in the studio. The iconic producer-turned-mogul played the role of mentor as he's done for the past 30 years. A well documented, near-peerless industry track record like Dre’s gave .Paak a major co-sign. 16 years after the flawless 2001, Dre triumphantly returned in 2015 with Compton: a soundtrack to the summer box office hit Straight Outta Compton that was meant to showcase the rising talent from the West Coast. Nobody shined brighter on Compton than Anderson .Paak.
Three years later, fully formed as a dangerous versatile threat, he returns to the lab with The Doc to put the finishing touches on Oxnard.
“'We went in for a few more weeks and that’s when the bulk of the album actually got done,' .Paak says of the more than 10 new tracks that form the core of the record. 'And these were songs that I never thought I’d write.'"
The mission was to let the entertainment world know that he and his hometown weren't solely "LA-adjacent"; they are distinct entities worthy of more than being generalized with the rest of the mold. The cinematic feel of Oxnard reflects the rockstar life he's experienced since 2014. There's a larger-than-life boldness to this record, similar to blaxploitation era films from the '70s. The album opener The Chase featuring Kadhja Bonet, sounds like a crisp remake of a funky jam found on the Dolemite soundtrack. As he does throughout the hour-long project, .Paak vacillates here between a slick rap flow and a cool, easy, yet powerful croon. The meticulous nature of Dr. Dre's handprint is obvious in more ways than one. Relative to his previous releases, it wouldn't be out of line to say that Oxnard is Anderson .Paak's *rap* album; in that, he rhymes in a lyricist's prose for a large portion of his verses like the 9th Wonder-produced Saviers Road. The shit talking and confidence with the way he spits in on par, if not better, than a lot of rappers currently in the game.
However, it would be unfair to just categorize it as his *rap* album. It's a multi-dimensional walk down a vibrant landscape that only an engineer on the level of Dr. Dre could so expertly arrange. Oxnard, like .Paak, is genre-less. Smile/Petty featuring Sonya Elise and SiR balances smooth vocals and nasally raps over a mellow RnB tune before ending with strong, spiteful singing over heavy g-funk production. Tints is a fun groove of lead single with a Kendrick Lamar - who co-habits the space on his best behavior - as they deal with increased stardom ("Paparazzi wanna shoot ya, shoot ya, niggas dying for less here"..."I can't be flying down that 110 with a bad bitch in my whip, I need tints"). The first half of 6 Summers doesn't mesh with the stellar second half, but it's meant to be a satirical "holding a mirror to the goofy commander-in-cheeto" in the Oval Office. Cheeky Andy doesn't seek to be overtly political, but when necessary, he can make a statement on behalf of his people.
The police don't come around these parts
They tell me that we all a bunch of animals
The only time they wanna turn the cameras on
Is when we're fuckin' shit up, come on
The refrain for the second half of 6 Summers goes on to say:
This shit gon' bang for at least six summers
But ain't shit gon' change for at least three summers
They tryna kill a nigga faith, we need a little truth, brother
Pop-pop-pop goes the shooter
Reform, reform shoulda came sooner
Contributing to social commentary as an artist, whether heavy-handed or subtle, can never be understated with a growing platform such as his. "Ain't shit gon' change" right away, but with a concerted effort, change is possible; stating so on a project that's "gon' bang for at least six summers" is a good way to spread the message. Aside from .Paak's multi-faceted performance and expertly mixed production, the strength of Oxnard lie in the guest appearances from a star-studded lineup. The mean 808, guitar infused banger Brother's Keeper, featuring the legal malice of Pusha-T (Am I my brother's keeper, they still asking 'bout the duo // Applaud his finding salvation, But I'm still rhyming 'bout the you know); Trippy with J. Cole - a calm soothing ballad dedicated to the love of their lives; Sweet Chick featuring the great, colorful, and soulful harmonics of BJ the Chicago Kid. On Anywhere, 25 years after the creation of Doggystyle, Dre & Snoop, still, in rare form as a pairing, reconnect to help give .Paak a fresh, relaxed melodic West Coast sound. On Cheers, the rapper who lost his wallet in El Segundo 18 years prior, talks about a different loss. Q-Tip (RIP Phife) and Anderson (RIP Mac Miller) share sentiments of losing close friends and collaborators, but choose to treat it as a reflective celebration of life. The result is a vibrant Dre & Tip production brought to life with upbeat percussion and synthesizers.
Venice to Compton to Malibu to Oxnard is a modern journey unlike anyone else's in popular music today. Each project has a distinct standalone presence, using previous experiences to carefully build towards this exact moment in 2018. An artist on the precipice of becoming a mega-star is learning to become more of himself. It can't be a coincidence how the path of the location first trended towards the actual city of Los Angeles then rerouted back to the place of his birth. Oxnard is an ode to and a return presentation to his hometown to share life experiences after traveling the globe in the limelight. It's evident that he grew as a lyricist, songwriter, composer, and musician as a whole...but we're nowhere close to the peak of his abilities. Oxnard, if only a glimpse, is a step in the direction of his full potential. It's a project that'll appreciate with time.
Elliot Wilson: you have a wide musical pallet...with your classification of music, sometimes people don't necessarily know if they should put you in the idea of what RnB is...do you hate those classifications and feel like it's just music?
"I think that people need to just first listen to the music. Like stop tryna put it and compare it and immediately say it's like this or it's like this. A lot of people aren't even listening to the music, on God. Like they not really digesting the music; they're just like one time through and they're eager to compare it...just listen! I just leave it up to the people...my job is just to make it and make sure it's honest."
He doesn't fit a particular genre because he's his own genre. He’s Anderson .Paak.