Posts tagged Mac Miller
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.

On Animals, a standout off Compton, he sings:

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.

From CRWN, a sit-down conversation with Tidal:

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.

Keep Swimming. How "Easy Mac with the cheesy raps" evolved into more than just another frat rapper

This is not meant to be a direct comparison...it's just a parallel. I never really understood why my mom cried for days after Michael Jackson died. I knew the seriousness of the event and the gravity of it; Mike was arguably THE greatest and brightest star in history. If it wasn't Motown, Prince, gospel music or church hymns, Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad were permanent fixtures in my family. MJ has been in my life since before I gained consciousness (I'm sure my mother played "Wanna Be Starting Somethin'" hundreds of times while she carried me.) He was magnanimous and ubiquitous; a mere mortal in actuality, but a deity to millions of people globally.

Twitter: @Thundercat

Twitter: @Thundercat

Because of that, in my head at the time he was still present, yet he seemed like a lifetime away. It was a complete shock to the world to learn about Michael's death, and I was hit with a sadness that felt like losing a distant uncle who I admired greatly. But why was my mom inconsolable? It never registered in my jaded and selfish 16-year-old brain that the connection was much deeper than the music itself. I never considered the place in her mind that instantly teleports back to the dancehalls in Ghana as a youth, awkwardly groovin' to "Rock with You" among friends.

The powerful sensation of nostalgia must have thrown her emotions an unexpected curveball. Also, the reminder of her own mortality reared its ugly head. My 17th birthday was that September; needless to say, my invincibility complex was through the fucking roof. I had no real perspective on life itself. To my mother, she was more than twice my age and had experienced and lost much more than I could even comprehend at that time. She was 44. Michael was 50. This was 2009.

"You was Easy Mac with the cheesy raps...who the fuck is Mac Miller?"

A confrontational statement from the battle rap legend Loaded Lux at the end of "Red Dot Music echoed the sentiments of many Black hip-hop fans about this goofy white kid from Pittsburgh named Mac Miller, including my own. I didn't need another frat rapper like Sammy Adams and Chris Webby anywhere near my rotation, a feeling that was slightly unfair but not completely off base. The upbeat Knock Knock and thudding 808s of Donald Trump rang off at every dorm room and every party during my first couple years of college. "His music belongs in that space," I thought. "My iPod only has 8gbs, anyway."

The acronym K.I.D.S. - Kickin' Incredibly Dope Shit - made me cringe. I ignored the Taylor Gang co-sign, the notable features on Best Day Ever, and let both mixtapes remain on DatPiff unplayed. Although he accomplished a tremendous feat for independent artists, the 1.0 rating for Blue Slide Park was the official third strike. Macadelic didn't stand a chance (a foolish foresight on my part).

From 2011-2013, there was just too much good music coming out to pay him any mind. My attention was consumed by acts like TDE, A$AP Mob, Pro Era, Odd Future, etc. Drill music became popular. Watch the Throne dropped. Just exactly "who the fuck is Mac Miller?" Someone who grew to become a respected and universally loved figure in the music community, and another light that went out far too soon...

Mac Miller, born Malcolm James McCormick died of an apparent overdose last week at the young age of 26. Exactly one week before my 26th birthday. One of my favorite musicians from the past five years, who's worked with damn near all my favorite artists from this decade, was unexpectedly gone, just like that.

Permanence. That ugly reminder of mortality. It struck a chord on many untuned levels. I'm not ashamed to admit that I teared up several times this weekend after hearing the tragic news. It's tough to even write this now. Unlike Mike, he was metaphorically within arm's reach to his audience because of how honest and inviting he was into his complex and troubled world, using lyrics as a conduit. On the surface, however, he seemed like a regular, approachable person with an unrelenting smile. A personal friend.

From the excellent profile by Craig Jenkins, published on September 6th, 2018:

A steady trickle of excited rap fans stop him to say hello. The few that linger to talk longer all seem to want something; one wanted a feature for his mixtape, and another asked the rapper to check out his SoundCloud page, graciously sparing us the spectacle of a street cipher. Mac is cordial and patient with people even when he appears to smell a pitch coming. The most striking fan interaction happened when two deaf girls asked for autographs outside the hotel. Mac was quietly floored by this.

I've lost close friends - figuratively and literally - to drug addiction and accidental overdoses. Spectators that apathetically say addiction is not a disease or "they didn't try their best to get sober" don't truly understand the nature of this beast. He was trying to get better.

From Rembert Brown's Grantland feature of Mac in 2015:

In the summer of 2014, Mac hit a low point, which also became a personal breakthrough. “So I’m fucked up in Europe one day, and I drunk-dialed Rick Rubin,” Mac says while scarfing down Mexican food at a restaurant blocks from his new home. “I was like, ‘Rick, dude, I’m fucked up, will you help me?’ So I went and kicked it with him for the summer in Malibu. And got clean.”

Mac Miller was extremely transparent about his trials and tribulations since the start of his Second Act, which unofficially commenced with Macadelic. After Blue Slide Park was critically panned, he became deeply hurt and dove into the turbulent and murky waters of depression, using substances as a buoy. The music reflected a darker time in his life, a strong contrast from his "frat rap" days, but it exhibited a growing development of Mac as an artist. The tides started to turn in 2013 when Watching Movies with the Sound Off dropped on the same day as Yeezus and Born Sinner.

Odd Future and TDE features? A guest verse from the fabled Jay Electronica?? Production from Pharrell, The Alchemist, and Flying Lotus??? In 1 hour, my stance on Mac had done a complete 180. I no longer saw him as "Easy Mac with the cheesy raps." For the first time, I saw him as Mac Miller: the troubled, yet enthusiastic and optimistic kid whose appreciation for the genre was deep-rooted and authentic. I was hooked; reeled in by the quality and left reeling from the content.

This ebb trended upwards with the set of releases over the next couple years; the creation of the SoundCloud-prolific Larry Fisherman, his producer alter-ego; the darkly-manic Faces, which many consider to be his best rap project; and, GO:OD AM, a title that could be interpreted differently depending on what track you listened to. Each loosie and full project displayed his maturity not only as a rapper but as an artist and more importantly, a person.

Evident with his fanbase growing during this time, Mac's self-awareness and open honesty about his struggles connected with many people experiencing similar such as addiction and depression. Balancing light and dark, always with a hopeful attitude. That's important to remember. Going forward, it will also be incredibly difficult to revisit because of the written content.

A large chunk of listeners started to really dive into his music during the Third Act with The Divine Feminine, and Swimming, the most technically well-rounded albums in Mac's catalog. The sound was intimate, warm, and a different type of personal. Both were jazzy, groovy, concise, and orchestral. For The Divine Feminine, love was the primary topic. For Swimming, Self Care ruled the subject matter; he acknowledged his problems but displayed them in a grown and controlled manner. The Third Act signified the growth of an angsty teen into a functional adult who is still trying to figure everything out, just like everyone in their mid-20s. According to the same Jenkins feature above, there were misconceptions about the complete inspiration for both projects as some of the initial ideas pre-dated the final product. These thoughts of evolving and improving himself have been around for a while. Unfortunately, tragically, the waters were muddied before he reached his goal.

I’ve seen a lot of different takes on what the music is. And that’s what I like. I like different responses. You know?

Swimming, in my opinion, represented more than just staying afloat in a current of bullshit we all have to deal with; it meant actively moving away from the bullshit towards something greater. Attaining our goals by actively looking forward instead of looking back at past mistakes while you're in it...whatever "it" may be. It's sad that we can't see the continuation of his progression because he was poised to become something really special. Mac already was one of a kind, but if his NPR TinyDesk was any indication, his next contributions were going to be very special. What he left behind in terms of actual content and influence will be heard and felt for many generations to come.

Mac Miller, Larry Fisherman, Malcolm - whatever you wanna call him - had an appreciation for hip-hop and its culture that was genuine and authentic. Instead of swooping in and gentrifying the neighborhood (I'm looking at the rappers that think multisyllabicbarswithouttakingabreath equates to "being dope"), he studied the game, gradually moved in, and only sought to co-exist.

A product of the historic blog era, Mac will sorely be missed in the hip-hop community and the music world at large. I have been scrolling social media for the few days and have yet to see an ill word said about him. Instead, I've read incredible stories about his generosity and kindness that a famous recording artist didn't need to exhibit. Let's remember him his funny moments like the ones he shared with Q and let's focus on the positives. He'll live forever through his music. In a short amount of time, inside the booth and out, he became a legend. And he "did it all without a Drake feature."

Looking Glass #9: "Batman v Superman > Civil War"