Following appearances on Dr. Dre’s “Compton,” .Paak showcases solo capabilities on genre-defying sophomore LP
By Susannah Whittle
It’s been a big year for Anderson .Paak. From notable work on Dr. Dre’s 2015 album, “Compton,” to appearances on producer TOKiMONSTA’s forthcoming LP, “Fovere,” the LA-based artist seems poised to become a household name. It’s no wonder why: .Paak’s songwriting has never been as strong as it is on his second full-length album, “Malibu,” released last month to wide critical acclaim. At once breezy and insistent, the project reveals the rapper at his most vulnerable, with lyrical themes ranging from strained relationships to police brutality to ambivalence about his difficult upbringing in Southern California.
Largely autobiographical, “Malibu” presents a self-aware .Paak at a pivotal moment in his career: in the face of sudden mainstream recognition, he is forced to grapple with his roots and consider the years of uncertainty that have simultaneously exhausted and enabled his creativity. Despite his reservations, .Paak is unquestionably celebratory, confidently asserting his recent professional victories throughout the whole of the album. Standout track “The Season I Carry Me” finds a guardedly optimistic .Paak simultaneously basking in and blowing off his newfound success: “Went from playing community ball to balling with the majors/ (Oh, what you major?) … / I call plays, remove labels / And fuck fame, that killed all my favorite entertainers.”
Like Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” “Malibu” plays with genre, and is driven primarily by free-flowing funk and R&B. Flying syncopated verses in “Am I Wrong” demonstrate .Paak’s maturation as a composer, while gorgeous vocal arrangements in “Room in Here” showcase his knack for writing lush hooks. Warm and conversational, the album is a collaborative effort, studded with performances from established artists like Schoolboy Q and Talib Kweli and making heavy use of beats from neo-soul quartet Hiatus Kaiyote, as well as The Mohawks’ widely-sampled 1968 track, “The Champ.”
In a January interview with NPR, .Paak explained the exploratory nature of his writing process: “I just try to express the art and work to get better, to learn more, and get sharper and inspire and put things out that people are going to feel good about — feel good and sexy, and the things I feel when I’m making it.” Though .Paak occasionally treads overdone lyrical territory, he distinguishes himself as a perceptive and intuitive songwriter, one whose verses are as easy as they are revelatory. The album closes with the excellent (and unabashedly corny) “The Dreamer,” on which .Paak honors his home state and reflects on a past defined by the improbability of success, reminding his listeners, “I’m a product of the tube and the free lunch / Living room, watching old reruns.” It’s a well-worn, but nonetheless hopeful message — and it’s certainly worth the listen.