Malibu by Anderson .Paak (Steel Wool, OBE, Art Club, EMPIRE Distribution) Review

It has been a strange couple of years for the multi-instrumentalist, singer- songwriter & producer Anderson .Paak.

Born in Oxnard, California to an African-American father and Korean mother, Brandon Paak Anderson grew up playing drums and keyboard, and eventually began rapping and singing on the side under the name Breezy Lovejoy. It wasn’t until years later, however, after he, his wife and child became homeless following his layoff in 2011 that he was given the opportunity to completely dive into the music industry. During the following years, he worked as a touring drummer, a songwriter and a producer for various artists, all while working on and releasing increasingly well-received music. He began to be noticed nationwide on a mainstream level thanks to his 2015 collaborative release with producer KNXWLEDGE, the “Link Up & Suede EP”, whose first single, “Suede”, caught Dr. Dre’s attention. Impressed by what he heard, the good doctor featured Paak’s various talents on six songs in his “Compton” album and took him under his wing, opening up many connections and possibilities: Malibu, Anderson .Paak’s second full-length project, features soulful vocals, captivating lyrics, and an impressive roster of features, with high caliber artists such as the legendary Talib Kweli, Rapsody, 9 th Wonder and Madlib, west coast hip-hop fixtures the Game and ScHoolboy Q, and Montreal’s very own Kaytranada.

Malibu hits you with an eclectic array of sounds and feelings. Paak flows almost seamlessly between genres, jumping from R&B to Soul to Funk.

Overall, he delivers a laid back and groovy sound, complete with tracks that Snoop Dogg could rap on (“The Waters”, featuring Bj the Chicago Kid), that would make James Brown dance (“Come Down”), and even a few that could have been Bruno Mars (“Put Me Thru”) or D’Angelo covers (“Water Fall”), all in an effort to capture the essence of his native California. He primarily uses live instruments over software ones, with most of the digital elements being simply added for effect. In between the genre switches, running through the whole album, there is an undeniable hip-hop root that pops up pretty frequently. He drops a few rap verses that could hold up when compared to many contemporary rappers, including the ones featured on this album.

Vocally, what .Paak lacks in range, he makes up for in creativity.

He draws us into his “black Baptist Church roots” with the way he layers his vocals to resemble a singing choir (in contrast to his solo vocals) on most of his hooks, when he employs actual choirs (“Light Weight”, “The Dreamer”) and with his “Yes Lawd!” adlib. He uses his raspy and powerful vocals to their full extent, playing around with different inflections and pitches to convey different levels of emotion and confidence.

Malibu’s message is presented in three main ideas, with the first being Paak’s view of California.

He displays this through the styles of music that he employs, staying true to the easygoing sound and vibe usually associated with the state. He paints listeners a picture of the region’s highs (pun intended) but he also documents lows and vices, with lines like “Your family’s splitting, rivalry between siblings / If cash ain’t the king, it’s damn sure the incentive”. These lines, delivered with a smooth flow and confident delivery summons a Kendrick Lamar-esque vibe, without sounding like a mere copycat. He also mixes in a love story between himself and an unnamed woman, using many of the slower songs to bring the listener through the couple’s hard times, from the overlap of love and hate (“Put Me Thru”), to loss (“Without You”, “Water Fall”) and on towards a flawed but loving agreement (“Parking Lot”, “Silicon Valley”). Finally, Paak slips in anecdotes from his life, starting from his homelessness in 2011, “before k. dot had [the rap game] locked”, when “[he] was sleeping on the floor”, “working to no avail” and trying to make sure his “wifey wouldn’t get deported”.

For the most part, Anderson .Paak stays away from his own life on this project, but when he does address it, it is to show how far he has worked to reach where he is and how strong his will is to go further.

Despite all of Paak’s ambition, experimentation and musical knowledge, there are times where he falls short of the standard he set for himself with the rest of the album. The project begins strongly, with some of the best songs on the project, but loses momentum in some of the songs following the ScHoolboy Q- assisted “Am I Wrong”. Luckily, this doesn’t take away from the album too much, and it picks back up towards the end, culminating in Talib Kweli’s verse.  Overall, Malibu lived up to the hype that had been building. Captivating from beginning to end, what impressed me is that even the low points are solid tracks that don’t demand to be skipped.

With his first major mainstream project, the California native makes a compelling argument for why we should listen to Anderson .Paak.

I give it 4.5 prayer hand emojis out of five.

Standout Tracks: “The Waters”, “Put Me Thru”, “Am I Wrong”, “Parking Lot”, “Come Down”

Weaker Tracks: “Your Prime”, “Light Weight”

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