Writer x E. Franshaw
Remember the first time you heard Cee-Lo Green? Was he screaming, “I’m a bad motha” on Cee-Lo Green is a Soul Machine? Or was he rapping with Goodie Mob and the Mighty O? Maybe he was crooning something soulful as one half of the delectable duo Gnarls Barkley, or over at Daryl Hall’s house covering some of the 80’s greatest pop? Maybe you just caught him on his own TV show with his crew, or on The Voice charming your mother on Monday nights. The point is, you never know what he’ll do next.
That same eclectic, can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it, creative soul that made Cee-Lo great has found its way to the west coast and awoken once again in the eclectic voice of a new generation singer, Anderson .Paak. From his covers of artists like Neil Young, The Postal Service, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs on his 2013 cover-only album Cover Art, to his goofy YouTube mini-series on L.A.’s Koreatown with comedian/rapper Dumbfoundead, Paak touches each project he undertakes with a unique energy. No wonder his single “Drugs” was an underground hit on his Venice project. In fact, Dr. Dre tabbed him to grace multiple tracks on his Oscar nominated project, Compton: A Soundtrack.
This dynamic Californian, who also answers to Breezy Lovejoy, is a star on the rise, making music with everyone from The Game and Kendrick Lamar, to Stones Throw producer Knxwledge and his own band the Free Nationals. His new album Malibu hit stores January 15th, so I gave it a listen to see what new sounds Paak has in store.
The first thing that jumped at me is Paak’s artistic range. On track one, The Bird, Paak croons a personal tune, touching on family and throwing some “unh”s and “mmm”s behind his bars to let you know he feels the soul he’s putting behind his lyrics. He then explodes into Heart Don’t Stand a Chance, transitioning between soulful singing and raw rap with a recurring riff that could’ve wandered over from To Pimp a Butterfly.
Like his songs, his features, from the Game to Talib Kweli, show as much variety as his production choices. The album boasts work from top hip-hop names like 9th Wonder and Hi-Tek, but delves into the eclectic with tracks produced by Kaytranada, jazzman Robert Glasper, and Paak himself. The resulting arrays of sound are as far flung as any I’ve heard compiled on one project, mixing synth and real instruments, choirs and rappers, and down-tempo beats with groovy dance tracks.
Paak displays this same range in his lyricism. He won’t let you be fooled by the smooth soul of his harmonies, choosing instead to grab your attention with lyrics that touch on subjects from living homeless with his wife and newborn baby, to bravado that lets you know he knows he’s the man now:
“volume 1 was too hippy for you frail n*ggas.”
He contextualizes his place in the game with incredibly personal insights to his world:
“bout the year Drizzy and Cole dropped/before K-dot had it locked/sleeping on the floor with my newborn baby boy/tryna get my money pot so wifey don’t get deported.”
Bouncing between catchy bars and personal forays, Paak won’t let his audience sleep for a second.
From a song that channels Gnarls Barkley, Parking Lot, to a Schoolboy Q feature, Am I Wrong, that jumps at you like JT and the Tennessee Kids, Paak changes it up every step of the way and owns it all. His brutal honestly and intensely personal lyrics drew me in, and his constant, fluid transition through sound and style kept me riveted. I recommend lending an ear to this dynamic artist. The pervasive question that remains after listening to Paak’s latest musical adventure: what will he do next?