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Review: Anderson .Paak More Than Makes Up for Lost Time on ‘Malibu’

Anderson .Paak
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: January 15, 2016
Label: EMPIRE / OBE / Steel Wool / Art Club

Time has always been of the essence for Brandon Paak Anderson, now just Anderson .Paak, a singer-rapper from Oxnard, California who learned to make the most of every moment at a young age. His father was arrested when he was seven, his mother some years after that, and it’s safe to say that the idea of losing time has had a profound effect on him. He articulates this explicitly on his ScHoolBoy Q-aided single “Am I Wrong”: “I never wanna waste your time, my life / So precious, is yours, is mine.” He hates making bad first impressions and believes opportunities are seized, not given. So the 29-year-old hasn’t let any pass him by, taking a handful of guest spots on Dr. Dre’s Straight Outta Compton-tied swan song, Compton, and turning them into what basically amounts to ads for his raspy squawks, which have continually grown richer in texture.

Now comes his aptly timed sophomore album, Malibu, the second in a pair of records named after Cali destination spots (his groovy, laid-back 2014 debut was called Venice). It’s a melody-driven rap release that moonlights as a funk opus, with a serious emphasis placed on soul, thanks in large part to the presence of noted sample heads 9th Wonder, Hi-Tek, Kaytranada, and fellow Oxnard native Madlib, as well as .Paak’s own band, the Free Nationals. The tonal palette is warm and lush, with a transporting quality that’s twofold, sending the listener both to the artist’s western locale and back in time. His voice strains, stretches, skips, and simmers in service of coating his hip-hop blends, which take an old-school approach to funk vamps, packed and layered into soundscapes for his stories and portraits.

Placing this premium on time forces .Paak to soak up every detail: His sister singing Whitney Houston as his mother catches the gambling bug (“The Birds”), the first time he tried on a pair of Jordans and caught a glimpse of his first love (“The Season / Carry Me”), his girlfriend clothing him and packing him a sack lunch when he was homeless (“Without You”). His memories are filed away like stills in a photo album, with all of the pixels and frames still intact.

Each song on Malibu uses these tactics to heighten perspective, while harmonies thread into the fabric of tunes held together by thumping bass lines. On the chugging “Come Down,” .Paak chants in favor of being trapped in a high. He spells out the intricacies of sliding into your DMs on “Parking Lot,” with lines like, “You told me your whole life story in a few shorts / All the while I never knew the tone of your voice.” BJ the Chicago Kid does a great early-’00s neo-soul impression on “The Waters,” riffing off of .Paak’s singsong raps. The Free Nationals United Fellowship Choir stands at his back as a pounding downbeat keeps pace on “Lite Weight,” each flattening synth tone slithering in anticipation of the next one like a game of Snake. Songs weave together, spilling the details of his tumultuous upbringing and forging his prospective future path with scintillating soul jams. Many years have been lost for the Anderson family, but .Paak is giving meaning to all that time served.