Time plays an interesting role in the career of Anderson .Paak, born Brandon Paak Anderson. While musically active for six years, the word-of-mouth Paak received after having a monumental 2015 seemed to skyrocket him to a level only a few could aspire to reach. Appearing not only on the big name projects such as Dr. Dre’s blockbuster Compton and The Game’s sequel to a sequel to a West Coast classic, The Documentary 2.5, Anderson Paak worked with underground legends such as Blu, Busdriver, and Madlib. He was even featured on fellow up-and-comer Goldlink’s debut LP. And now in 2016, less than two years after his debut Venice, Paak has capitalized on the hype surrounding him with Malibu, a record that is as fully realized as the precocious artist behind it could be after honing in on his talents during a productive year.
And what has Paak taken away from this past year? For starters, his production has increased to a near flawless standard in fusing what made him so interesting to start with: soulfulness that unfurls into a psychedelic-funk hysteria as the album progresses. While Venice provided the basis for trying to implant a forward thinking vibe, the samples and synthetic aura came off overly polished and lacked any brevity, instead opting for a mind numbing and slick overdrive. Now, with the help of legends like Hi-Tek and 9th Wonder, and features ranging from Talib Kweli to BJ the Chicago Kid, it’s hard to shake the feeling that maturity wasn’t a primary focus for Paak as he attempts to create a somewhat uniquely contemporary mix of R&B and hip-hop without losing what made his music so mind bending. And ultimately, Paak is incredibly successful in creating an interesting and cohesive blend of ideas, both old and new. Songs like “Come Down” bounce with confident bass lines that curve into hazy melodies, while the futuristic “Parking Lot” retains a soulful skip as it repeats the hook into a lean dreamscape. The balance struck here is astounding as Paak weaves in and out of both mainstream and underground lanes, at the expense of sometimes over-packing one song with ideas. The leap from underground to mainstream is immediately recognizable and prominent on Malibu, but it’s welcoming as it comes with a sense of self-awareness from Paak for his situation.
Malibu still retains elements from Paak’s former styles, with samples of old television maintaining a retro-surfer theme reminiscent of what so many West-coast producers have used as signatures (see the aforementioned Madlib and Flying Lotus), but the influences go deeper than the superficial. Paaks soulfully yearning vocals manage to meld into lyrical ballads and a rap flow that trips over and eventually falls into itself. Any West Coast project released in this era could be compared to Kendrick Lamar, but the current and immediate sensation that To Pimp A Butterfly has had on the musical landscape can be felt in Malibu.
While not as conscious of himself on a global stage as Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak is still able to make many thoughtful refrains become larger moments as we gain insight into his childhood and his family. Relationships are important on every level to Paak, whether it be the familial ones felt throughout the album, beginning with “The Birds” and being bookended by “The Dreamer”. And of course, since Paak is treading through R&B and hip-hop, he mustn’t break the cardinal sin of not including a minimum of one overtly sexual song. But Paak is able to sidestep this with tongue-in-cheek lyrics, such as those on “Room In Here” and “Silicon Valley”. Unfortunately, Malibu also includes some of the most Game-y sounding bars from The Game on the former, as he mentions the love connection is like WiFi and a bar with a poor analogy including a trio of words with emo imagery: “bullet” “heart” and “shooter”.
An otherwise forgettable verse from an otherwise competent list of features that only add to the sense of effort put in by Paak and co. to raise the standard of contemporary sounds in 2016. Surprisingly though, Paak remains the standout lyricist and vocal performer on a ballot of tough competition. He retains a sense of youth that is not often found in soulful R&B, and his cadences assert his power and wisdom, a surprising feat for a rapper on his second major-label album. Vocally and contextually, Malibu oozes warmth and sun-drenched dreaminess from every pore.
While an incredibly soulful blend of nostalgic crooning and psychedelic rapping has made for an interesting foray into Dadaist hip-hop, these collages of sound still warp at an incredibly fast pace. Paak can blend multiple ideas from both sides of the music industry at a rapid pace with measured complexities and still maintain a somewhat positive atmosphere. However, these dreamscape collages of modern R&B and colorful rap appear as a symptom of an artist desperately trying to form connections and relationships. This attempt at stringing together this amount of ideas feels like it would be impossible a mere twenty years ago. Maybe Anderson Paak does this as a form of rebuilding the broken family he always had. Perhaps he is trying to maintain a sense of spirituality in a secular world. Whatever the reason, Malibu never stays in one place long, opting to glide through themes and sonic pallets whenever he feels the need to establish some sort of connection with others.
This can lead to some of the album’s most potent moments, such as “The Season/Carry Me”, as Paak repeats the refrain, begging for a mother to help her child, or the final track “The Dreamer” as Paak unifies all the underprivileged under one banner. But this attention-deficit approach to music can also yield awkward transitional moments and some jarring shift in tones, where one song repeats a spiritual cry for celebration and the one prior was one that included the phrase “tig ol’ bittys”. Malibu is the product of one year of compressed hyper maturation for an artist: retaining the elements that made his prior works successful while also branching out into unexplored territory. And Anderson Paak has made this album of exploration and refinement an exceptionally layered kaleidoscope that feels equal part spiritual dream, equal part hallucination.
– T. Pennington