Kellen Fredrickson // Evan Dale // November 23, 2018
As the two founders and creative minds behind this magazine, music has obviously always been a longstanding point of connection for our friendship. There are few if any artists in recent years who have defined more of our time together than Anderson .Paak. A key influence on all the musical stylings we constantly inundate ourselves with, .Paak is masterful across a slew of spectrums.
Needless to say, the buildup for his newest project, Oxnard has made it one of the most anticipated projects of the year. But now that it's here, we have both agreed to indulge in the album free of each other's opinions and pen our responses to the project in order to compare our thoughts before influencing one another with discussion. Those organic responses read below.
There are few nothing-to-something meteoric rises like that of Anderson .Paak in the modern era of music.
For many reasons, .Paak’s music is a refreshing blast of pure musical prowess in an industry that too often seems to get lost in the droning of basslines and trap drums.
Don’t get it sideways, we here at RNGLDR have a deep appreciation for all interpretations of the medium. The same way one might admire a fresco in one part of a museum before studying an equally beautiful but distinctly different post-modernist piece down the hall.
But how many musicians can claim the frontman position as well as that of lead drummer for a band at the same time?
What’s more, I think in order to fully appreciate Oxnard, and much in the same way that we approached our previous 2 Takes on A$AP Rocky’s Testing, understanding the direction and the full spectrum of the album requires one to look at .Paak’s entire body of work.
As O.B.E. Vol 1 was released under the pseudonym Breezy Lovejoy and I don’t consider to be a true demonstration of .Paak’s modern prowess, we’ll start with Venice.
Venice was a sun-bleached, whimsical yet introspective recollection of Venice Beach, featuring a couple tracks that showed .Paak was just as comfortable belting an impassioned chorus as he was letting the snare kick and laying down a few bars.
Malibu really needs no introduction. Nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the Grammy Awards in 2016, .Paak’s sophomore album took all of the things he had done right with Veniceand amplified them 10x.
So how, after becoming public friends and consistently collaborating with Dr. Dre and releasing two albums that shot him to the stratosphere, does .Paak follow up with something equally impactful to the music scene.
Well, you have your entire project produced my Dr. Dre.
And you release 14 songs - 56 minutes of pure heart and soul.
I read through some of the reactions other publications had on Oxnard, just to take myself away from my deep appreciation for .Paak as an artist and see how the rest of the world received this most recent release.
I was disappointed. Not because of whether they liked it or not. I’m not one to shy away from contradicting opinions by any means.
No, I was disappointed because many of the reasons that these reviewers provided for their dislike of the album, are the crown jewels of what makes Oxnard so fucking good.
The first half of Oxnard reminds me of the .Paak in days past. Reflective, effortlessly cool, deeply skeptical, and above all else, groovy as hell.
The briefly featured snippets and skits don’t strike me as haphazardly strewn about, rather they help flesh out the story of a young .Paak with his dreams in the stars and his feet in the tough streets of California.
Saviers Road seems more like a church hymn than a modern hip hop/R&B track on an album.
Then we enter the second half of the album, and this is where I felt the project really found its legs.
Rather than doing what every normal artist would do and stick to the same old song and dance, .Paak breaks away into myriad genres. At this stage, I began to forget that all of these songs were a part of the same album.
And not in a jarring way, either.
Left to Right breaks into a Jamaican meets afrobeat style that makes me want to get up and dance.
The don of the west coast himself, none other than Snoop Dogg pops up on Anywhere, taking us for a funkadelic trip down memory lane and keeping the album true to its west coast roots.
My thoughts on this are not that .Paak ran out of steam or that he tried to fill the bottom half of the album with nonsense to make it a respectable length.
The true genius of Oxnard has just as much to do with how true to .Paak’s classic laid-back cool as it does with the unexplored avenues he explores.
Throughout the album, you feel ever more plugged into the sun-soaked fantasy and harsh reality of .Paak’s journey, an adventure of deep emotional scars, short-lived but fiery romance, and dedication to a craft.
I’m not sure how one could listen to this album, and NOT love it.
Whether you began listening to .Paak after he had already popped, or if you’d known him since the Breezy Lovejoy days, you can appreciate the project.
Unobjectively, I have never been more fucking down for .Paak’s music than I am now.
Venice and Malibu are two of my all-time favorite projects. Everything he touches is gold, and it’s no accident that one of the all-time greatest producers (and infamous recluses) in the history of modern music has decided to make him a close friend.
.Paak has the best of everything. He’s a true musician, a vocalist that can shine just as bright behind the drums or the keys as he does behind the mic.
In 4 short years, Anderson .Paak has not only made himself a household name.
He’s made his music a benchmark by which other major releases are compared.
You can say all that you want to about Oxnard, but there’s really only one thing for sure. Oxnard is a demonstration of progression, and .Paak has not shown signs of slowing down for anything since he released Venice back in 2014.
I have yet to find another artist that is so widely admired, so broadly palatable, and yet so distinctly unique at the same time.
If you have someone in mind, let me know.
I’d like to see you prove it.
Most transcendental artists delivering their third career album have at the time of its release point established a firm, consistent fan-base loyal to the artist’s take on whatever cross-sectional musical direction they explore. But for Anderson .Paak – a cross-sectional artist more fervently dedicated and equipped to expand his sound than any other – the global fan base that has made him a figure of popular culture and an important, influential force on a half-dozen musical stylings, the release of Oxnard holds a particular amount of expectation.
Anderson .Paak’s fan base includes but is not at all limited to fans of hip-hop both new and old; fans of the exploding neo-soul movement, predominantly pushed by the reemergence of funk and jazz in the popular realm; audiences from R&B to electronica to grass-roots rock & roll; listeners who come from the instrumental prowess of .Paak and his accompanying band members; listeners who come for the Dr. Dre influence; and everything else imaginable. Long story short: There are a lot of people who want a lot of different things from Anderson .Paak. But, first and foremost what is important and should always be expected from an artist as broadly talented as the Southern California multi-dimensionalist, is his ability to innovate beyond expectation.
And that is what he has done, just as he did with Venice, Malibu, and Yes Lawd, with Oxnard – his third solo studio album – and his third to lack any clear-cut definition in terms of genre or styling. At a time when the pillars of traditional genre are fading into their historical background, Anderson .Paak is the frontrunning artist pulling the world in his wake towards imminent post-genrefication, and each of his full length projects are his theses on how to achieve the transition.
Oxnard is as unexpected as is to be expected from .Paak. Driving the project with storyline and broad-based musical consistency, Oxnard runs like a modern take on the pasts of the stylings that define his style most. At its core, the project is a product of the vastness seen in neo-soul and its constantly expanding boundaries, absorbing in the process R&B, funk, jazz, and hip-hop, though of course it all bears its own .Paak spin. That spin, which in effect is a series of nods towards his ability to keep pace with anyone else in music – no matter their stylistic preference – is what makes Oxnard such a work of genius.
In the past, he has delivered a smattering of tracks that have proven his ability as a rapper – even, almost to a fault, to the point at which rapper has become the most signature label propped against him by publications lacking the courage to explore him at depth. Just look at his most successful leading single en route to Oxnard’s release: Bubblin’. The high-octane track, in both its original form and the one which weighs .Paak’s own lyrical ability against one of the greatest to ever do it in Busta Rhymes, is interestingly but ultimately rightfully kept off the album. The track is a banger that shined a light on .Paak’s ability to create a career as a left-of-center rapper and it was certainly expected to make an appearance on Oxnard, but both .Paak and Dr. Dre seem to have saw the importance in developing an album reflective of Anderson .Paak as a wide-ranging yet balanced artist, and Bubblin’ just didn’t fit the bill. Instead, .Paak proved that can rap with two of the greatest lyricists not only of our time, but of all time (Tints featuring Kendrick Lamar & Trippy featuring J. Cole) while still keeping a particular auditory aesthetic of the project in check. Both J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar are likewise able to approach their hip-hop talent in a way complimentary of .Paak’s neo-soul approach to Oxnard at large, whereas Busta Rhymes is the last artist on Earth capable of toning it down.
In the spirit of exhibiting his wide range while also folding into the mix some of the world’s most established leading talents, .Paak also uses Oxnard to explore his longstanding skillset of blending into it all an R&B masterpiece. Recruiting an internationally acclaimed artist like BJ the Chicago Kid is not only a great musical choice, but also one requiring a lot of courage because, just like with the idea of juxtapositioning himself in a rap track against Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, doing so in a vocally-driven track like Sweet Chick with BJ, requires of .Paak an insane amount of moxy. But in no way does he or the track disappoint. In fact, it’s one of the more memorable takeaway tracks at a singular level.
Again and again, Anderson .Paak uses singular tracks on Oxnard to display his superb talent alongside some of the most important musicians of all time, across the spectrum of music. He compliments Dr. Dre on Mansa Musa, Snoop Dogg on Anywhere, and Q-Tip on Cheers, proving his old school roots go deeper than influence and into genuine artistry.
He balances with the charm in soulstress Kadhja Bonet’s voice (The Chase). He does the same with Norelle (Headlow).
He matches the meditative cadence and violent energy of Pusha T (Brother’s Keeper).
He can rock an anthemic hit (Who R U? & 6 Summers).
He can break it down into an emotional ballad (Saviers Road).
And beyond that, there is a rare track on the album that itself isn’t made of multiple, varying compositional pieces, making Oxnard even more musically complex and stylistically diverse than at first glance.
And through it all, Anderson .Paak never loses touch with himself as an artist. Through all the features with acclaimed talent, all the cadence shifts and stylistic discrepancy, he’s never overshadowed. In fact, he’s never not shining.
His friends and collaborators certainly help make the project reach its broad scope, but Anderson .Paak makes Oxnard a masterpiece the likes of which no other modern artist could pull off.