Let me start by saying that I think it’s completely arbitrary and borderline pointless to try to define greatness in music and that taking the idea one step further by attempting to rank greatness is not only unnecessary but perhaps even stupid.
Let me follow up that statement by saying fuck it. Let’s do it anyway.
Anderson .Paak is the greatest artist alive. Here’s my case:
It’s difficult enough to have the talent, work ethic, and timing necessary to be considered one of the most influential artists within a specific genre of music. At any given point, in any given niche of the music industry, there are only a few artists influential and powerful enough to be considered on top. For example, think hip-hop and think Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick is the artist most synonymous with success and greatness in the modern hip-hop game. His lyricism is arguably unmatched, his albums, though somewhat rare, always change the course of the entire scene and remind the world that King Kunta is worthy of his crown, and aside from a few poorly-chosen collaborations, he is incapable of making bad music. His releases, from Section 80 to DAMN., have dictated the direction of hip-hop as a whole for the past six years and fans of the old school and the new all seem to show their respect. He is widely considered untouchable in the modern hip-hop realm and is appreciated by fans and fellow artists alike. Because if his popularity within the genre and a slew of unconventional collaborations, he also has a broader audience extending outside of hip-hop’s bounds and a more concrete influence on music as a whole, though he is still strictly defined as a hip-hop artist.
As difficult as it may be to be considered the best artist in one genre, think about the difficulties that arise when an artist is in possession of a broader musical styling and so are unable to fit into the specs of a single genre. Very few of them continue to remain influential on the musical spectrum because they have to approach it from multiple angles. Think Drake. Hate him or love him, it is impossible to discount Drake’s transcendent influence on music as a whole. Drake is probably not the most talented pure rapper by many definitions, but the case can be made that he is one of the most influential artists in rap, and further, one of the most influential artists alive. His reach extends much further than hip-hop and bleeds into other genres: R&B, electronic, and because of his massive following, Drake is a heavy-hitter on the pop music scene as well. His sound is not easy to define simply because he does not have one sound to define. He has many. Drake is always changing, always adapting, and somehow he always seems to remain on top of the charts. His massive influence on music is thanks to his range and his ability to transcend genres and merge styles into a sound that is simply definable as Drake.
The challenges that face artists like Kendrick Lamar and Drake to stay on top of one genre, multiple genres, and music as a whole are vast and varied. One has to have traits like superior talent, game-changing ideology, adaptability, genre transcendence, existing long-term fan bases, and preferably – influential friends and collaborators. With all of this in mind, consider the challenges that an artist who is thoroughly unconfined by the very idea of genrefication might have to overcome in order to stay atop the modern music scene. Well, atop the modern music scene unconfined by the bars of genrefication is exactly where you can find the very unique and utmost talented Anderson .Paak right now.
If at this point you don’t know Anderson .Paak and his music, it’s high time you get on board. So, here’s a quick recap: Small-scale notoriety and respect earned under his early name, Breezy Lovejoy, in combination with his work as a producer and percussionist was enough to catch the attention of several key names in the hip-hop and R&B circles of Southern California. Venice, His first release under his existing moniker, came in 2014 after years of struggle behind the scenes in the music industry. With Venice, .Paak jumped the rails of conventionalism, merged his talents and musical range, invented his unique sound, and displayed his prowess as an individual artist. In 2015, he found himself featured six times on Doctor Dre’s Compton as well as playing a prominent role on The Game’s The Documentary 2. By the time 2016 rolled around, .Paak was primed for success. He released his second album, Malibu, on January 15 of that year and music would forever be changed for the better.
Malibu is one of the great albums to come out in any category anytime during the last decade. Not only is it masterfully written and produced to display .Paak’s extremely wide range of talents, it is also imaginative and inventive as it, similar to his previous album Venice, takes the listener on a long, twisting storyline through descriptive, fairytale-like settings of Anderson .Paak’s genius. Descriptions of love, lust, heartbreak, struggle, success, and happiness take us along for .Paak’s journey which ultimately culminates with two fitting titles to close the album: Celebrate and The Dreamer.
At the time of its release, .Paak was a relatively unknown up-and-comer on any sort of major scale within the genres that his sound is often attributed with today, including hip-hop, soul, R&B, funk, electronic, jazz, and rock. Since Malibu’s release, he has not only become appreciated as a talented, respectful, and unconventional artist within all of these genres, but he also extends great reach and influence over each one of them. He is now one of the most sought after feature artists in the industry, respected by fans and musicians across the entire musical spectrum, and has truly become a force as an independent artist and as a member of his various groups and collaborative projects.
Anderson .Paak is often accompanied by band The Free Nationals. They are featured on .Paak’s sophomore album Malibu, accompany him on tour, and have performed alongside him in special appearances like NPR Tiny Desk and Colbert. His relationship with his band is not simply as a front man either. .Paak also features part-time as the band’s drummer, which makes him a force to be reckoned with as a live act. Legitimate ability and an unmatched display of multi-tasking while rapping and singing behind the drums in combination with high-energy and audience interaction in front of them, Anderson .Paak along with The Free Nationals are, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest live acts on planet Earth. Performances and recordings with The Free Nationals not only display his chops as a percussionist, but also proudly show the influence that rock and funk have had on .Paak’s music. In fact, listening to Malibu or watching .Paak perform live, it is obvious from the start that he is in no way a typical hip-hop or R&B artist. His vibe is heavily influenced by jazz, funk, soul, and rock, and as such, he is ultimately indefinable.
.Paak’s range is broadened even further when one takes into account his collaborative project with electronic producer, Knxwledge. The two artists working under the name NxWorries released Yes Lawd! in 2016 and the album continues to impress audiences and expand Anderson .Paak’s canon further – this time showing his talent in a different light. Though his feature on KAYTRANADA’s 2016 album 99.9% is an example of .Paak’s earlier and more well-known work with an electronic artist, Yes Lawd! has proven that he not only has what it takes to feature on an electronic production the way that many modern hip-hop artists do, but that we also has what it takes to be an influential musician within the electronic circuit himself.
His musical ability superior to artists with whom he is often associated separates him from the rest of the pack. In particular, .Paak seemed out of place on XXL Magazine’s '2016 Freshman list'. He is instead more fitting of a list comprised of names like Prince, D’Angelo, and Masego who are influenced by genres like rock, soul, funk, R&B, jazz, and hip-hop, but whose rare and vast instrumental talent puts them in a category all of their own. As true as it is that Anderson .Paak was one of the best up-and-comers in the hip-hop genre in 2016, then and to this day he continues to be one of the most talented funk musicians, a unique and refreshing R&B and soul singer, the drummer and front man of a talented rock band, one member of a promising electronic duo, and a key feature to artists like Dr. Dre, Talib Kweli, The Game, Domo Genesis, KAYTRANADA, Tokimonsta, Chance the Rapper, and many, many more. If you the time, I encourage you to scroll through the bottom of .Paak’s Spotify page where his features are listed underneath the 'Appears on' heading. There are upwards of 60.
Many of these artists with whom he has collaborated have also since become more successful. SiR, a recent TDE signee is setting himself up to become a major player at the top of the R&B genre, and .Paak’s feature on his 2017 song, New LA, is one of SiR’s best and most popular. Goldlink, a Virginia rapper saw his big break come with his 2015 album And After That, We Didn’t Talk where .Paak featured multiple times both in production and as a feature. Indie artist Jack Garratt has become a force on the music scene since the release of his long list of 2016 projects including a 19-song album Phase and a series of three remix releases – one featuring Anderson .Paak. It isn’t similar to cases where up-and-coming musicians feature names like Kendrick Lamar or Drake on their music and then are subsequently propelled into stardom due to the celebrity of their features. Anderson .Paak, though a well-known artist in his own right, doesn’t even come close to the popularity of the biggest names in the industry. His influence on the rise of these artists is purely musical enhancement, though this will not be the limit of a .Paak feature for much longer,
Soon enough, and most-likely with the release of his next solo album, Anderson .Paak is going to be propelled into super-stardom. He is on the cusp of wide spread popularity and assuming that his next album is even better than Malibu just like Malibu was better than Venice, there is nothing that would stop him from exploding onto the scenes of every genre that he is associated with. Few if any artists have ever so masterfully taken advantage of their talents and created music in a way to harness all of their influences like Anderson .Paak. Accepted as a top caliber artist in hip-hop, R&B, and funk, while collaborating with artists and groups to display his talent within rock, jazz, and electronic, no musician alive is more varied or more well-rounded. This ability and range, which makes him an incredibly influential and indefinable artist, the knack for storytelling and masterful album production, the unmatched live performance backed by his instrumentation, and the ability to elevate and improve every artist he works with leaves .Paak included on a very short list of some of music’s greatest artists – all of which are either no longer with us or no longer consistently releasing music. All of this leads to one conclusion - that Anderson .Paak is the greatest artist alive.