Anderson .Paak's Ventura is a Modern Hip-Hop Roadmap on Motown & Soul
Evan Dale // April 12, 2019
Anderson .Paak’s prolificity is rather startling considering the complexity, organic instrumentation, pure inventiveness and influence that his impossible range of aesthetics has come to bring with it. Since his debut, Venice was released in 2014 and Malibu granted .Paak his first taste of worldly acclaim in January 2016, he has continued to bless the world with project after project on nearly an annual basis. His collaborative album with Knxwledge, Yes Lawd, was released to open arms and a swatch of new audiences late in 2016, turning the electronic community and a broader pop audience comfortable with a little raunchiness (Suede) onto .Paak’s emerging empire. The longest stint sans a project happened in its wake until he brought the funk last autumn with Oxnard, which put something very important into perspective: Anderson .Paak is transcendental – the world has always known that he is incapable and perhaps altogether too talented to adhere to any one preconceived styling or genre. But the fact that his fame and following are also transcendental – that his fans are comfortable consuming whatever textures .Paak throws their way – marks a turning point in music never seen before. We exist at the threshold of post-genre and .Paak and The Free Nationals are the first stars of the movement, able to bring with them, no matter the direction each new project takes, their entire fanbase, swallowing up more with each new risk and stylistic break.
And with his fourth career solo album (fifth when considering Yes Lawd!), Anderson .Paak has successfully bridged another entirely revolutionary auditory aesthetic. Ventura is a study of Motown, classic soul, funk, and the ways those movements have come to influence music in modern times. It’s a thesis on the foundations of R&B, neo-soul, hip-hop, and experimental funk, without ever committing to any lane old or new. Instead, Ventura – just like Venice, Malibu, Yes Lawd!, and Oxnard is better off described simply as an Anderson .Paak album than it is by attempting to label it.
Perhaps the most enlightening way to look at Ventura’s many lanes is to take into account its featured artists. Andre 3000 brings a signature lyrically dynamic verse to the project’s opener, Come Home. Fitting squarely into the retro-reminiscent track, 3000 grants it an edge and an experimental feel while also cutting it into a multi-part composition. Smokey Robinson and .Paak worked together to craft the entirety of Make It Better, and it shows. The track, poised to be perhaps the most commercially successful on the album, is a light-hearted marriage of classic Motown with .Paak’s modernist indefinability. It’s timeless in every sense of the word. Lalah Hathaway, R&B legend in her own right and daughter of Donny Hathaway exhibits her own wide-ranging musical makeup on Reachin’ 2 Much. Her and .Paak’s harmonies overtop a seemingly endless funk-era composition bring the most danceable and disco six minutes of the project. The undeniable silk of Jazmine Sullivan is the driving force behind Good Heels, an exhibition of the endlessness of modern vocals and their utilization in hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul as one expanding grey area. Experimental lyricist, Sonyae Elise slows down her go-to delivery to focus on a bouncy yet powerful vocal cut on Chosen One. Jet Black is another song that brings the vibes of a dancefloor burner, and it owes much of its danceability to Brandy’s influence on the funk-R&B-strewn chorus. Lastly, Ventura closes out with What Can We Do? A track bold enough to feature vintage cuts from G-funk soul man and early proprietor on R&B and hip-hop’s lifelong relationship, Nate Dogg, .Paak theatrically plays with the samples, bringing Nate Dogg’s sound and personality to life with music and conversation.
And in essence, that’s really what Ventura is all about – not necessarily bringing back to life – but instead pointing to the fact that the sounds of Motown, of funk, of soul – the sounds of Golden-age R&B and hip-hop – are still very much alive if an artist is willing to put in the effort to explore them properly within a modernist light. Though truthfully Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals may very well be the only collaborative talented, wide-ranging, and committed enough to do so respectfully while simultaneously inventing something new, balanced, and beautiful.
For fans of .Paak’s utilization of R&B, neo-soul, and funk nuances, Ventura is a keystone moment. Built upon similar instrumental and production direction as Oxnard, Ventura is able to unearth and meander a completely different musical realm. Where Oxnard is fast-paced, vibrant, and most strongly relatable to a funk lane, Ventura is slower, more romantically-centered, and swaying. It’s simply another album in a string of career genius that proves two things:
Anderson .Paak is the godfather of Post-Genre, able to explore any stylistic arena he desires with respect to its foundations and a bold, experimental take on its boundless future.
Anderson .Paak is still incapable of a misstep at a point in his career where fame, prolificity, and range would have undone any other artist.