Rapper Anderson .Paak skillfully confronts family business on ‘Malibu’

OBE/Steel Wool/Art Club/Empire/Courtesy
Courtesy / OBE-Steel Wool

Oxnard, California raised singer-rapper Anderson .Paak seems to have all but convinced critics and fans that 2015 was his big break. .Paak’s role as half of hip-hop duo NxWorries and his six subsequent features on Dr. Dre’s well-received final studio album, Compton, earned the MC widespread acclaim.

With the release of Malibu, .Paak’s second album, the veritable wave of success that he rode the past year isn’t showing any signs of petering out. Malibu is the culmination of the efforts from a community of talented composers, Hiatus Kaiyote, 9th Wonder; producers, DJ Khalil, Madlib; singers, BJ the Chicago Kid, Sonyae Elise; and rappers, Talib Kweli, The Game, ScHoolboy Q.

In a similar fashion to Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s Surf, Malibu’s collaborations are organic and generous, each musical quality shining without eclipsing the other. Malibu also skillfully blends elements of soul, funk, R&B and hip-hop, creating subtly complex soundscapes anchored by velvet bass lines and groove-focused percussion.

Thematically, Malibu’s message is clear from the onset; the first track, “The Bird,” sets the tone for the album — it’s a deeply personal reflection of where .Paak has come from and who he is. “My mama caught the gambling bug / We came up in a lonely castle / My papa was behind them bars,” .Paak croons beneath twinkling piano keys and melancholic trumpet sounds in “The Bird.” But he’s not wallowing in indulgent self-pity. He’s matter-of-fact when he acknowledges his roots and pays homage to his supporters as he looks to the future: “Working my fingers to the bone / See I do the best I can.”

Malibu draws undeniable comparisons to Kendrick Lamar’s most recent album, To Pimp a Butterfly — specifically in songs “Your Prime” and “Come Down,” the latter of which seems to draw inspiration from “King Kunta” in its G-funk instrumentation and .Paak’s rhythmic cadence. “Now you, drank up all my liquor, come on / What I’m s’posed to do now / And you talking all that shit, now come on / You gonna have to back it up,” raps .Paak soulfully in “Come Down,” one of the album’s highlight tracks.

Much like Lamar, .Paak weaves expressive tales that should be praised for both their cultural verisimilitude and the soulful prowess with which they are delivered. But .Paak’s ambition isn’t sequestered to lyrical aptitude; the instrumental production of Malibu is a masterfully crafted and celebratory pastiche of hip-hop and R&B genres that works to elevate the album above anything .Paak has done before.

Josh Gu covers video games. Contact him at [email protected].