Anderson .Paak is bringing something back to hip-hop that feels about as close to a mashup of Stevie Wonder and Common as we’ll ever get. It gives me this feel of a great early 2000s hip-hop, while also bringing in 70s grooves and funk. Anderson manages some of the improbable. He flows between singing and rapping the way few can, and few men for that matter. I think you see it with women like Jill Scott and Lauryn Hill, but this is far from Kanye forcing himself to sing and covering it in autotune. Oh and he’s also a drummer. Yeah. Good enough yet?
This album is raw and real. Not raw in issues of what the streets are like, but raw emotions. He talks about growing up and urban culture while giving us hope for the future. It’s a personal journey filled with his real life examples, while also drawing you in with universal truths.
Musically, there’s a great balance between, well, everything: motown, 70s soul, JDilla, Kendrick Lamar, psychedelic funk. The album has a few obscure samples that truly fit within the tracks and the live instruments. It’s quite refreshing to hear how well skits and vocal samples can work on an album. It truly ties the album together with a little narrative from what sounds like 70s TV interviews. The album has a number of producers on different tracks yet feels and flows seamlessly. It’s pretty obvious that .Paak had a vision and put it together with the help of a number of other people. So let’s actually press play.
The album opens with “The Bird.” The bass kicks in. Nice. The first words “A bird with the word came to me” takes this song back to a classic jam. (Yes, “bird bird bird – bird is the word” is a jam) The horns bring me back to 50s jazz, while the lyrics ask us to look back at family life; the good and the challenges. You know, family.
Next up is “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” and aaaaawwwww, it’s summertime! Nice, bright, and warm. Keyboard, bass, drums, and a psychedelic guitar solo. What’s not to love? Oh wait, this girl. Yeah, her. Is it a little overtly sexual? Yeah. So if you’re kids are in the car, it’s not your jam. If you’re on the way home from a date, pump it. The turns in this song keeps you captivated and anxiously wondering what’s next. This, along with many tracks, doesn’t follow verse-chorus-bridge all the time. It jumps around with the feel of a live jam. Your head bops right on and on and on.
“The Waters” offers commentary on family and universal truths. Addiction once again comes out in the lyrics. BJ the Chicago Kid guests on this track and, much like most of the guests, is well utilized and truly brings something great to the track.
I don’t quite get the joint track “The Season | Carry Me” here, as it’s two tracks that flow together (which must be cool to hear live). I completely get lost in the music and groove of the second part. On the other side, the repetition of “Mama, can you carry me?” appears to intentionally fall off tempo. I don’t get that.
Mayer Hawthorne must have been floating around for the next two songs, “Put Me Thru” and “Am I Wrong?” Minimally, Anderson is referencing Hall and Oates, who he name drops later in the album. The psychedelic swirling really gives a nod back to some 70s classics while making both tracks sound so fresh. Based on these two songs, I would recommend an instrumental version of this album be released.
The next three tracks, “Without You,” “Parking Lot,” and “Lite Weight,” shift this album. It turns to some groovier jams, with hints of Little Richard, Philly soul, and Outkast. Rapsody’s verse in “Without You” is amazing. It turns all of .Paak’s confidence right around on him. It’s a quick verse, which is a clear nod to Lauryn Hill, that changes the direction of the album. You feel in “Parking Lot” as though he’s trying to gain some ground again. “Lite Weight” seems to call back confidence, but maybe it’s more of the alcohol talking here. If that’s what it takes to get your confidence back, then go for it.
The Game’s verse on “Room in Here” really is quite smart. It’s great to hear a lack of chauvinism on this album and for it to actually feel like some real connections to feelings on the topic of trying to hook up. All the poppin’ bottles in the world couldn’t get this woman to hang out.
Remember all that stuff I said about a lack of chauvinism and bottle poppin’? Here it is on “Your Prime.” There’s still a desperation here in trying to win over a girl. He thinks he’s got her on lock because she’s so below his standard, but she’s apparently not as dumb as he thought she was. Your prime should really be your rebound. This anger continues as there’s more and more talk about drinking and using, which ignore the pain from those first songs about losing family members to drugs, alcohol, and the streets. (Side note – anyone hear that odd electric guitar nod to “fiddler on the roof” at the end?)
So now you’re in “Silicon Valley.” You go through all these emotions and stages and now you found the girl. The girl who doesn’t want the relationship or possibly just wants you to stop talking about your feelings and all the issues in your life that got you here. She just wants you to STFU and get it on. .Paak can’t wrap his head around this and keeps going back, he’s stuck on understanding. Sometimes Anderson, there’s no answer and no understanding. You just have to live with that.
“The Dreamer,” the finale of the album, brings it full circle, back to talking about growing up, the way life used to be and how we got here. It’s got a deep appreciation for what Mom was able to do and balance. Keeping the cable on is not the same desperation as Biggie’s “eating sardines for dinner,” but its emotionality and appreciation is definitely on par. Despite all these hardships and successes, nothing would have been possible without the ability to dream and just not give a fuck. Don’t stop now, keep dreaming.
This album takes you full circle on an emotional journey through life’s journey. Anderson .Paak has created a classic album that I do hope gets more attention. Nothing here is going to blow up on radio, but it should be blowing up your speakers and best of 2016 lists.
There are a few things that frustrate me about this album. It’s a little more explicit than I typically enjoy. It’s not only because I have kids and can’t really play it, but at times it can be distracting. Anderson .Paak’s voice also took me some time to get used to. This is more on the rapping side than when he sings. The album drags a little here and there, but what album doesn’t? It sticks to a plan and a formula, yet is never monotonous or monotone. 16 tracks is a lot for a 2016 album and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s worth your time and reminds us that soulful, smart hip-hop is not just for the dreamers in 2016. If you’re one of those people that talk about how they don’t make hip-hop like they used to, you might want to give this a few spins. Remember, listen to the whole album straight through and don’t hit shuffle.