It can take years for music artists to jump from the music scene where they have the most support into wider, unfamiliar territory. Someone who probably knows this better than most is American rapper and singer Anderson .Paak, who is steadily making influential ripples in the mainstream conversation.
Brandon Paak Anderson grew up in Oxnard, California to a black father and an adopted Korean mother. Anderson’s early life was a bit tumultuous, to say the least: his father was arrested when Anderson was seven, his mother shortly after. Music entered his life early. Anderson was invited by his godmother to play the drums for a black gospel church when he was eleven.
At 21, Anderson moved to LA to improve his drumming and it was there that he met his wife, a vocal student from South Korea, with whom he had a child. Anderson first went under the artist name “Breezy Lovejoy” during this time, practicing and recording music while working on a marijuana farm on the weekends. Putting out his hip-hop, R&B mixtape “OBE, Vol. 1” was a strenuous process. After a rough period where he lost his job, Anderson eventually was able to release the mixtape. As a first project, “OBE, Vol. 1” was just that; by the time Anderson had resumed his music-making after going on tour as a drummer for American Idol winner Haley Reinhart in 2012, he had revamped his artisanship under the name “Anderson .Paak,” releasing an EP comprised entirely of covers in 2013 called “Cover Art.”
.Paak’s 2014 album, “Venice” combines a smooth, easygoing mixture of genres, ranging from some drum and bass, trap and soul to everything in between. With his memorable husky vocals, .Paak takes full advantage of the addicting nature of his voice, staying within the range of hip-hop and R&B yet divulging in experimental directions within these genres as well. For example, tracks like “Milk & Honey” fall very much into the category of “traditional” hip-hop while offering a story that is surprisingly captivating. A buzzy, simplistic trap beat gives listeners the option to bop mindlessly, yet the compelling narrative-like lyrics that .Paak spits about a sugar-mama-gone-wild also makes the track more fulfilling than just a numbing banger. Other tracks on “Venice” such as “Miss Right” and “Miss That Whip” showcase .Paak’s vocal abilities. “Get ‘Em Up,” a track produced by LA-based Korean- American artist Tokimonsta summarizes the many electronic elements that “Venice” dabbles in.
Overall, “Venice” was received favorably by critics, with Rolling Stone adding .Paak into their November 2014 “New Artists” selection. However, what really pushed .Paak into the spotlight was his six track collaboration with legendary rapper and producer Dr. Dre in his 2015 album “Compton.”
All of .Paak’s talents and styles have culminated with his sophomore album “Malibu.” In January 2016, .Paak released “Malibu” to widespread critical acclaim. Publications such as Pitchfork, Wall Street
Journal and Rolling Stone applauded .Paak’s efforts, with many drawing comparisons of his sound to Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” album.
“Malibu” exposes listeners to a project that is sincere, set against a warm backdrop that embodies the soul of 90s hip hop, dance grooves, and spicy funk. It opens with “The Bird” which takes a deep dive into .Paak’s life growing up, with lyrics such as “My mama caught the gambling bug / We came up in a lonely castle / My papa was behind them bars” immediately letting readers know that .Paak’s third project comes from a more personal place. Tracks like “Come Down” act as angry, energetic hype material on the album, while “Room In Here” is a drifting, sensual R&B track evoking all sorts of laid back feelings. Soon after the release of “Malibu,” .Paak also signed with Dr. Dre’s record label, Aftermath Entertainment, the home of artists such as Eminem and Kendrick Lamar.
So what makes .Paak relevant to non-avid listeners of hip hop or R&B? For one, .Paak’s musical influence is wide-reaching. He’s a frequent collaborator with Tokimonsta and you can find him on several of her tracks and vice versa. He’s also collaborated with Korean R&B singer DEAN, who is also starting to make small but impressionable waves in the U.S. as of late. Most recently, .Paak has collaborated with British electronic duo SNAKEHIPS and hip-hop and R&B producer KAYTRANADA. Growing up in Oxnard, a scene laden with punk music goodness, .Paak’s collaborations with Kush Mody embody elements of both punk and rock while “Am I Wrong,” a collaborative track .Paak did with ScHoolBoy Q is heavily funk.
The rotation that .Paak has made around the festival circuit so far has helped build more momentum for him as well. This year, he’s performed at events such as South By Southwest and Coachella. His presence has not gone unnoticed at these events; as .Paak stated himself in an interview, much of his production process begins with him on the drums and then builds from there. This live instrumentation element gives him an upper hand when performing live as he is one of the few hip-hop acts to work with a live band. A quick Google search of .Paak’s performance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” will land you on a video where .Paak drums with an energetic dexterity while singing simultaneously.
In a nutshell, Anderson .Paak is an artist to watch for 2016 because his proliferative work this year is rapidly starting to gain favorability in different realms of the music world. From toiling in the underground LA music scene for several years under the name “Breezy Lovejoy” to transitioning gracefully into his artist image today, Anderson .Paak is an artist that the typical music listener will want to know before he hits it really big.
Sabrina Leung ‘18 is the Digital Editor majoring in International Relations-Political Science with a minor in History. She is best reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @sabrinatzleung on Twitter.