Poised to Strike: Anderson .Paak

 
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Photography by Jabari Jacobs

Photography by Jabari Jacobs

 

Uno: Yes Lawd!

Meet Anderson .Paak, the man of the moment and a name to keep in mind. Born Brandon Paak Anderson and formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy, Paak is an uber talented drummer, writer, vocalist, and producer from Ventura County, California. In a Mass Appeal documentary, House Shoes (“Detroit’s hip-hop ambassador”) bluntly expounds, “I’ve seen three motherfuckers in my career that I’ve been like, damn. Eminem at the Hip-Hop Shop. A star is born. Danny Brown, Detroit 2006. A star is born. Anderson .Paak, residency he had at the Lyric in Los Angeles this past summer. A star is born. Anderson .Paak is a fuckin’ talent, yo. Y’all need to pay attention.”

Before Paak cannonballed into the mainstream on Dr. Dre’s Compton or the landslide victory of his Malibu album, he toiled in relative obscurity. For close to ten years, he worked dead-end jobs, slept on sofas, and periodically played live shows on the Sunset Strip. In 2011, Brandon was unexpectedly fired from his job on a medicinal marijuana farm in Santa Barbara; he and his family were momentarily homeless. They slept in the back of a U-Haul truck. It was a rock-bottom moment, like a surfer in the whitewater unable to find the surface for air. After a brief stint in a Chinatown motel, Paak scratched and clawed his way to the unlikely opportunity as tour drummer for American Idol finalist Haley Reinhart. All the while, he remained a disciplined studio rat, with musical output as his sole obsession. As a no-quit hustler, Paak kept his dream alive at any cost.

Today, Paak holds court with the who’s who of modern music, from Kendrick Lamar, Rhapsody, Schoolboy Q, the Game, Om’Mas Keith, Robert Glasper, Madlib, and Earl Sweatshirt to DJ Premier, Talib Kweli, Hi-Tek, T.I., and 9th Wonder. Paak’s raspy, bone-chill vocals are monumental and quake you at the core. There is palpable pain and depth in his husky voice. Listen. Paak’s Malibu project is an absolute masterpiece, one of the best albums of the past twenty years. Meet Anderson .Paak. Like Ronald Isley, Luther Vandross, or Frankie Beverly, the man is here to stay and will be remembered for many years to come.

 

Dos: The Ox

It’s strawberry season in Oxnard, California, which produces over one third of the Golden State’s annual strawberry yield. Just sixty miles northwest of downtown L.A., “the Ox” is part seismic industrial city with a deep-water port, part agricultural countryside, and part sandy beach town—also an unlikely hotbed for musical talent. Brandon Paak Anderson was born and raised in Ox City. In conversation, Paak reflects on his hometown, “When I think of Oxnard, I think of a sleepy, beautiful town. I think about strawberries, overcast weather, and Mexican food; my mom—she had a strawberry produce company; and the St. Paul Baptist Church, the place where I developed my skills on the drums.”

As a pipsqueak, Brandon rode around in the back seat of his mom’s copper-colored Toyota Corolla, as she bumped cassettes of Al Green, Stevie Wonder, and Earth, Wind & Fire. “My mom exposed me to Super Fly—she put the tape in and sat me in front of the TV. I was turned out early, like nine or ten, and was totally captivated by the score.” Just peep Paak’s wardrobe in the video for NxWorries’ “Suede” (his collaboration with beatmaker Knxwledge) or their Boiler Room performance in Moscow—the stylistic influence of Gordon Parks Jr.’s Super Fly is unmistakable. Paak is adorned in Barry White furs and a Clyde Frazier–esque broad brim. Rattlesnake mode. Confident. Coiled. Poised to strike.

Paak’s mother was born in Seoul, South Korea, adopted in the ’50s, and raised by a Black family in the Slauson area of Compton, California. His father, a former Air Force mechanic, was from Philadelphia. By the time Brandon was seven, his father was incarcerated after he nearly beat his mother to death. At seventeen, both his mother and stepfather were also sent to prison. His mom used her produce distribution company to defraud investors of millions and was sent away for seven years.

In the choppy waters of his youth, his two older sisters, one baby sister, TV, church, and the drums anchored Brandon. At eleven, he became obsessed with his stepfather’s drum kit and took to it naturally. Over time, he honed his chops at the St. Paul Baptist Church on Statham Boulevard. In elementary school, for his show-and-tell, Brandon stood in front of his classroom’s dusty, crusty carpet and rapped lyrics from The Chronic’s “Dre Day.” Cosmically, twenty-four years later, this bony child would be in the studio as collaborators with the West Coast don himself. Not only that, but Anderson “six tracks” Paak was the MVP of the Compton project—damn near stole the show.

 

Tres: Dre Day

It’s a balmy Sunday in the L.A. metro area; Paak’s phone vibrates with an out-of-the-blue text from Ty Cannon, A&R of Aftermath Entertainment: “We want you to work on a project for Dre with beats from Khalil and Dahi.” In L.A. for the past few years, rumors about Dre’s fabled Detox project would routinely bounce around the musician community. Paak thinks to himself, “Dre. Okay. Beats from Khalil and Dahi… I’ll show up.”

The next day, as Paak steps into Dre’s sound laboratory, the first two people he sets pupils on are the D.O.C. and the Doctor, West Coast royalty in the flesh. Twenty-four years after the release of The Chronic, Dre is still at the top of the musical food chain—a G-funk apex predator. Dressed in a jet-black Steve Jobs–style mock neck, black chinos, and white Air Force 1 Lows, at fifty-one, dude is built like a USC Trojan middle linebacker.

Ty, King Mez, and Justus say to Brandon, “We’ve bumped ‘Suede’ for weeks. We love that joint! Dre needs to hear this!” At this point, Dre doesn’t know Paak from diddly-squat—hadn’t made a blip on his radar. They call Dre into the booth and crank the Stones Throw Records single “Suede” on the studio speakers. Dre listens as Paak’s backhand slap vocals erupt from his old soul spirit. They run it back three times. It’s a known fact that if Dre doesn’t feel your shit, he cuts it lickety-split and moves on. Ruthless. Honest. Gut instinct. In this moment of truth, Dre bobs his head and puts thumbs up into the air. The Doctor’s stamp of approval. A-okay primo; let’s make some music.

When Dre plays the molten beat from Compton’s “All in a Day’s Work,” Paak understands that it’s his opportunity to show and prove. “Let me hop on the mic, bro.” In a Laundromat washed-out jean jacket, Paak freestyles a bunch of nonsensical babble—an alien chatter of percussive melodies and tones. Guttural. Raw. Nasty. Like a cornered wolverine, Paak shreds and chews apart the track. He rises to the occasion and makes an impression, as if to say: this ain’t a fluke, Anderson .Paak is meant to be here.

In due time, Dre takes a chance on Paak, endorses him one hundred percent, and throws him on tracks with Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube, and Eminem. As collaborators, the two share a true chemistry, trust, and obsession for the music. At the end of the day, Hendrick’s Gin is poured neat and tumblers are chimed. Yes, Lawd!

 

Cuatro: From Venice to Malibu

Over the past two years, Paak released two solo albums, both on OBE/Steel Wool Records: Venice in 2014 and Malibu in 2016. Malibu is a tour de force, a West Coast classic, easily on par with Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, any Frank Ocean project, or Dâm-Funk’s criminally underrated sophomore album. Malibu is carefully sequenced from A to Z, a cohesive piece of art that will stand the test of time. Relevant. Fresh. Classic. If you haven’t already, listen to it and find out. Paak started to record Malibu, when he was midstream in the Compton project. It is his relentless opus that blazes ahead at 300 mph. Every track booms with no flops.

Over the phone, Paak explains, “Venice is more of a party record. It has a fun, electronic, and airy sound. Malibu is more personal. It has more musicality, emotion, depth, and soul.” As a natural wordsmith, Paak tosses lyrical darts. His brutally honest prose explores personal themes of patience, perseverance, love, a broken family, and addiction. He doesn’t shy away from dark, painful content. With frequent samples of ocean sound effects and surfer documentaries, Paak’s music oozes salty Southern Californian beach vibes. The Anderson .Paak sound is lively, lush, and layered. He leaves it out there, cries and moans from his soul.

 

Cinco:  Why Worry?

It’s a sunny afternoon in Southern California, not a cloud in the sky. In a candy-red-paint whip on thirty-twos and a woofer in the back, Glen Boothe aka Knxwledge pulls up to a pale-pink stucco house. Out of nowhere, a half-naked Anderson .Paak tosses his trousers to the parched yellow lawn below and acrobatically flees from the upper balcony. The Peanut Butter Wolf–portrayed character Folerio, the creep of all creeps, with his pencil-thin mustache, oily black hair, and clenched fists, chases after the assumed adulterator. Paak, in boxer briefs, hops into the car as the duo burns rubber away from the casita. World meet NxWorries. The scene above describes the video from their viral hit “Suede.”

 

NxWorries is a dream team collaboration between Philadelphia native Knxwledge as the producer and Anderson .Paak as the vocalist. On the phone Paak explains, “Glen hit me up on Twitter first. I said to him, ‘Bro, that means so much to me.’ I’ve listened to your koapastetik.LP joint for weeks. He sent me a batch of beats. Honestly, I was as excited to work with him as I was with Dre. His productions have that R&B sound, Jodeci-type loops. That soul element…infectious loops that makes you feel in such little time.” He continues, “I wrote most of ‘Suede’ over the course of a few days, while I was in the car. I’d ride around in the whip and would play here or there and write.” NxWorries are two of the most talented musicians in L.A.—Knxwledge produced “Momma” for Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly—and are slated to release their debut album sometime in 2016 on Stones Throw Records.

 

Seis: Outro

At the moment, L.A. makes the best music in the country and Paak is at the center of it all, splayed out like a wavy-armed octopus. His musical tentacles extend into multiple camps, as the common thread, from Stones Throw to Kendrick Lamar to Sa-Ra to Brainfeeder to Odd Future to Aftermath. A church-raised, hip-hop-educated free spirit that spreads love with his jubilant soul music. From adversity, tribulation, and pressure, a musical diamond was made.

His name: Anderson .Paak.

On January 30, Paak inked a contract with Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment. Nine days later on February 8, he turned thirty. Over the phone, he explains, “I try to take it one day at a time and appreciate life. I want to simplify—in order to make better decisions. I feel blessed that I am able to reap the fruits of my labor…and see the effect that my music has on people.”

Yes, Lawd!

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