Since coming to prominence in 2015 with the excellent Venice, and its genius follow-up Malibu, Anderson .Paak has been celebrated as somewhat of a savour of the sun-tinged r&b genre and, with tracks such as ‘Come Down’ and ‘The Waters’, has been a genuinely exciting presence with both his studio output and as a live presence. As his popularity has organically grown, however, his music has strayed further and further into hip-hop. His latest release, Oxnard, named after his place of birth in California, sees the drumming-producing- singing maestro make an almost completely West Coast hip-hop influenced release – and it’s an absolute belter.
It should come as no real surprise, really, given the collaborations on offer here. An early feature with Kendrick Lamar, arguably the man who reignited the genre, on lead single ‘Tints’ offers an exuberant start to the record. A breezy, laidback number with an earworm-heavy chorus, it instantly sets the tone for the whole album and, with Lamar’s trademark drawl expertly combining with .Paak’s captivating vocals, it conjures up the likes of Dr Dre’s iconic 2001 as well as Lamar’s magnum opus To Pimp a Butterfly.
Speaking of Dr Dre, who has become a bit of a mentor for .Paak over the last year, subsequently having him on Compton six different times, producing this record and even joining him for a special rendition of ‘Still D.R.E.’ at .Paak’s free show at Brixton Academy earlier in the year, the legendary rapper pops up on the expertly poised ‘Mansa Musa’. A dubby adrenaline shot to the heart, it reignites the record and plunges it into its second half. Likewise, fellow West Coast legend Snoop Dogg turns up on ‘Anywhere’ with his laidback style complimenting .Paak sublimely. It’s testament to .Paak’s ability that he never feels overawed or overwhelmed here despite the calibre of stars he’s working with, it’s still very much his own style and record.
This isn’t just a throwback record, however, which is made clear towards the end of the record. ‘Brother’s Keeper’, featuring man of the moment Pusha T, is a fiery and unhinged hip-hop track that begins to veer to a more modern take on the genre, while arguably best song on the record ‘Trippy’, featuring J.Cole, takes things down a notch with a beautifully sullen, almost gospel, number featuring clicks, angelic backing vocals and .Paak’s husky voice. As far as pacing a 16-track album, which is almost an hour in length, this is of the calibre of To Pimp a Butterfly.
It’s not all about features, either, as .Paak gives himself the middle of the brilliantly paced record to go it alone on an expert four-song stretch. ‘6 Summers’, featuring the brilliant lyric: “Trump’s got a love child and I hope that bitch is buckwild”, is a pulsating track, while ‘Smile/Petty’ seems like a throwback to the Venice-era .Paak, with beautifully timed verses and a meandering sound which takes on a multitude of genres and sounds.
On Oxnard, Anderson .Paak not only showcases his absorbing fusion of funk, jazz and hip-hop, but he also takes on the role of conductor to some of the biggest legends in the genre, as well as some of the brightest sparks. Much like iconic feature-heavy releases of the late 90s and early 2000s, Oxnard is not only a celebration of West Coast hip-hop and a nod to some of .Paak’s favourite records, but it’s also a modernist spin on a genre that has, sadly, lost prominence in the mainstream. Luxurious and compelling, it’s a broader scope here for .Paak, but one he ultimately revels in.