Malibu (released January 15, 2016)
I’ve said it before and it bears repeating again — you can tell a lot about an album simply by gazing at the cover.
A tale of inner-city life viewed through the eyes of an impressionable kid.
A woman carving her own truths and experiences into the world’s landscape.
A lyrical bloodbath. Or a raging hot sauce fetish.
And then there is Anderson .Paak’s sophomore album LP Malibu, which looks like the type of random insanity that entertains weedheads on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim at 2 a.m. It’s pretty indicative of the album’s content — a swirling mash of soul, funk, pop, classic hip-hop and current trap sounds. It’s almost overwhelming at times. But dive a little bit deeper and you’ll find that .Paak is a man with a lot on his mind.
The former Breezy Lovejoy has quietly spent a half-decade building his audience and honing his craft. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that the man known as .Paak hit his stride, riding the momentum of high-profile rap releases to gain a new level of notoriety. His head-turning guest spots on Dr. Dre’s Compton and Game’s Documentary 2 shined because they were so unorthodox — half R&B, half hip-hop but 100% authentic.
That’s the blueprint for Malibu, one that allows .Paak to bounce between genres to create an eclectic sound that best tells his story.
And the man definitely has a story worth hearing.
Opening track “The Bird” uncovers .Paak’s bleak family life (“My mama caught the gambling bug/We came up in a lonely castle/My papa was behind them bars”) while “Without You” is a sobering look at his homelessness — his girlfriend packing his lunch while having dreams that he would one day “blow like a Nintendo cartridge.”
The content is often heavy — even bleak at times — but it’s the masterful production that keeps the energy flowing. DJ Khalil blesses “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” with gentle funk, with .Paak reminding listeners that “the moment is all that we have.” Madlib teams .Paak with BJ the Chicago Kid on “The Waters” for a moody hip-hop track cut from D’Angelo’s tattered Voodoo cloth. Like serves as the maestro behind “Room In Here,” which settles into a midtempo groove, with The Game dropping a verse to return the favor of .Paak’s support last year.
Both .Paak and his content refuse to be confined by traditional labels and categories. While R&B purists will quickly turn up their noses at the off-kilter vocals on “The Season/Carry Me,” it’s those raspy notes and raw raps that add to the story being told. Authenticity and emotion rule the day — if you want pitch-perfect vocals, go watch American Idol.
.Paak’s experiments don’t always produce sparkling results, however. A couple tracks, specifically “Silicon Valley,” are flung way into left field, descending into self-parody. No one over the age of 14 wants to hear off-key crooning about “tig ol’ biddies.”
Anderson .Paak’s not a vocalist — not in the traditional sense at least. In fact, there’s nothing traditional about him. Malibu is stitched together by a dizzying array of musical elements. The results are unconventional, yet intriguing — sometimes brutal, sometimes beautiful. But always authentic.
We’re just 18 days into the new year but I’m willing to bet Malibu dominates those December “best albums of 2016” lists in the coming months. Few artists paint a picture as vividly as Anderson .Paak.
Best tracks: “The Season/Carry Me,” “Without You,” “The Waters”
4 stars out of 5