There is something that crackles in the air with a palatable energy when you’re first hearing a game changing album. As you listen, you keep waiting for the missteps and weak points that will tell you “nah, this ain’t what you think it is.” But, then track after track they don’t come and your excitement builds with each passing fadeout until there are none. And, when you’re done and realize there were no missteps, no weak spots, no skippable tracks, just a great work of honest art that made you happy to be alive to see it, hear it, experience it—the good stuff that makes the life of an art nerd worth living - you’re just grateful. I’m grateful to be alive and present for L.A.’s Anderson .Paak’s very personal fourth full-length album, Malibu. Truly.
Seldom can Generation Xers and Millennials find common ground in music that they can share, particularly when it comes to hip hop. Seldom do Gen Xers find the millennials’ hip-hop influenced music particularly musical or catchy, much less funky or soulful. Yet, Anderson .Paak’s first opus is this and then some. Those of us whose elementary and high school years were the birth and golden age of hip hop can listen to Malibu’s musical hop scotch and smile with familiarity. Magically, the album’s youthful West Coast stories also reflect the life experiences of those under 30 in intimate ways too; building intergenerational bridges in hip hop soul. In its reach across the ages, Malibu is not unlike Kendrick Lamar and Kanye’s music before it, especially Lamar’s To Pimp The Butterfly and Kanye’s Late Registration.
That’s not to say that soul music lovers won’t find something to love here too. With embracing vocals on cuts like the Like produced “Room In Here” that play with jazz, neo-soul, and hip hop simultaneously in complementary ways. For its part, the Dem Jointz-produced “Silicon Valley” has .Paak approach straight-ahead soul balladeer territory and wins through growling sincerity. Coming in at a slim 2:04, producer Chris Dave and The Drumhedz’s “Water Fall (Interluuube)” is unabashedly sexy in ways that are likely to make drawers hit arches.
Awash in uplifting, ‘70s sunshine, Malibu’s sole traditionally structured song and clearest radio single, “Celebrate,” is a must-listen Curtis Mayfield marriage to classic California soul. “Oohs” and “aahs” also caress a youngish, sanded, and most earnest lead that is funk ‘n’ soul ‘n’ church on “The Bird” and DJ Khalil’s “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance.” Sly Stone fans will find something resurrecting in the almost spiritual pleading on 9th Wonder and Callum Connor’s fatback greasy track of “The Season|Carry Me.” Already trafficking loads of Black American music flashpoints, “Put Me Thru” closes out with a spare Motown backbeat just to let you know .Paak knows his…shut yo’ mouf. There’s even a completely credible disco-meets-electrosoul foray in the POMO produced “Am I Wrong (featuring Schoolboy Q).”
But, what most makes Anderson .Paak’s Malibu a touchstone project for this generation is how much it is both part of and apart from the recent renaissance energy coming out of L.A.’s music scene, from Thundercat to Kamasi Washington. It is a part of this L.A. moment of artists striving to do something new and transformative in music that refuses to be bogged down by singular genres or marketing categories. And yet many of these young, genre-defying artists’ operate as inheritors of the full Black American musical legacy through their products, borrowing from funk for two or three bars then field songs for another few then doo wop with a dash of hip hop for the hook—sometimes all in the same song. This refreshing energy and musical ADHD is reflected in Malibu, but where it stands apart from much of its West Coast experimentalists is in its accessibility, cohesiveness, and effortless elevation of these genre blending through really ear-catching melodies. Accordingly, Malibu stands apart from the crowd and moves the new L.A. collage art sound forward in the same way D’Angelo’s VooDoo was part of neo-soul and a step forward for that musical movement as well.
In another way Malibu feels different from say Miguel’s Wildheart, which tried and somewhat failed to be something new, in that multiple generations seem to find something embraceable in Malibu’s broad scope and infectious sounds. Save for .Paak’s occasional expletives and masculine braggadocio that might put off elders who have always viewed hip hop as noise, the unvarnished storytelling and the charming whiff of little boy living in .Paak’s tone and flow might even be enough to bring the Boomers into the fold. There is always something charmingly naughty about an artist that can get away with sliding into coarse street language one minute and sing behind not one but two church choirs the next, behaving much like the community that parties on Saturday night and worships all day Sunday. There’s a realness to that which connects the ages.
Anderson .Paak’s ability to connect through his realness and musicality is not new. With eight projects and over 30 collaborative credits under his name in just seven years, producer/rapper/drummer/singer/songwriter .Paak, formerly known as Breezy LoveJoy, has created fine work before. From his critically acclaimed Lovejoy in 2012 to his introduction of the Anderson .Paak persona through 2014’s Venice, the man is not new to creating worthwhile art. He’s also done fine work with everyone from legends like Dr. Dre and DJ Premier to more underground stars like Madlib and Shafiq Husayn. But, his prior work was all simply good, maybe even prophetic, signaling step by step the opus to come. Certainly producers like Hi-Tek and Kaytranada and guest collaborators ranging from Robert Glasper, B.J. The Chicago Kid, and Talib Kweli to Sonyae Elise and The Game help aid the cause. But, make no mistake about it: the self-penned Malibu is the several year fulfillment of .Paak’s talent. In its ability to be both bold and experimental in its musical collage work, Malibu is a keystone cultural marker for this transformative moment in West Coast music; the rare kind that grants generational bragging rights to say you were there to bear witness to its arrival. And, I’m popping my collar. Highly Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson