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Anderson .Paak’s “Oxnard” is a Boisterous Success

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You really shouldn’t categorize Anderson .Paak (don’t forget that dot brotha, you paid for it) because his new album, Oxnard, shows how versatile the singer-rapper-crooner-swooner-songwriter can be. Is that title too long? I’m not sure how else to describe the dynamic vocal styles of .Paak on Oxnard. 

If his previous album, Malibu,  was an introduction of .Paak as a contender for king of Soul, Oxnard is a bid for the crown of Funk. With crisp, Dr. Dre production booming over lush, live instrumentation, the “Suede” singer has curated an album for competition to be wary of.

Despite a 4 track run in the middle that didn’t really do it for me and some disappointin features, Oxnard gave me 8.5 songs out of its 14-track playlist that I have been bumpin’ non-stop in my shitty Toyota Corolla, actin like I’m cruisin down the streets of Oxnard while I’m freezin my ass off. Gotta keep the windows down while I’m playin Tints. With Oxnard, Anderson .Paak truly becomes a force to watch out for.

If you have any knowledge of the work of artists like Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, or Melvin Van Peebles, then you may have a certain affinity for Oxnard right out the gate, with its opener, “The Chase”, featuring Kadhja Bonet. After Bonet’s beautiful opening section, “The Chase” cracks open into a funky cavalcade that’s reminiscent of early 70s funk. It’s that old-school plucked bass. Those brash horns and flutes. The break-neck speed of those drums (probably supplied by .Paak himself). The song, and multiple others on the album like the hit single, “Tints”, are iconic of the soundtracks of early 70s Blaxploitation films.

The aforementioned artists have all scored such films, like Isaac Hayes’ work on Shaft. This feat is owed in large part to executive producer Dr. Dre, Iong time collaborator of the “Yes-Lawd” artist. .Paak and Dr. Dre infused this album with crisp, live instrumentation and sample work, as well as studio elements to create this cinematic album. The funny skits, the samples pulled from comedies all build into the allusion that the duo build.

I love the allusion Dre and Anderson make to 70s Blaxploitation, because .Paak embodies the characteristics of the type of genre he’s referencing, in the character he puts on throughout the album, like on Headlow. Yes, we’re gonna talk about Headlow. He has a skit at the end of the track where he crashes his car while receiving oral sex, and then proceeds  to not get out to address the other driver because he was “almost there”. I felt like I was actually there, for better or worse, because .Paak does such a good job of embodying the nasty swagger of his raps. And oh boy, does he rap.

Unlike Mayfield, Hayes, and Peebles, .Paak isn’t just singing over these beats – he’s rapping like he’s coming for the crown of that, too. Take one of my personal favorites, “6 Summers”. .Paak’s flow is as erratic and engaging as ever using that schizo flow: one minute, you find the man rapping, the next he’s singing. And when it’s seamless, it’s seamless. There are some great, funny, political raps on the first half of “6 Summers”, but there are equally as great heavy lyrics after the switch up when he really starts singing. But, it’s not always a perfect experience.

On the track “Saviers Road”, .Paak injects sing-song-like backing vocals to a very good rap track. They feel forced, but don’t take away too much from the track overall. This track is  the first of a four song run that don’t really do it like the others.

“Saviors Road”, “Smile”, “Mansa Musa”, and “Brother’s Keeper” felt intrusive to the rest of the album in the way they were placed. “Smile”, the first half of a two parter, featured some of .Paaks weaker performances vocally and lyrically.  The intro employs a backing choir reminiscent of early Tyler, the Creator, but not in a good way. But, I must admit the second half of this song, Petty, has been in constant rotation. The slick bassline, tamborine work, and .Paak’s smooth hook make for a late night cruising anthem.  Mansa Musa is also a really good song, but feels overwhelming with the amount of things going on in the track. This is nowhere near unusual for a track touched by Dr. Dre, and really comes down to opinion. But Brother’s Keeper really isn’t it. I don’t know if it was the uninspired Pusha-T feature, or the stripped down beat in an album full of radical instrumentation, but Brother’s keeper felt like the one song that overstayed its welcome.

Actually, looking at the tracklist, Mansa Musa starts off a 6-song string that all feature notable artists in the industry. Some of these tracks are real gems, like “Anywhere”, which is blessed with one of the best Snoop features in recent memory. “Sweet Chick” is another standout, with .Paak and BJ the Chicago Kid talking about past flings. Each of us know ladies like the one about to murder .Paak for finding out he was cheating . The rest of the featured tracks are carried more by the significance of the feature rather than what they actually offer. Hearing J. Cole and. Paak together on “Trippy”. Cole slides in for an solid verse about a old fling he wants to reconnect with, but compared to some other recent Cole features (looking at JID’s “Off Deez”) which offered good verses that pushed Cole to do something different, Cole seemed to come in for a more cookie cutter approach. It’s J.Cole so it’s a good verse, but I was left wanting more.

The same problem happens on “Cheers” with Q-Tip. This track is pretty heavy as .Paak ponders a lot of lofty topics in the wake of the death of Mac Miller. He enlists legendary rapper, Q-Tip to spit a verse featuring an extended metaphor about someone changing while they’re on tour. It’s not a bad verse, but Q-Tip’s flow at times falters and feels lazy. Besides that, the verse feels alien to the rest of the song, even if the the topics overlap. Q-Tips verse acts almost as a standalone entity, with lyrical content that wraps up by the time the verse is over. Mixed with the beat change, it feels more like a Q-tip song than a feature on an Anderson .Paak song.

Listening to Oxnard feels like being presented with a cinematic experience that was given considerable thought. The fusion of skits into the tracks helps with the seamless mix that Dr. Dre prepared. Coupled with the fluidity of. Paak’s performance, this album makes for one of the funkiest releases in recent memory.

While the album isn’t perfect, it is a boisterous successor to .Paak’s 2016 album, Malibu. There are some songs that could have been left out,  but overall, if the objective was to create an experience instead of just a sequel, .Paak and Dr. Dre have succeeded. Whether or not Oxnard claims the crown of funk is subjective, but for sure it solidifies Anderson .Paak’s place as a contender.

Favorites: “Who R U,” “6 Summers,” “Anywhere,” “Mansa Musa,” “Sweet Chick”

Least Fav: “Brothers Keeper”, “Trippy” 

Album Rating: 7.5/10

Album Review By: Seyi Aladejobi

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