Sitting astride a piano, Anderson .Paak occupies a central position on the cover of he second album, Malibu. He’s ankle-deep in the waters of the California beach, dropped in the midst of a gauche tableau – tattered parchments litter the shore, seashells are piled up in clusters, a typewriter is submerged in the sand, and a record player is tossed about in the frothy swell.
His music is similarly shambolic, a veritable hodge-podge of different eras and styles. Marked by a reverence for the rich history of black American music, Malibu is a love letter to the giants on whose shoulders he stands.
A veritable hodge-podge of different eras and styles
‘The Bird,’ Malibu’s first track, is coloured by supple backing vocals, crisp drums, and a reverb-soaked horn section harking back to the early-2000s work of the Soulquarians production team. “I learned my lessons from the ancient roots / I choose to follow what the greatest do,” .Paak sings, almost under his breath.
His strongest lyricism on the album is showcased in ‘The Waters,’ a song produced by Madlib. “While niggas was riffing and mumbling ‘bout / What they could do / I was cooking gumbo / Whipping the voodoo / I was in the jungle running with Zulus,” he raps. Pretty vocal harmonies adorn the two-song-suite of ‘The Season / Carry Me.’ .Paak sings the hook with childlike enunciation: “Six years old I tried my first pair of Jordans on / Momma, can you carry me?”
With its electro synth bassline, cowbell, and four-to-the-floor groove, ‘Am I Wrong’ is classic synth pop via G-funk and house with ScHoolboy Q sounding as though he’s rapping with his head in the clouds. Boosted by propulsive drums and a sample of Hiatus Kaiyote’s ‘Molasses,’ 9th Wonder provides one of the album’s best beats in ‘Without You’ and Rapsody’s verse on the track is a welcome victory lap after her appearance on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.
Conversely, The Game’s work on ‘Room in Here’ is laughably cringe-inducing. Trying desperately to assert that he’s in touch with modern technology, Game describes his first meeting with his crush: “Started followin’ her, she was the only thing on my timeline.” Apparently The Game only has one friend on Facebook, but that probably isn’t a surprise to most.
‘Water Fall (Interluuube)’ is a cheekily-named slow jam, one of the shortest tracks on the album, but also one of its brightest spots. Grease-slicked guitars are teamed with a smooth alto saxophone, resulting in a tightly wound two-minute soul-travellin’ excursion. The instrumentation on ‘Silicon Valley’ is chintzy, its synthetic horns, glitchy electronics, and autotune noodling complement the leitmotif of the song: a man’s quest to discover the essence of a woman who is heavily augmented by plastic surgery.
A sample at the beginning of the album’s final track ‘The Dreamer’ has a surfer describing his wave-riding ethos: “I enjoy some of the old and I enjoy the new, and if I can find a balance between it, that’s where I find my satisfaction.” This reflects .Paak’s attitude toward music – he filters golden age soul through contemporary hip hop in an effortless fashion. Having endured the deep water, he’s now earned the right to enjoy the shallows.