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Collaborate/Experiment: Anderson .Paak Jumps From 'Venice' To Dre's Boot Camp And Beyond

Wednesday, 30 September 2015 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

There is a strong argument to be made that the digital age is over, at least in a musical context. We live at a time when young artists have infinite access to libraries and catalogues and genres, to the point where, theoretically, anyone can at least attempt to call up the ghosts of music past. Where new electronic sounds once bore a mystical appeal, many artists now use technology to discover and create music that is ‘classically human’.

Los Angeles up-and-comer Anderson .Paak represents a new generation. He's a singer, songwriter, drummer, rapper and producer who channels soul, funk, jazz, hip hop and rock into a contemporary R&B template – and that's just on his own albums.

“First and foremost I consider myself a musician,” he says. “If you start at musician, you can just go from there. I'm a writer, I'm a vocalist and I'm an artist.”

Artistry is a word that .Paak uses a lot. His desire to make music that is both authentic and experimental is reflected in a recent change in moniker. His stunning 'Venice' record was his first under his own name, with two earlier collections carrying the more casual pseudonym of Breezy Lovejoy. The next stage in his evolution is the newly-minted ‘Anderson .Paak EP’, which pairs him with Blended Babies, Donnie Trumpet and Asher Roth, among others.

“I've no regrets about my older releases,” he says. “It's all what I'd call 'artist development'. I had to do them to get to where I'm at. There was a long period of transition to get to that point that took a couple of years. I realised I needed to focus on my attention to detail and up my work ethic. It was all about simplifying my life and who I am as an artist.”

It almost seems like a contradiction to describe the music .Paak makes as simple, but this multifarious approach is more reflective of his musical DNA. On 'Venice' we're often treated to smooth vocal refrains, ‘80s synthesisers and glitchy trap beats on the same track. Every element evokes something unique, but the finished product is distinctly his own. Predictably, he has a huge array of influences that leave an imprint on the final canvas.

“My church background was a huge part,” he says. “I started going along to church when I was 12 and it was a new world for me. I'd never encountered gospel music before, so it gave me a huge foundation early on. I even learned drums at church.

“Everything you hear in my music is natural. My sisters were into hip hop, my mom was into old soul music and I love both. I want to experiment with that. Where my heroes went, I want to go where they didn't.”

Hip hop as an art form has naturally dipped into jazz, soul and R&B for sampling and inspiration since its inception. But, the reverse trend is a relatively recent phenomenon. From the Weeknd to Miguel to Frank Ocean, talented R&B crooners and producers have repeatedly incorporated gritty hip hop beats and verses into their tracks for aesthetic purposes. If anything, .Paak’s work is another logical progression, echoing D'Angelo's smooth vocal delivery within a more rap-friendly context.

“Rappers don't just want a standard R&B hook anymore,” says .Paak. “This is where guys like myself or BJ the Chicago Kid come into play. Emcees and artists want the grit. We can provide that soulful vibe to tracks while not being too glossy with it.”

It's this distinctive sense of grit that recently earned .Paak his biggest gig yet. Hip hop's resident billionaire, Dr. Dre, liked his style so much that he enlisted him to feature on no less than six tracks for his new “soundtrack”, ‘Compton’.

“I was linked up with him through DJ Dahi, who sent him some of my songs,” .Paak says. “I didn't even think Dre would be there, but he met me straight away. He played a track through three times, then he was ready to work.”

For many, working with a producer as legendary as Dre would be the ultimate bragging right. After all, .Paak appears on more of the record than Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube or the Game. But he doesn't seem interested in showing off his new found credits, preferring to talk about what he learned from the experience.

“Dre's attention to detail is the most impressive thing about him,” he says. “His love for music really comes first. It's an obsession for him. He takes risks and tries to do things that he's never done before. Going in there was like boot camp and he was the coach. I didn't hear it all back until way later.”

.Paak's own obsession with experimentation, especially by learning from similarly forward-thinking artists, is reflected throughout his varied career. Almost everything he does is collaborative. His diverse work also includes projects with west coast battle emcee Dumbfoundead and production for abstract slam poet Watsky.

He hasn't stopped yet, though. When asked who he wants to collaborate with in future, he reels off what sounds like the Billboard Hot 100: “I'd love to work with Pharell, Timbaland, the Neptunes, Kanye West, Dangermouse, No ID, DJ Premier, Dre again, the list goes on.”

When I mention Scotland, my home, he cites Hudson Mohawke and Calvin Harris without prompting. Following trips across the States, he promises a tour of the UK and Europe to follow early next year.

What's most striking about .Paak's ambition is how authentic it seems. There's no hint of arrogance to his demeanour. To work with “schoolboy idols” in order to inspire his own musical journey would be the most perfect opportunity imaginable. Given his talent, in this post-digital world of pop, there's no reason why he can't attain these goals and more.

Venice is out now in the UK on Steel Wool Entertainment. Head here to check out the ‘The Anderson .Paak EP’.

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