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Anderson .Paak - Oxnard (Album Review)

Wednesday, 28 November 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

It's hard not to romanticise Californian multi-instrumentalist Anderson .Paak's progression as an artist to some extent. Very few are privileged enough to collaborate with legendary rapper and producer Dr. Dre, let alone effectively be tutored by him.

.Paak was hand-picked to perform on six of Dre's own album tracks before he'd released a breakout project of his own, so it was no real surprise that he appeared almost fully formed when 'Malibu' dropped to critical acclaim almost three years ago.

A vocalist, drummer, producer and confident songwriter, .Paak expertly crafted neo-soul jams with lyrical and technical depth. While his hip-hop peers were dipping into jazz and R&B for samples and inspiration, he was doing the opposite.

His D'Angelo-esque croons were transplanted onto moody templates produced by the likes of Madlib and 9th Wonder–occasionally, he'd even switch to rapping himself.

Still, the most impressive aspect wasn't his experimentation with form but the authenticity of his own voice and vision. Ultimately, it's that voice that's somewhat lost on follow-up 'Oxnard'. Dre is back in the guise of executive producer, but, in truth, his influence no longer feels as necessary as it once did.

That's not because he somehow minimises the enjoyable aspects of .Paak's music–rather, he dials them up to the nth degree. Opening track The Chase has .Paak opining about success amid ‘70s movie strings, dramatic choral vocals and an array of flutes. It's stunning and attention grabbing, sure, but a little overbearing.

For the most part, .Paak's own performance is superb. He flits effortlessly between vocal styles on energetic hip-hop cuts like Mansa Musa and Tints, which feature guest verses from Dre and Kendrick Lamar respectively. More so than ever before, he's comfortable upping the ante on verses, best exemplified on anti-Trump, pro-gun control anthem 6 Summers. The cascading chorus on the soul ballad Trippy shows he can also belt out a beautiful hook when called upon.

Too often, though, he just sounds drowned out by everything else on the palette. Groove was the essential component on 'Malibu', with big, bulky basslines leading the way over subtle synth funk textures. If anything, the mix here is too meticulous, with unnecessary dynamic shifts and beat changes sprinkled in for the sake of experimentation. Cheers, the best track on this disc, works precisely because of its simplicity: .Paak and guest Q-Tip's verses gel beautifully above staccato horns and a syncopated groove.

.Paak's effortless charisma keeps things moving–although he does let himself down with some disappointingly misogynistic throwaways on Smile/Petty and an extremely ill-advised blowjob skit on Headlow. Married with kids and an address book to die for at 32, it's no wonder he comes across as supremely confident and comfortable in his own skin. His natural talents are still very much on display on 'Oxnard', the third of his “beach series” of albums, but this time there's some junk to wade through to hear them.

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