Anderson .Paak had no idea that Dr. Dre had even heard his music when he got the call from the legendary producer. Dre got a hold of Paak and producer Knxwledge’s track “Suede,” from their group NxWorries and was drawn to the impassioned soul of Paak’s singing. Before he knew it, Paak was in the studio with Dre, lending what became the most featured voice on Dre’s critically acclaimed and now Grammy-nominated third album, Compton, which also features the likes of Kendrick Lamar, DJ Premier, Eminem, Ice Cube and others.
“I was excited to be working with these legendary people, these producers and this team. Every time I got there, I just wanted to execute and be able to contribute and lend a voice that I thought was necessary to the project. I was just hoping that one or two of the songs I was on would make it too. I didn’t think it’d be anywhere near what it is now … six songs. And I didn’t know that he’d be giving me such an opportunity like this until it was out. I was just amped to be in there and help out how i could,” Paak says.
Paak’s work on Compton has forged a number of new relationships that will be coming to fruition through collaborations on his sophomore solo album, Malibu, due out Jan. 15. But before being an integral part of Compton, dropping the NxWrries EP this month on Stones Throw Records and working on one of 2016’s first highly anticipated albums, the now 29-year old Paak was growing up playing drums at his hometown church in Oxnard, CA, with high hopes for his career.
“Up until this year, I was still playing drums at church. My story as an artist has been about trial and error. It’s been about artist development, character building, struggle, happiness and failure, family, and music,” Paak says on a call, in between looking at new apartments for him and his family in LA’s Koreatown.
In high school, Paak had put together together a demo tape where he rapped and produced everything and was DJing parties. He felt like he was on the rise, until both of his parents were put in jail during his senior year. “It pretty much put a hold on my musical journey up to that point,” he says.
He went to work and got married, before getting an annulment, which prompted him, at 21, to move to LA and search for drummer-for-hire work while attending music college. Playing for different bands led to starting his own band, where he wrote all original music, played keys and did lead vocals under the name Breezy Lovejoy. Six years of drummer-for-hire work and Breezy Lovejoy had Paak feeling stagnant: “Nothing was really sticking and things were moving pretty slow.”
But around late-2012, Paak’s mentor, Brian Lee, wanted to empower him to focus on creating his own solo work and Paak saw this as a turning point in his career. “He asked me ‘What do you think if I invest in a studio and you just go in for like six months and work on music straight? Wake up early, work on music like a job and focus on that, instead of doing a lot of different things.’”
Once he was immersed in Lee’s studio, gone was the Breezy Lovejoy moniker and Anderson .Paak was born. “It’s my last name and my middle name,” says the man whose legal name is Brandon Paak Anderson. His excellent first full-length album as Anderson .Paak, Venice, came out in October of 2014. It was during this process that Paak met rising hip-hop producer and Kendrick Lamar collaborator, Knxwledge.
“I was a huge fan of his.” Paak says of Knxwledge. “I was really excited that I got a batch of music from him … it was like the equivalent of getting a batch of music from Dre. So I wanted to make a good impression so that we could continue to work together. I was writing to all the beats simultaneously and then ‘Suede’ just kinda came.”
“Suede” is indeed the song that began Paak’s evolution into the artist that he’s now becoming. Knxwledge’s jazz and soul production provide a tight-fitting canvas for Paak’s vocal musings. The song is part gospel soul and part steady pimpin’ from Paak. It has its moments of vulgarity, but it’s that carnal passion type of sass, that gets you in tune with your groovy or even freaky side.
“A lot of Knxwledge’s instrumentals just brought out this tone and swagger that I had played with before, but had never really pinpointed before on my Anderson .Paak stuff. But then it just came so easily. So that’s why I attribute a lot of my sound now and my vocal approach to working with Knxwledge, ‘cause I found that working with him and it just carried from there,” Paak says.
The track worked so well that Stones Throw Records, led by venerable producer Peanut Butter Wolf, suggested the pair form a group and release an album. NxWorries was created and their debut Link Up & Suede EP, serves as the precursor to Paak’s big release next month in Malibu.
“It’s kind of the maturation of what I’ve been doing,” Paak says of Malibu. “It’s a more universal and soul-based approach than Venice. Vocally, it’s more cohesive than my other albums. And there’s a lot of people I’ve gotten to work with that I grew up listening to … I’m really proud of it.”
The feature list on Malibu reads like a who’s who of hip-hop today: Schoolboy Q, Madlib, 9th Wonder, Rhapsody, The Game. “I just got a verse in from Talib Kweli. Kaytranada is there. I got my band The Free Nationals … DJ Hi-Tek.”
On early single “The Season/Carry Me”, Paak works with 9th Wonder to create a track that is immediately recognizable as a 9th Wonder production. But the way that Paak’s vocals slide into the beat and then flips the switch into the track’s second half produced by Callum Conner is perhaps the best example of what makes Anderson .Paak so great.
It’s the soul and emotion that comes through in his vocals that only somebody who’s truly experienced the ups and downs of life can convey with authenticity. It’s the same emotion that Paak brings to Compton on tracks like the stunning “All In A Day’s Work.” Yet the humble and soft-spoken Paak is always quick to assign inspirational credit to his producers.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that has such a keen sense of vocal production and attention to detail as Dre,” he says. “That album (Compton) is a reflection of him trying new things and trying things outside of his comfort zone. It’s a reflection of where he’s at now. Not him trying to remake something of the past. So it was dope to be a part that stage in his career.”
When Malibu officially drops in January, it will mark the third major release that Paak has been at the center of in the last six months. (Does this guy ever sleep?) But the church drummer turned hip-hop star from Oxnard—who still jumps on the drums during his live shows—knows his work isn’t close to being done.
“I think you just gotta strike when the iron is hot. Honestly, a lot of the work was done in the last couple years and I’ve just been recording, recording, recording. And I don’t feel comfortable if I’m not recording or playing shows. Now is the time to work…right now. There’ll be plenty of time to rest and sleep. There’s a season for everything and I just wanna work right now while I can and while I’m inspired.”