It should be said up front that Anderson .Paak’s Malibu is a wonderful album, one that manages to pay deference to the past while still sounding somehow both of-the-moment and futuristic. It delivers a brand of RnB unlike anything else currently available in pop culture. Its songs are emotionally complex, both in lyrical content and emotion. One could compare Paak to any number of cultural touch points or contemporaries and not be wrong; the album contains shades of Prince, Dr. Dre, Frank Ocean, Ty Dolla $ign, Nate Dogg, Miguel and Marvin Gaye, all the while maintaining its own internal cohesion. By any measure, it is the announcement of an exciting new voice in RnB.

It is difficult to listen to Malibu and not consider the climate that allows it to exist. As much as it feels like a wholly independent work, it also feels like the first true album of the post Kendrick Lamar circa To Pimp a Butterfly era. (I am discounting Dr. Dre’s COMPTON in which .Paak contributed five songs because it would be disingenuous to separate Dre from Lamar in the context of that album’s life). Like TUPAB, Malibu is heavily indebted to the g-funk style that Dre innovated in the early ’90s. Lamar used it as is backdrop for a deeply personal, deeply political statement in 2015. For all of Malibu‘s disco guitar, smooth bass-lines and cornball ‘70s keyboard flourishes, its bones are the same jazzy, brassy cool that turned the rap world on its ear under a year ago.

Those similarities obviously say more about Lamar than they do about .Paak, but the reality is, the two artists could not be more different. Like Lamar, .Paak uses deeply personal stories to connect to larger universal ideas about themes of love and success. Malibu, above all, is an album about seduction. Every story .Paak tells, from his tales of near-poverty on “The Season / Carry Me” to his dive to discover the inner heart of a beautiful woman who would just rather have some sex, thank you very much (“Silicon Valley”), is told in pursuit of romancing the listener.

It’s important to understand the difference between “seduction” and “sex” in the context of .Paak’s music. The songs are not odes to pornographic love, the way Miguel’s so often are, and they aren’t cartoonish, superhero discussions of unreal, carnal prowess, the way that Chris Brown and other Top 40 hook-singers often devolve into. Malibu, rather, is about confidence. Listening to it paints a picture of a dynamic, complex individual of full agency but still connected, and at peace, with his more emotional side. It is like talking to a person you have just met, feeling like you have known each other for years and being obsessed with them once they leave. It can drive you to infatuation if you let it.

There is almost too much to say about Malibu. It is easy to see people being uncomfortable with the album, or at least being content to skim above its surface, letting its pianos and break-beats wash over them and then moving on the next thing. It is enough, especially with West Coast swagger beginning to return in earnest, to just be California cool, to bring progressive funk band swagger and call it a day. There’s so much more than that happening here, though. There is depth of character, pain, sex, joy, loss, complication, death, excitement and What’s cooler than being cool? Trying to wrap your arms around the whole of the human condition while still remaining centrally true to oneself; appealing to everyone without trying to appeal to anyone but yourself.

I have no idea if .Paak will make it in this world. He rides these fluid genre lines like no artist has for some time; he croons on “Birds,” he lays down bars on “The Waters,” he cuts Bruno Mars-like disco revival on “Am I Wrong,” he name-checks Hall and Oats and peppers his record with Sign O the Times riffs. He’s hovering between all the boxes and that can lead to misunderstanding, being misclassified or getting outright missed. The thing that makes .Paak exciting, the thing that will propel him, I hope, is how organic this balancing act is, how every disparate part of it feels organic and real and whole.

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