Oxnard is a breezy and charming listen.
Brandon Paak Anderson, aka Anderson .Paak (herein referred to without that annoying period), is a remarkably talented person. A noteworthy drummer with a delightfully raspy singing voice, he’s a polymath who exudes charm like few musicians do; for instance, give his glorious, show-stopping appearances on Dr. Dre’s Compton and his Tiny Desk Concert a shot. He’s one of America’s most talented performers, and his albums—2014’s Venice and 2016’s Malibu, both vibrant and lively chunks of restless neo-soul—are proof of his power.
On his newest excursion, Oxnard, Paak turns his playful creative bent towards P/G-funk and ‘90s West Coast hip-hop, upping his rap game. It begs to be played at cookouts, proudly declaring “This shit gonna bang for at least six summers,” on “6 Summers.” And, luckily, it does work—but only if you curb your need to actually connect with the music. At first blush, these songs seem poised to weasel their way into your heart with their bright textures, like the crisp funkiness of Kendrick Lamar-featuring standout cut “Tints” or the aforementioned “6 Summers,” a vibey anti-Trump song with lines like “Trump’s got a love child, and I hope that bitch is buck wild/ I hope she sip mezcal, I hope she kiss señoritas and black gals.”. Elsewhere, he explores more muscular compositions, like the fierce “Mansa Mura,” the sole honest-to-god banger of the bunch, a song where Paak compares himself—and his love of wealth and power—to the titular sultan.
Then there’s the guests. Oxnard is a star-studded event, with everyone from California stars Dr. Dre and Kendrick Lamar, to Portland’s own wunderkind The Last Artful, Dodgr, who shares the ‘90s G-funk sendup “Anywhere” with Snoop Dogg, now an elder statesman, waxing poetic about the early ‘90s. Pusha T stops by for the family-centric “Brother’s Keeper,” in which he shows love for his reformed brother, No Malice: “My brother just turned down a half a million dollars/ For being one half of one of the greatest duos in hip-hop history/ I couldn’t love him more.” The impossibly infectious “Mansa Mura,” the most memorable of the batch, picks up the energetic thread of “Who R U?” while making good use of Dre’s diminished abilities, giving him a punchy verse that feels like it sonically picks up where the underrated Compton left off, somewhat machine-like in vocal delivery. The one questionable guest is J. Cole, who stops by “Trippy” to rap about reconnecting with an old flame: “I used to search her name hopin’ we could reconnect/ But if I sent the message, would she still be on my dick?”
But, while Oxnard does great work to create engaging moods, ultimately it feels like nothing more than the moods it can invoke, and as a result, it is merely okay, with very little to make you want to listen to the music more regularly, or intently. If you look too close, though, you’ll find the most egregious part of the album: its relationship with misogyny. It’s a huge part of hip-hop, but what’s unsettling about Paak is that his delivery of it is buttery-slick enough that you can fail to notice it: “I am a dog, you see/ And if you lead me to the park, I’ll break up off the leash,” he sings on the groovy first half of “Smile/Petty,” a song which then doubles down on its cartoonish misogyny by morphing into a “that petty bitch”-kinda song for its second half. Even at its most blatant, you could probably miss it if you just didn’t think about the lyrics, such as in “Headlow,” an ode to road-head—no, really, it’s legitimately a song designed to brag about the time he got a blowjob on the I-9 freeway. While that sounds pretty bad, it’s made worse by the fact that it ends with a skit of Paak, mid-fellatio (complete with misophonia-triggering slurping sounds, the worst thing about Oxnard, getting in a car-crash and telling other drivers to “go around” while he finishes. Later, on “Sweet Chicks”—a song that references Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” while casually referencing “yogi bitches,” before ending with Paak and said “yogi bitch” being shot by a jilted lover—isn’t even artful about it: “She a gamer, gotta take her to arcades and shit/ She be watchin’ Anime while I’m layin’ dick.” It’s enough to make you wonder why someone this talented needs to lean on such gross braggadocio.
Oxnard is a breezy and charming listen front-to-back, but while it’s a treat to watch Paak work through his creative processes and explore these funk variations, most of the songs here fail to sink their hooks in in the way it feels like they should, perhaps the fault of releasing such a summery album on the brink of winter. For all its problems, though, we can forgive a talent like Paak for taking artistic risks that don’t quite pan out.