By Sam Fleming
At a time when many say that R&B is dying, Anderson Paak is proof that the musical genre is alive and well. With his latest album Malibu, Paak sings over relaxing piano melodies, lazy drum fills and funky baselines, while painting a picture of his life.
Paak creates a world with his lyrics; a world which he slowly builds throughout the course of the project. A California native, Paak has lived a unique life. Before becoming a musician, he was fired from his job at a Santa Barbara marijuana farm and lived homeless with his wife and child until finding a stable job as a writer in Los Angeles.
On Malibu, he laments his mother’s death and sings about the time he spent living on the streets, but still manages to create a peaceful atmosphere. His reflective yet joyous attitude can be heard clearly on the track “The Season/Carry Me” where Paak bemoans the death of his mother while simultaneously and confidently proclaiming that he is now “balling with the majors.” He doesn’t look back on the traumatic events in his life with anger, but instead tackles them head-on and sings about how he overcame, or is still attempting to overcome, these obstacles. This is part of what makes Malibu such an uplifting experience, even though the stories Paak tells are often sad.
Paak’s serene world is created just as much by the album’s production as the lyrics. Every song has a strong beat with a catchy bassline and soothing drums, but what really separates the production on Malibu from that of other contemporary R&B albums, are the vocal harmonies in the background that add to every beat. These harmonies are reminiscent of D’Angelo in some places, with smooth backing vocals and a powerful voice over them. This vocal style occurs throughout almost every track on the album and adds to its organic feel.
Through it all, Malibu maintains a bouncy rhythm that keeps you constantly bobbing your head. At many points Paak alternates between singing, rapping, and chanting, all while flowing effortlessly over whatever beat he finds himself atop. For example, the clear album standout “Come Down” starts off with a quiet choral sample, then launches into three straight minutes of Paak sing-rapping over an energetic bass and drum loop with so much joy and excitement that it’s hard not to smile. Even the guest features (with the exception of Schoolboy Q) seem to feel his chill and joyful vibe and fit perfectly within his world. For example, BJ The Chicago Kid harmonizes with Paak over the chorus of “The Waters” and their voices blend seamlessly.
On Malibu, Paak uses the heartbreaking experiences in his life as a reminder that anything can be overcome, rather than using them as an excuse for mediocrity. Malibu is a celebration of life, and this celebration can be felt from the beginning of the very first track to the end of the last. Paak fearlessly breaks genre boundaries and shows the complexity and diversity of modern R&B. Most of all, Malibu offers us all an escape from winter and catapults us into Anderson Paak’s relaxing, beautiful world of Malibu.