Anderson .Paak carves out ‘Oxnard’ with some Cali cutlery

Hip-hop artist’s new album mostly succeeds, but he occasionally bites off more than he can chew

ae-oxnard-courtesywikimediacommons

Hip-hop artist Anderson .Paak's newest album "Oxnard" is mostly a success, with the expected progression in .Paak's sound and only a few missteps.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Anderson .Paak, at this point, should be a familiar name. Since his critically acclaimed debut “Malibu” in 2016, the artist has been just about everywhere. .Paak and producer Knxwledge put out an incredibly silky, sleek joint project called “Yes Lawd!” in 2016. More recently, .Paak released “Bubblin,” a rambunctious, braggadocious rap track that sounds like it came straight from a James Bond movie and received a surprising debut at the University’s 2017 Springfest. To follow the track, .Paak put out “‘Til It’s Over,” a lowkey, cute club cut popularized by its usage in an Apple commercial, featuring English experimental superstar FKA twigs. 

Needless to say, .Paak has been busy the last few years. With the release of new album, “Oxnard,” fans can finally see the culmination of his hard work.

The LP get its name from the town in California where .Paak went from homeless to international superstar. The title is a cute nod to his roots, his struggle, his come-up. However, with Dr. Dre at the helm of production, the album sounds more Los Angeles than Oxnard. The influence of the Aftermath legend is felt in every synth, every theatrical bassline, every curated sunshine beat.

Every single sonic element in the world of “Oxnard” resonates in a sharp, piercing, immediate manner. .Paak’s cigarette-laden, raspy voice drips out of speakers in a golden glisten. The bass wobbles when it is supposed to wobble, the drums hit when they are supposed to hit, the features deliver when they are called to the plate. Sonically, “Oxnard” is tight.

With its breezy, Cali-beachside aesthetic, this album certainly deserved to be released in the summertime. “Tints” could have been a smash hit if it wasn’t put out in 45-degree weather. The summer of 2019 is certain to be sprinkled with that gorgeously simple hook “I need tints” blaring out of every car speaker.

“Cheers” is an evident standout on the album. The song feels like a celebration. A jumpy bassline, lively drum pattern and punchy horns come together to form an exquisitely animated West Coast orchestra. However, positioning the ear towards the lyrics, a different picture is painted. .Paak reflects on losing his dear friend and music contemporary Mac Miller a few months ago, while featured artist Q-Tip reflects on losing Phife Dawg in 2016. Both find celebration in loss through reflection and appreciation of the past.

Another grabbing highlight on “Oxnard” is “Who R U.” The single released just a week before the album hit the shelves features a truly hypnotizing, menacingly off-kilter beat. .Paak communicates with the drums with almost effortless perfection, finding his pocket where pockets should not exist. .Paak brags about his newfound superstardom with demeaning bars — “Don’t nobody know ya name / we ain’t ever seen ya face/ you ain’t ever gang-bang / what you tryna prove?”

“Oxnard” packs a punch with some deeper cuts as well. “Brother’s Keeper” features an epic instrumental arrangement — guitars straight from a classic Western-standoff, slow-burning drums and angelic backing vocals from Kadhja Bonet. This builds a platform for .Paak to shine, but 2018 resurgent superstar Pusha T steals the show, delivering a menacing verse with a supervillain flow. “Smile/Petty” provides a grabbing, entertaining narrative between .Paak and a lover, providing one of the best, most in-character hooks on the album — “you … petty … petty b—h.”

.Paak mostly delivers — and grandly — with “Oxnard.” However, there are some disconcerting points in the album that are hard to ignore, especially considering .Paak is 32, married and a father. While it is something most Anderson .Paak fans have grown accustomed to, “Oxnard” is laced with overtly raunchy lyrical tropes. Some attempts come off as genuinely humorous, some warrant an instant skip almost every time — looking at you, “Headlow” skit.

“Oxnard” brings .Paak’s reliable blend of funk, rap and soul together in a pretty, bow-tied package. However, sometimes the blend is forgettable. “Saviers Road” is a smooth track that doesn’t contribute much to the record, sounding more or less like a throwaway track from “Malibu.” .Paak’s perfect blend gets forgotten with “Left to Right,” the album’s closer. It’s a confusing reach at dancehall, accompanied by an awkward attempt at a patois accent by .Paak. Small moments like these are magnified by .Paak’s obvious ability to do better.

“Oxnard” is good, for sure. But it is definitely far from the masterclass that Anderson .Paak is so capable of building. “Oxnard” can certainly hold fans over and keep everyone warm until then.

related stories