Anderson .Paak is hard to catch up with. But if you ever find yourself in a position to sit down with him, even if just for 20 minutes, know this: You’ll most definitely have to finesse the entire situation.
Over a small peak of sunshine, dark rain clouds blanket the glum Washington, D.C sky. For the next 48 hours, the nation’s capital is slated to be met with an unformidable cold front, not the most welcoming scene for a music festival, although the month of April well precedes what we’ve defined the sun-drenched season of summer to be: unbearable heat, SPF and gals stripped down to their freshly tanned skin. It’s 1 p.m., and after nearly five months of cancelled flights, zealously scheduled press trips, unanswered calls, close-ended texts and a botched cross-country trip to Coachella in hopes of getting ample one-on-one time, today is said to be the day my chase for the music industry’s hotly sought-after artist would come to an end. Or so I thought.
In the hours prior, the eerie whistle of the Amtrak travelling from New York City was drowned out by the reflection of other times I’ve waited for him. Coachella was a jaunt expensed in return of the promise of a story. Instead, I found myself standing solo in a sea of half-baked 20-somethings and flying glow sticks, as he bounced around the Mojave stage, the inflections of his voice brightening with each explosive hurrah from the crowd.
12 days later, he’s still nowhere to be found.
3:48 PM: “Where should I meet you guys?
7:02 PM: “Hey. Where exactly would you like to meet?”
7:03 PM: “He’s doing soundcheck and is sleep.”
7:06 PM: “Okay. So does that mean this won’t be happening today?”
7:09 PM: “Likely not.”
Months earlier, on a biting February night in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, I’d met .Paak by chance during his sold-out SOBs debut. Inside, the iconic, no-frills venue-slash-breeding ground for future legends, it was sweltering. It’s the kind of spot where sardine-packed fans will withstand excruciating body heat just because their favorite artist is performing, only an arm’s length away for a fortunate few. The same dense crowds often house a mix of characters, who double as fans and low-key talent scouts (DJ Premier, SZA and Elliott Wilson were in the building that night). To pass the time before Paak’s set, the photographer and I sat in the club’s downstairs office.
Behind the frosted glass of a neighboring door, a familiarly screechy falsetto booms, one that could only belong to a certain individual. I look up from the lager I’d been nursing to see .Paak emerge from flickering camera flashes, the aftermath of a mini photo shoot. Wide-eyed with an inviting grin, glorious swagger in his steps and a white styrofoam cup in hand, he raises the hot concoction to his face, steam sifting from the cup to his lips, before speaking. Enthusiastically present and recognizable even from his bravado, .Paak’s energy is magnetic, the kind of guy you’d imagine racking up high school superlatives like class flirt and best school spirit. In the office, he parts a stack of manila folders, making his rounds around our four-person circle of staffers and media. After he makes his entrance, I introduce myself and mention my publication. Instantly, his eyes light up, recalling the staff review that sent “everyone into a dancing fit.” With many a celebrity professing they don’t read their own press, let alone want to give them a minute of their time, it was a refreshing sentiment.
“I told ‘em there’s no curfew tonight,” a nearby janitorial staff member with a salt-and-pepper beard chimed in out the blue, broom in hand. “I’m excited to see what this guy does.” This was the first and last encounter I’d have with .Paak for some time. And while the outspoken gentleman focused on making the floor spotless didn’t seem to know much about that night’s sold-out performance—let alone have a clue as to any hype or high expectation before .Paak hit the stage—he wasn’t the only one at SOBs, and beyond its four walls, who would discover someone—and something—very special that night. And since.
However, even at the earliest days of his career, .Paak established himself as a rare talent, practically to the point that his recent ascent, an unexpected rewire of modern day R&B, was inevitable.
Before Anderson .Paak, there was Breezy Lovejoy. A simple Google search will unearth a 20-something summer spirit born in the dead of winter with a myriad of dreadlocked hairstyles, an animated beam of pearly whites, and sans the now-trademark silver ring snugly affixed to his septum. Even from the entrapments of the web, his youthfulness jumps off dot-com pages and swallows your attention whole.
It will also reveal a charismatic catalogue of music dating back to 2010. Violets Are Blue EP was the genesis of his upstart, O.B.E. Vol. 1 and Lovejoy offered just four months apart in 2012 was another bullet point added to his discography, and he shared yet another extended playlist that solely featured covers of his favorite love-centric rock jams, appropriately titled Cover Art. But his three year-long efforts were only the beginning of a long, hard road.
Jose Rios, guitarist of the Free Nationals, Paak’s backing band, met him in 2010, long before the fame and the dot-for-detail. He had relocated from his hometown of San Diego to study guitar at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, where the singer was also earning his bones as a drummer. But their initial meeting was by coincidence. “I was in the parking structure of the apartments I lived in, and he popped out of a car. It was full of smoke, a bunch of weed came out,” he says moments before hopping on stage of Holland’s BoogieBall. The laughter on the other side of the phone indicates that this is regular .Paak behavior. “He said, ‘Hey, I’m Breezy,’” Rios continues. The name Breezy Lovejoy was a nominal culmination of the gusty farts he let out as a kid after devouring a bag of Cheetos and something he thought sounded smooth. From the start, it was a moniker that “turned [Jose] off” due to the fact that R&B superstar Chris Brown was already the novelty “Breezy” of the industry. “It was like ‘Okay, you’re Breezy, he’s Breezy?’ No, no. You need to be your own thing.”
The musical aspect of their friendship quickly took shape after a single call. One day, singer Nate Jackson reached out to Jose to play a chitlin circuit-like gig in San Francisco, referring to “a dude named Breezy” who would play the drums for the night, while their good friend Ron Avant held down the keys. “It was $100 a musician to do one sh**ty little gig, and you do a bunch of covers,” he reminiscences. “After that, we had a really good time. We got really f**ked up, and we just became friends. We were homies after that.” From then on, it would be Jose, Avant and Paak, running around Los Angeles performing covers and songs for anyone that would lend an ear. “We were just trying to make something happen. We wanted to be musicians.”
From Bananas, an indie-type of event that brought people to Leimert Park’s Kaos Network each month, on every third Tuesday, for the city’s best unsullied rap, to a handful of other underground spots like The Satellite and Little Temple (now the Virgil), this coming out party was a time of cultivation for Paak. Although a struggling artist, he was already a part of the in-crowd and becoming a local favorite as one-fraction of the band that would be later known as The Free Nationals.
The band would clock countless hours in a Koreatown studio just minutes south of Hollywood with the sole goal of perfecting their craft. “We were writing some personal songs; some good, like very live, very real music, but it never came out,” Rios recalls. “ I remember Anderson would continuously say, ‘I don’t want to put this out yet. Jose, I want to wait.’ And he put out Venice first.”
Venice, which dropped in October 2014, marked the end of his childish era, opting for a variation of his government name, Brandon Paak Anderson, in lieu of the flatulence-associated alias. Under the first go-around of his new moniker, the gritty yet seductive urban pop-sounding LP was .Paak’s first major showcase of his ability to distinguish himself from other performers before taking his place amongst the industry’s elite. While its circulation was put on ice, it made him a new name to recognize in the realm of R&B, which many argued was on a steady decline. That is, until this year, when that LP’s tremor paled in comparison to the earthquake of Malibu, his early 2016 follow-up.
Whereas Venice’s sound was what the DJ would instantly spin at a rave, Malibu, in comparison, is a chill session reserved only for an upscale lounge. “Venice is grittier. You might buy some drugs over there,” .Paak, now 30, told Noisey once, unintentionally referencing “Drugs,” the tape’s clamoring, standout single. “Malibu you have to have your money right. It’s a different vibe.”
There’s a silky soul that flows through Malibu’s layered, modern take on old-school soul. Employing his Saint Paul’s Baptist Church roots this time around proved to be a godsend, lifting his riveting sound to greater heights. “It was just like the energy, I loved it,” he tells me. “I loved being there and hearing that kind of music and the emotion. I just love that atmosphere. It did a lot for me.” For .Paak, being able to make people react with genuine delight illuminated his mind like a lightbulb.
With its funky, five-mic worthy, soul-derived vibe, Malibu, which was released under independent label OBE/Steel Wool/Art Club/Empire, was a sonic awakening, not only showcasing the burgeoning talent that had been bubbling in Los Angeles’ underground music scene but the survive-by-any-means backstory that girds him. “I’m repping for the longest cycle/My uncles had to pay the cost/My sister used to sing to Whitney/My mama caught the gambling bug/We came up in a lonely castle/My papa was behind them bars/We never had to want for nothing/Said all we ever need is love,” Paak sings on Malibu’s opener, “The Birds.”
Many of the songs on Malibu are some odd years old, like “Put Me Through,” “Parking Lots,” “Celebrate” and “The Birds,” among others. “I was surprised when ‘The Birds’ opened up the album,” Rios says. “I was like, ‘Holy sh**, dude, you are the sh** for that because you understand what it is.’ He got it. It was a smart move. Timing is everything in this life, and I think the timing was dead on.”
During its hour-long play from start to finish, .Paak addresses everything, putting his personal baggage on Front Street, the pages of his diary that had never seen the light of day, let alone been read out loud for others’ judgment. On wax, Malibu plays out as a zenith of love letters to exes, tender kisses to make the sting of knee scrapes ease and, most importantly, a testament of strength that proved he in fact was not hardened by his slow-rolling commercial appeal, but thankful for its “blessing in disguise”-like arrival.
“I was kind of just waiting because I felt like they were good songs,” Paak says, “but I didn’t want to put them out and they go to deaf ears.”
Credit: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis
Waiting is something that he’s grown accustomed to. Things finally started to take a turn for the positive when one major rap cosign catapulted .Paak to another echelon of artistry. He caught the attention of rap titan Dr. Dre, who would handpick him as the single artist on Compton, his first album since 1999’s 2001, to rack up the most features (six to be exact) and eventually crown him his successor. It wasn’t until .Paak completed Compton that he would release his own hidden tracklist to the world.
“After that, I felt my album was ready. Like now I feel people are anticipating it; I got some people’s ears, more ears,” he says. “It’s a good time for me to tell them a little bit of my background and give them more of a look into my personal life because I never really done that before.”
Between a black father who was severely addicted to the deadly combination of drugs and alcohol, and a Korean mother who found herself ensconced in a gambling addiction, he spent most of his teen years surfing from couch to couch. The foundation around him seemed to be crumbling at an unprecedented rate, with plot twists around every corner, but music proved to be the only constant in his life.
The wait proved to be a pay-off. Although Malibu’s sales weren’t as strong as anticipated, word-of-mouth among tastemakers’ circles was that the kid who stole the show on Compton had put out his own project. And it’s a f**king problem.—
After yesterday’s radio silence, Adrian Miller, .Paak’s manager of four years, stands in Broccoli City’s fenced off VIP area in a rush for the one-on-one sit-down to begin. It’s nearly two hours into the festival, and his client’s set isn’t for another hour. Thus far, the day has seen drizzling rain and promises of sunshine as the crowd begins to fill the lawn. But the full-on party that resides on the grassy grounds is nothing compared to what’s nestled behind the general admission area. Down a clumsily cobbled brick path sit three trailers: .Paak’s, BJ The Chicago Kid’s, and the Internet’s. Patrick Paige, the Internet’s bassist, is walking around aimlessly. BJ and his crew are stage bound, but before taking center stage, he hops onto the largest bus, boisterous and cheerful, dapping up .Paak, toasting to another festival as the voices and music on the trailer grow louder.
Months earlier in March, the two took the stage at VIBE’s SXSW showcase to perform .Paak’s “The Waters,” which features BJ’s bubbling harmonies. In many ways, the two are cut from the same cloth. They’re both in their 30s and have faith in the notion that there are people in the world who care about real talent. They both have come to the understanding that while time is of the essence, having patience in this game is a virtue. They’ve both signed to storied record labels at a point in their careers in which many would have become jaded and stopped chasing their dreams. Theirs is a brotherly love-type of bond between the two that’s uncommon in the industry’s every-man-for-themselves ethos we see play out again and again.
It’s cramped in the trailer, a tight fit with every seat in the house taken. The Free Nationals are hanging out while a photographer snaps pictures. Avant, now .Paak’s keyboardist, is holding court over a bottle of Hendricks, and .Paak is asking for a refill, a pair of funky, golden frames shielding his eyes. He wears a Michael Jackson tour t-shirt underneath a maroon, silk kimono affixed with Chinese lettering draped over his shoulders. This time, he’s stirring another concoction, just like he’d been doing prior to his SOBs performance. “This is that coat-your-throat, baby,” he laughs without pinpointing the exact ingredients.
“So, what’s one thing someone hasn’t asked that you wish they’d ask you?” There’s a silence that emanates. “Um, um.” he says, stumbling over his words. “My shoe size?” he teases. “Man, I don’t know.” For the first time in his life, .Paak, a man whose story can be told a million different ways, seems to be speechless.
I’m completely obsessed with this right now—and really want to win. —Anderson .Paak
Over the past year, he’s been on a rollercoaster ride, mostly of groundbreaking highs—no dips or unforsaken turns like past chapters of his life—Dre’s aforementioned co-sign being the most poignant. On Jan. 30, just five months after Dr. Dre’s comeback LP Compton, .Paak announced via Twitter that he’d signed to the notoriously choosy OG producer’s Aftermath Entertainment, marking not only the iconic label’s 20th anniversary but joining reigning rap king Kendrick Lamar as the next artist to follow under the Doctor’s scrupulous tutelage. It’s for sure a status qualifier if there was ever one. .Paak then appeared on Goldlink’s And After That, We Didn’t Talk, as the warmhearted powder blue jumpsuit and baby blue Huaraches-rocking lover on “Unique.” He hopped on the hook of Domo Genesis’ lead single off his debut album and put his “Rap&B” sensibilities to use on two tracks of The Game’s The Documentary 2.5. He was featured on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ This Unruly Mess I’ve Made alongside moonlighting recording artist and full time sex symbol Idris Elba, and linked with the likes of Kaytranda and ScHoolboy Q for their recently-released LPs. He even made his TV debut on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, followed by The Tonight Show featuring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the latter supporting Genesis. Nevertheless, relishing in highs only seem to magnify the lows that jog his mind on a daily basis.
.Paak admits his schedule these days revolves solely around music, referring to it as one-sided. “It feels amazing,” he says. “I’m really proud of my band. We’ve put in a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice. A lot of girlfriends are mad, a lot of babies is not being seen.” He has a five-year-old son named Soul with his longtime-girlfriend-now-wife, who he met at the Musicians Institute. Although a vocal student from South Korea whose English at the time was very little, love and their affinity for music proved to be the languages that forged the strongest bond between the two. “If it wasn’t for my wife, I wouldn’t even know. I wouldn’t probably be able to do it like I really want to because it would be turmoil. I would be fighting my baby mama; I wouldn’t be able to properly make the music I want. I feel like a lot of people and the [ones] they’re in a relationship with, they’re battling for that attention and that time.”
Rios, Gonzalez and Avant are all getting their fair share of slack from significant others, too. “My wifey understands that. Their girlfriends don’t understand that because they’re girlfriends; they want the attention right now,” .Paak says, plainly pointing to each of the guys. “When Kobe Bryant was winning all those rings, I’m pretty sure his kids missed him, and his wife missed him. The same thing with Michael Jordan. I’m saying you can’t be the best at everything at one time. That’s how I take it. It’s just the season for what we trying to do right now. When I get home, and I see my son, and he’s getting bigger and sh**, that sh**’s hard. But then I see them sleeping in the bed and the house that we’re at, and I remember how we were laying on couches and the floor with my whole family. Now I see that the more I work and come home at four in the morning, I see that ,’Oh wow, everything’s lit now.’ I got to do this a little harder now, until I’m not having fun no more, until it’s time to hang it up. Then, it’s all about Sonny Boy.”
.Paak finds solace in being able to afford a better quality of life for his family as a husband and father, an image he never witnessed in real life, outside of the fictional characters he acquainted himself with on TV. As a child, .Paak found a sweet escape in TV. “Honestly, I was put in front of the TV for hours and hours,” he says. “My mom was a hustler, she worked so many hours. And same thing, my pops was out the picture when I was seven.” That’s the age .Paak was when he witnessed his biological father beat his mother bloody, resulting in a 14-year prison sentence for assault and battery. That was the last time .Paak would see him until his death. “I had a step-pops, but he was working a lot too.”
Along with an distractingly endless TV-as-guide filled with just about everything, he took a liking to hip-hop and dance. Although a shy, chubby kid to the outside world, .Paak was actually that hyperactive cousin dancing front and center at every family party like Michael Jackson. “I was that kid,” he laughs with a hint of embarrassment and pride rolled into one.
Credit: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis
That same enthusiastic energy has evolved into the lean, swaggerful singer-rapper that sits before me today as one of the best performers of this generation. “I think what people see off top is one dimension of what I have, but there’s different levels, dynamics, just like the music.” Influenced by the likes of Sam Cooke and Radiohead, the sound .Paak’s crafted with years of practice and performance is a direct reflection of his no-holds-barred sound.
“We played thousands of shows in front of mad different crowds all white people, all black people, like nerds, hipsters, all types–gangsters,” he says. “We played so many different vibes, so it just builds the confidence. That’s what it’s about at the end of the day, no matter what music you do. It could be a punk rock band in the middle of this line up, but if they really ‘bout that sh**, n***as are going to respect it.”
.Paak keeps a conscious tally of these memories because rockstar moments like these are fleeting. It could all be gone tomorrow. People may stop caring.
“I’m not going to be able to do this forever, and we’re going to have to move on. It’s like a season,” he says, still referencing his wifey no BM. “So if you get with somebody that don’t understand that, it’s going to be turmoil, like battle. And then n***as are going to quit one [of their loves], and sometimes they slow down on the music. Then they become a little house pet, and that’s not me right now. I’m completely obsessed with this right now—and really want to win.”
“The first time I met him was when he was opening for me. He was drumming and singing, and I was just blown away. The last drummer-singer I saw was Phil Collins,” says Shafiq Husayn, one-third of the Los Angeles-based alternative hip-hop group Sa-Ra. The collective, which was once signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, boasts writer and producer credits on stellar work by Erykah Badu, Frank Ocean, Dr. Dre, Jay Z, Jill Scott, John Legend and Goapele.
“I think I’m more of a person who knows how to switch gears and sh** just because of my background,” .Paak says. On first listen, his scratchy, soul-tinged scat screams of the boundary-pushing renaissance of rhythm and blues that’s birthed a progressive movement that artists like Miguel, Jhene Aiko and The Internet have confidently ushered in. But for .Paak, it’s much more complex. There’s no putting him in a box because like all mediums of art, when trying to package it as one branded entity for the sake of people’s understanding, the authenticity becomes diluted. You have to simply appreciate it, opening your mind to explore what all it could be
Back in 2011, when he was whacking weed for $150 an hour in Santa Barbara—one of his many odd jobs—Paak found himself out work without notice. His girlfriend was also pregnant. They soon became homeless when his sister kicked him out because he couldn’t come up with the funds to pay rent. Husayn ended up taking the couple in at his Mt. Washington, Calif. home for some months until they were able to get back on their feet.
“We started doing shows together, and he started drumming for Sa-Ra and me simultaneously,” Husayn, who also employed .Paak as an assistant, videographer, editor, writer and producer, tells me. From there, he became the band director for Shafiq Husayn and the Dub Society, even landing a gig as the touring drummer for American Idol finalist Haley Reinhart. “That brother is a hustler. He did not take no for an answer, and did not get no handouts. He literally worked for everything.” He wanted to make sure that trademark voice stood out amongst the crowd.
Fellow rising R&B star Ro James, who taps into that same infectious vein of soul, clearly remembers having this same reaction the first time .Paak’s voice filled the room nearly four years ago at a studio session in L.A. with production duo Blended Babies. “I was like, ‘Who the f**k is this?’ It kind of sounded like Cee-Lo, but he had his own thing, his own raspy rock. I was like, ‘Aww, man, I f**ks with him; he’s dope.’ It’s rare to hear voices like that. I just remember the soul and the rasp, and it was black … It was just different.”
There are some, like Husayn, who see .Paak as “Sly [Stone], Stevie [Wonder], and Bob [Marley], with a pinch of Marvin [Gaye], but in his own new note.” Still, they also understand when Rios claims his stylistic disposition leans heavily to the tenor of bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine and Earth, Wind & Fire, whose sound ranges from funk to rock.
Out of nowhere, Husayn mutters to himself: Where is music going? He answers his own question. “Genre-less,” he says. “You can’t really differentiate between what they call hip-hop, R&B anymore, trap so to say. I like what Mya said. She says, ‘Trap has become the defining sound both in R&B and hip-hop.’ You can listen to a record and immediately point that out: ‘Oh, that’s a country record.’ Why? Because it’s the twangy guitars and what not. Right now, you can’t do that. But with him, he makes a very clear-cut distinction that he knows how to do all of that. I don’t get a particular music genre from him, I just get that he can do it all.” Husayn has records with Paak that some could consider completely traditional, some may call straight up R&B, others might call neo-soul and folks others than them may call “new age or new age free.” “It depends on where you standing at,” says Husayn. “You ask him, he might say he’s just doing him.”
“Could you ever see yourself not having fun with this anymore?” I ask .Paak as he signals for Avant to refill his spiked tea. Avant screws off the top of a bottle of Hendricks. “Stop playing!” Paak chuckles, signaling for a shot of Tequila to quench his thirst.
“No,” he finally replies, redirecting his attention back to me. “I’ll always have fun with it, but I don’t know if I’m always going to be hungry,” he continues, his tone deviating from his usually playful banter. “If I’m not hungry, I don’t want to really put anything out. When I’m not inspired or I’m not hungry to make something fresh and new, and make something that’s really causing an impact, when I don’t have my ear to the streets anymore, I don’t see what’s the purpose of just making music, and your best years are behind you.”
In the background, the beat of Kanye West’s “Fade” pulsates through the trailer, as Ty Dolla $ign’s intonated warbles climax. It’s a full-on party in here at this point, and as much as I can tell, Paak—the same guy I referred to as hard to catch up with—wants nothing more than to get up and move around, probably dance and let out a “YES, LAWD” yodel. The entire time, he’s controlling the music blasting through the portable speaker from his phone, scrolling through Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Jay Z, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, and Future. “The trap sh** is hard to keep up with because it’s a lot of sh**, but I love Future,” he says. He decides on an Earl Sweatshirt selection. Weed smoke engulfs the tight space, and as the blunt makes it way from one to mouth to another, the countdown to his 3:30 p.m. set time commences.
“You know, they’re most honest right now,” he says, toying around with a bronze metal ring dangling from his pinky. He’s referring to his son, Soul, and children’s unfiltered wisdom. “They’re going to give you all truth. They’re not worried about what’s going around right now. They’re not worried about bills and sh**, so they’re in such a raw form. They’re going to tell you the first thing that’s on their mind, and I really love that about him. Keeping it 100 and enjoying the simple things. He loves dancing, he loves music, he loves video games. When you’re older, you might get conflicted, like I love this, but I got to make money.”
It’s clear Paak is conflicted—even behind pitch black shades—longing for the sense of security his family brings, but understanding that his newfound fame is another piece of the complex puzzle. And today, like how many of the days ahead of him will play out, he’s experiencing a gumbo of feelings. “When we get in front of the crowd, and they give us that energy, it feels worth it, you know,” he says, perking up a bit.
That brother is a hustler. He did not take no for an answer, and did not get no handouts. He literally worked for everything. —Shafiq Husayn
“We’re just at the peak of this sh**,” Rios, who has a daughter the same age as Soul, explains. “We just got what we wanted. We got the tour bus, we’re doing world tours. We’re headlining shows at 1,500 capacity. It’s a blessing, and right now we’re on fire, and we feel great. If anything, it’s making us feel younger because all of us are pushing 30. It’s literally taking years off our lives. I feel like a young man again. Before that, you could call us whatever you want to call us: street bums, scrapping around for change, eating sh**ty food. We were just L.A. punks running around trying to be musicians.”
When asked about their schedule for the rest of the year, .Paak is gung-ho. “Now that we’re at the festival stage, we got to kill the festival. Every f**king show’s got to be crazy like Coachella. They got to have the same intensity. Some people are seeing us for the first time, so I just want to deliver every time. And when I’m not delivering on stage, I want to be in the studio, making the next wave.”
He seems most excited that he and Knxwledge, a New Jersey-born, Los Angeles-based producer whom he met on social media a few years back, are joining forces for their inaugural NxWorries EP. Last summer, they released their first project, Link Up & Suede, and its lead single, “Suede,” became an instant viral hit, with more than a million SoundCloud listens and YouTube plays. It’s the same project that put him on Dr. Dre’s radar. “My next album, comes out when it come outs,” Anderson says, tossing the words like an afterthought. However, the status of their debut album has become a mystery. Knxwledge declined to participate in this interview.
In the meantime, .Paak is soaking up the game from his mentor. “[Dre] got me on that [Jimi] Hendrix sh**,” he proudly proclaims. “You know, just don’t f**k with everybody. Keep it tight; keep a high grade. He was like, ‘I see you like the next Marvin Gaye and sh**. Don’t just be f**king with anybody.’ Don’t do tracks with nobody, n***a. And just remember, you got a lineage, so don’t settle for less.”
On the Broccoli City Festival stage, .Paak’s energy is just as intoxicating as before, but this time without the waiting. When the Free Nationals crank up the anthemic bassline of “Come Down,” he breaks out in a shifty two-step, arms and legs flailing like the swift propellers of an airplane. He keeps on beat of the hypnotic drum loop. A young couple nearby is fully engaged, more so the guy, his head uncontrollably bobbing to the stacked Hi-Tek beat. Near the wind down of his set, the same guy is fully committed to the performance, mouthing lyrics word-for-word.
“I don’t know. You can’t deny it; it’s just talent, pure talent,” the festival-goer within earshot says to his girlfriend. His name is Ka-Uchay, a 27-year-old Maryland native who’s been following .Paak since the name change and cites the retro demeanor of “The City,” which perfectly spliced hip-hop and soul, as the initial introduction that spoke to him.
“I mean, there’s an old soul; you can see it in him,” he says, continuing to bob his head to the since changed beat, now holding his girlfriend’s hand. “It’s just funny how energy reincarnates itself through different generations. I feel like he’s a modern-day version of a James Brown.” This is yet another legendary comparison that people make without hesitation when .Paak’s name is brought up in conversation.
Credit: VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis
The next morning, I’m woken by a familiarly shimmering bassline, thanks to an iPhone illuminated with the film-like first visual from Malibu, “The Season / Carry Me / The Waters,” playing. It’s a five-minute pop art mashup narrating Paak’s nearly decade-long grind. “That video he just put out is REAL DEAL his SPILL on his life,” Husayn proudly gushed via email.
Nearly four-minutes into the video, .Paak and BJ appear for “The Waters” decked out in all-white, Sunday best attire. The collaboration is already damn good on wax, but the visual element puts it all into perspective. It’s a feel-good moment that sends chills up your spine, making even a sinner speak in tongues. But it was in this moment that only his signature sanctified shout could suffice to sum up the realization that the not-so-new vanguards of soul have finally arrived:
“I’m glad that you finally made it to the future but you’re late
And the price is through the muthaf**kin’ roof
If you want you could wait outside the building
I ain’t takin’ no more meetings”
Two days later, news surfaces that Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals have announced a four month-long Malibu World Tour, on top of a festival season schedule that includes Pitchfork in Chicago, Panorama in New York, Wireless in London, Splash! in Germany, Pemberton in Canada and One Music in Atlanta, among others. But there are still lots of places to see, faces to meet and work to be done. Paak’s supersquad has no intention of leaving those hungry crowds wanting.
Waiting, though? That’s another story. But bet it’ll be worth every minute.
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