Dean Van Nguyen only drives on the PCH if he’s getting Neptune’s Net.
Anderson .Paak is a child of nowhere. Sure, his driver’s license once read Oxnard, but in four short years the former Breezy Lovejoy has crafted a musical canon that has absorbed almost every genre. From trippy electronica and smoky neo soul, to neck-snappin’ Southern swing, the wheels have never come off .Paak’s suede-seated Caddy—no matter what octane he puts in the tank. But there’s one thing his eclectic catalogue has never answered. What does Brandon listen to when he’s at home?
Malibu is the dapper don’s most personal piece to date—a doleful memoir covering 29 turbulent years. Before Anderson was old enough to hit the clubs that inspired large chunks of his 2014 debut Venice, he had seen both his mother, a native South Korean who pitched up in Compton in the ‘60s, and father, an Air Force officer-turned-mechanic, separately hauled off to jail. The next time .Paak would see his dad was in a coffin. Malibu tries to make sense of the hard times by laying them out for all to see. .Paak finds therapy in the album’s throwback aesthetics. Maybe even some peace.
That first pair of Jordans, a hissing analogue TV, the sound of his sister singing Whitney; Anderson is into minutia, rebuilding the living room of his adolescence with little details and inviting listeners to take a seat. There’s no broad social examinations like his star-making turn on Dr Dre’s “Animals.” The playalistic trash-talking of recent side-project Knxledge is also mostly absent. And .Paak sings here more than he raps, his voice carrying the blues like a drifter moving through the Mississippi Delta. Opener “The Bird,” for example, has the warmth of a comfort blanket as the smooth vocalist gently gives thanks. “We never had to want for nothing/Said all we ever need is love,” he croons.
There are moments when his lyrics are more barbed. Across two beats and a variety of vocal styles on single “The Season/Carry On,” Anderson links past, present, and future. He calls out yearnfully for his mother, recalls hard times spent sleeping on a floor with his newborn baby, and laments the limited impact of his new-found success (“Ain’t shit change but the bank statements”). Closer “The Dreamer” finds him raising his cup to the victories he’s enjoyed by reminiscing on those hard yards put in (“I’m a product of the tube and the free lunch”). For a rapper whose satin smoothness has been a primary weapon, unshackling himself of all humility cuts to the bone.
Soundtracking this introspective look into the past is a series of old school joints that echo the music that probably once breezed out of .Paak’s kitchen sill radio. Malibu plays like your AM dial stuck on the oldies, covering everything from Stevie Wonder-esque soul and slithering 90s R&B, to blue room jazz and Off The Wall disco, all filtered through the hip-hop blender. “The Waters” finds Madlib in peak form—all crisp snares and a lean bassline, with BJ The Chicago Kid making for a convincing D’Angelo. That’s the level the record aspires to reach.
The high-points keep coming. “Am I Wrong” drains seventies disco of hedonism, leaving behind just a glittering floor filler. “Without You” sees Anderson recall a decade-old love story over the kind of rattling rhythm and bounce beat that its producer 9th Wonder was selling to Destiny’s Child at the time. The tinkling jazz of The Game-featuring “Room In Here” sees .Paak cosying up to his girl, and he goes big ballad on “Silicon Valley,” maybe because he can do just about anything and wants to prove it to you.
Anderson enjoyed a boost in profile last year after his six-track stint on Dre’s socially-engaged love letter to his hometown, Compton. Those expecting similar geographical clues in the title of Malibu are wide of the mark. This is no escape from LA’s concrete boulevards. Just a young artist delving into the depths of his talent and finding the light. Or cocooning himself in his demons and emerging as something beautiful. Anderson .Paak is now fully-formed.