“I’m Just Kind of this Hybrid Thing”: An Interview with Anderson .Paak

Torii MacAdams and Anderson .Paak talk about raising a child while being on the road, underrated musicians, and expectations surrounding fame.
By    May 12, 2016


I’d just left my house when Anderson .Paak’s publicist called to ask that, if it wasn’t too much trouble, if it wouldn’t be out of line for her to suggest, could I please, please not ask her client the same five questions about his flirtations with homelessness and his newfound mentorship from Dr. Dre that he’d been answering for months. I hadn’t planned on it–there’s a richness to .Paak, as human and artist, that’s not easily summarized or bullet-pointed.

The conversation between .Paak and I went smoothly aside from occasional interruptions by his adorable, nattily-dressed son, Soul, whose giggly bodyslams only buried his father deeper into the recesses of a massive beanbag chair. It was this ultra-featherweight who I’d hoped to ask about, and there he was, in more fashionable duds than I, assaulting my interview subject. Stardom has irrevocably changed .Paak’s life, but so has fatherhood: whether he’s on stage at Coachella, or playing 12 shows in four days at South By Southwest, his family are waiting at home. He weathered my half-an-hour interrogation for them. —Torii MacAdams

How’s parenthood?

Anderson .Paak: It’s dope. It’s really dope when you’ve got a good partner. I don’t understand how you can…I have a lot of respect for people who do it on their own. People ask me like, ‘How do you balance it right now?,’ and it’s very unbalanced. I’m gone 80 percent of the time, so without my partner, my wife, it would be ridiculously hard to do anything. I really cherish and appreciate the time I have off and really devote it to them, because it’s far and few between right now.

Do you feel like you’re not bearing enough of the weight as a parent? Or you’re just doing as much as you can?

Anderson .Paak: Right now it’s just the season you know. It’s like when Kobe’s getting scoring titles and Michael Jordan’s winning championships: when they were at the peak of their careers, I don’t believe that they could do all these things at once. They probably weren’t the best friend, or the best dads at those points as far as putting in the most time–they provided for sure–but you can’t buy quality time and being there for months, just chilling, waking up with them. The longer I’m in the house the less gets done and the worse financial state we’re in. So, right now the season is for me to work and maximize this opportunity I have, of being a musician. I really wanna win at this, so it’s very unbalanced.

My wife is very understanding and doesn’t really compete with what I’m doing right now and what I’m trying to achieve. She’s in agreement and we have the same goal. We know we’re making a way for the family–and maybe more kids–and we’re working hard right now so we can have time off later. Lots of time, to just devote to [Soul], and I can just get fat and eat whatever I want and watch him do his thing.

 Do you have advice for parents of young children?

Anderson .Paak: Everything is different. These little guys are what you make them, especially at this age. What you put into them is what you get. They’re little investments–what you feed them, what you let them watch, and what you let them read, and what you read to them, and what you feeding into them is how you’re making these little humans. They’re part of you, and more importantly, they’re gonna be a part of this world. I want him to be able to contribute. I want him to be something special to this world, so I wanna put good things into him, and his mom is the same. That’d be my only advice. And be very smart with who you partner with when you’re making babies.

You say on “Suede” that all of your bitches roll spliffs and cook grits at the same time. Is that the key to marital success?

Anderson .Paak: [Laughing] Yeah! The key to marital success is multi-tasking. Sometimes you gotta bring the fam’ with you, sometimes you gotta be able to do interviews and watch after your kid [Soul, meanwhile is stomping around the room]. You gotta be able to cook and clean and go party at night. It’s a lot. Like playing drums and singing at the same time.

I read in an interview that you had accomplished like 90% of your life goals in 2015. Do you have new goals for 2016?

Anderson .Paak: I just got this studio, so that was another one of them that we marked down. I gotta write down a new set. I got a few things–it would awesome to get a Grammy. I really think Malibu could have a chance of getting nominated. We’ll see what other records come out, but it’d be awesome.

So you actually wrote out those goals?

Anderson .Paak: Yeah. I had them all written out. It didn’t happen over a year, but a matter of a few years. At the end of last year I sat down and I was like ‘Oh shit! Everything is done. I need a new one.’ There was a couple ones we didn’t achieve, but it was mostly simple stuff like ‘Get a car, get a new house, get health insurance, make a certain amount of money, get signed, be a part of a number one record.’ It was a lot of stuff. ‘Don’t sell your soul, don’t dress up as a woman,’ just mad shit…

Who have you been listening to recently, or who have you been finding inspiration in?

Anderson .Paak: It’s so random, but Westside Gunn and Conway, [scrolling through iPhone] King, Tame Impala, Rage Against The Machine, Black Flag, Amy Winehouse, Ka, HXLT [Holt], Massive Attack’s new project, Skyzoo, Vulfpeck, and Your Old Droog.

That’s a little surprising. I didn’t think you’d be into New York rap.

Anderson .Paak: Yeah. I grew up listening to Snoop, and Dre, and Tupac, Westside Connection–we loved all that stuff–but when I was in ninth grade I met my brother-in-law, and he was from Brooklyn. I was into Lil Wayne and the Hot Boys at the time–I graduated in 2004, so this is the 2000’s shit–but when he came he put me onto Jay-Z and Cam’ron and a lot of East Coast Shit. I loved it, I loved the whole mixtape culture, and I was obsessed with East Coast rap from then on. Rocafella, Dipset, things like that. And then it just kind of followed.

I got into J Dilla really late, but I started liking a lot of loop-based rap. It’s just really refreshing to hear New York rap. Hip-hop used to have identity within the regions. I like where everything’s going, kind of blending, but sometimes I miss when I used to go to Atlanta for the summer and hear things that were out there that only sounded like that–

Like Kilo Ali–

Anderson .Paak: Yeah, Pastor Troy and stuff [Soul jumps into .Paak’s lap]. And the same thing with New York. To hear these dudes like Raekwon and Ghostface rapping over these simplistic loops still–everyone just trying to sound like Drake or just some trap stuff–is really refreshing to me. It’s just an added texture that I like.

You mentioned Westside Connection, Snoop Dogg, and a few other acts. Where do you see–[Soul clumsily launches himself head-first from an oversized beanbag chair into my leg] Oops! Are you okay?–where do you see yourself in a continuum for LA music?

Anderson .Paak: I think it’s like a hybrid thing. I think it’s like this big Venn diagram, and I wanna be the one with tentacles to everyone in some shape or form. I come up out of the hip-hop culture, so rapping is definitely a part of it, but there’s people who have evolved out of it, to where it’s like ‘Would you still call them rappers?’ you know?

Like Andre 3000’s The Love Below is one of my favorite albums. Would you say that it’s just a rap album? He had big band orchestras, he was doing a lot of alternative stuff, and I think that was one of the albums that paved the way for the evolution of the MC.

I was really inspired by that, even on the West Coast. I see myself as someone who follows in those footsteps, that’s trying to push hip-hop to something different. I’m also a musician–I’m a drummer first–so that’s my foundation and a lot of the other stuff is learnt, and had to be developed over time. I’m just kind of this hybrid thing.

It’s interesting to see how much The Love Below has resonated. That’s my least favorite Outkast album, but it seems like of all their albums, that’s the one that’s really most influential at the moment.

Anderson .Paak: You could feel it brewing. They’d always been on some shit, and that album was awesome because they were like ‘You know what, we’re just gonna do our thing, full expression of what we wanna do.’ And they did that. I loved Big Boi’s [album Speakerboxxx], too, but I really loved Andre because he was singing and stretching out.

I think a lot of rappers really wanna be able to stretch out like that, but for some reason they get caught up and feel like they can’t do that, or feel like they got some ceiling. And you got a lot of rappers that could probably be blues musicians, but they feel like they gotta be in this rap box or whatever.

And some of ‘em don’t give a fuck and they branch out and become something else entirely, Kanye West included. I feel like it’s great, but that’s also why I love people that just rap. There’s no rap-singing or producing–they just spit bars over a loop. I love that, and I feel those are the real emcees these days.

Now rappers wanna be able to do different things in order to stand out, but they might not be really good at anything. I think The Love Below is really important because it was like ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna do me 100 percent and show people that there’s more within this hip-hop thing.’ I loved the songwriting. On top of that, there were a lot of pop hits.

 Do you see yourself as someone who starts at rap and becomes a crossover star?

Anderson .Paak: Do I see it? I see myself rocking for big crowds and traveling the world. Time will tell. I think before I’m out of here I’ll definitely get one [big hit]. But there’s so many ways to skin a cat now. I think we’re gonna get it our own way, but I definitely see my music becoming, as I grow, more and more and more digestible. So, whatever that means.

You’re known as a dynamic performer. What do you think makes a great performance or a great performer?

Anderson .Paak: Someone who’s well prepared, who has the ability to have that confidence on stage, command attention, work with the energy that is given to them, and have a sense of freedom, too. Those are my favorite artists. I love the ones that are tight, everything’s rehearsed. That’s awesome, but I also love the ones that have a sense of spontaneity. When you look at them, it’s almost like they’re filled with this energy, and they’re like a vessel and releasing–they’re so prepared, they’ve put in so many hours, that they’re tight.

During the show you never know what can happen. You get energy from a crowd, and just throw it, and bend it; people are going to a show and they want you to give them life, and in return they’re gonna have a moment. So you’re having this transfer of energy, and that’s when artists start jumping off of speakers and start screaming and crying. It’s no different than a basketball game, or a punk rock show, or church. That’s what I try to grasp a hold of.

If the audience is embarrassed, or they’re waiting for someone else, and an artist can still give it their all knowing it’s from a genuine state, that’s an amazing thing. You have a lot of audiences where they don’t wanna be in the moment: they wanna capture it, and say it was awesome. You just have to press through it sometimes. A good performer can work with the energy and be prepared.

You mentioned drawing from a lot of scenes. You were around Los Angeles’ underground for a while, and now you’re on Aftermath. Do you feel torn between those two scenes, or those two L.A.’s?

Anderson .Paak: No, not at all. That’s what made me. You can’t fake it–people try to do shortcuts, and they get big record deals with no grassroots following, and nobody believes it. You might have a number one hit, but nobody knows you, and nobody’s gonna come to your shows because you don’t have any diehard fans. I’ve seen showcases at South by Southwest, where dudes who have hits don’t have nobody in the crowd. Nobody really cares. That’s not what I wanted.

I wanted to have the love and the respect of the people first. It meant the world to me to be able to have records on Stones Throw, to have that lineage, and also have lineage with Dr. Dre. That’s exactly what I wanted to get at. The people that I looked up to–the Tupac’s, the Dre’s–they all had this scene they were a part of first, which propelled them to where they are now. The only thing that comes into play now is the timing.

You get to this certain situation, and get a certain amount of success, and your time becomes tight and you can’t always hang wit the same people. Or, you might be gone a lot, and people start to feel like you’ve changed, or you’re “Hollywood,” and they anticipate that shit sometimes. That becomes annoying because in reality you’re supposed to evolve and always want to get better, and learn, and get bigger. Some people don’t do that, and they want you to stay the same with them. When that doesn’t happen they might try to put false titles on you, and say that you changed. None of that’s really happened to me, but I’ve seen it before.

I’ve also seen people that are afraid of success, and they wanna stay at that underground level because it’s comfortable. They have the talent to really be on a broader scale, but it’s scary, and some people are afraid of that. That’s not something I wanted to do either. I never wanted to just stay comfortable and stay hanging around the same scene. I wanted to go conquer, blow that spot, and say ‘What’s the next spot?’ I find pleasure in connecting the dots, especially on this next album. I’ve had a lot of fun working with the underground people I’m really into, and newer people that are on a bigger scale.

I was trying to explain you to someone who’s not really into music, and was saying “He’s kind of the guy who’s partially in the underground and becoming this mainstream musician who hasn’t abandoned his roots.”

Anderson .Paak: That’s part of the reason I started NxWorries [pronounced “no worries”]. My manager and I fought about it for a minute, because I wanted to have this outlet. I think it’s important, and no one’s done that shit. Why is it all these rock ‘n’ roll dudes get to have all these personalities? You should be able to do what you want.

[Underground artists] are the people that the industry is feeding off of in every form, from fashion to the music. The streets are where they’re getting all this from, and once it gets to the mainstream, it’s done. Once it finally does travel up to the dinosaurs, it’s a done deal, the work is done. At that point they just want to make money off of it.

People like Hellfyre Club, the Nocando’s, the Dumbfoundead’s, the Bananas scene, DeaThLA–all these people knew about me years ago, five to eight years ago when I first came out here. They knew I was dope, and they instilled confidence in me, saying ‘You’re dope, we fuck with you.’ And I was super into them. I thought they were the dopest people around. That respect from them was super important. These were the people getting us on bills, and they were the ones at the shows and getting the city talking about it. Eventually it made its way up. You need support from real artists, especially in hip-hop.

Who do you feel is underappreciated in Los Angeles, or deserves more attention?

Anderson .Paak: I think Earl Sweatshirt is one of the better rappers of today. He’s super young, and I don’t know if he gets talked about enough. There’s Tiffany Gouché, there’s SiR–but I feel like all those people are gonna have their shine, too. When you asked me that, I just thought about Earl.

One of the things about Earl is that sometimes people, myself included, tend to forget how young he is.

Anderson .Paak: Exactly. He’s super young. And their whole squad, the whole OF movement. They came in and obliterated shit. They’re still killing it, and now they’re starting to get their individual runs–I work with Domo [Genesis] and he’s about to put out his debut. It’s crazy how much they did at such a young age and how talented those dudes are.

On the lyricist tip–and I didn’t really understand it until I went on the road with him and really got into his music–he’s super dope. He’s super unique, nobody’s doing what he’s doing. You know exactly who it is when he’s on. I like identity.

Do you think you’d be a different artist if you’d gotten famous as young as Earl did?

Anderson .Paak: I know I wasn’t ready when I was that age. I have a lot of respect for those kids. I wasn’t making music anywhere near that. My mind was nowhere. I had no work ethic, no focus, at that point. I was just kind of scrambling, just trying to figure out life. I didn’t even have my son yet, so I know I would’ve been fucked. I was just living completely for self. To have that much money and fame and attention probably would’ve been really dangerous for me at that age. I can’t even fathom it.

That’s why God is good and timing is awesome, because I don’t know if it could’ve happened any other way. I just needed time in order to get confident in what I do and find my way. That’s what I’m most proud of: getting in front of people and staying true to myself when they ask me to do me. I love that.

Do you think an artist has to suffer for their work?

Anderson .Paak: I think an artist has to invest hours and hours and hours, and anybody who is really, really good at what they do is investing time, time, time, a lot of time. If they are human, then, at some point, there’s gonna be some suffering, because people are going to want their time and they can’t have it. Sometimes the person is going to ignore their health–things like that–and suffering and pain is inevitable when it comes to being great. I think being lonely is inevitable.

Do you feel like you’re in competition with someone like Bruno Mars–

Anderson .Paak: I don’t feel there’s any competition. At the end of the day, at the full maturation of what I’m doing, it’s not a competition. What I’m doing is creating my own lane in the truest sense. That’s not taking away from a Bruno Mars or anything like that–I would love to make these records as big as he does, without compromise–but the lane that I’m carving I don’t feel like there’s competition.

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