Dean Van Nguyen is more of a dirty south trash talker.
Anderson .Paak might have been more comfortable in the era that popularized his plaid, polyester suits. The prolific soul man has shown his worth on everything from the electronic blips of “Drugs” to the UGK-swerve of “So Slow.” But a lot of .Paak’s best stuff steps with a ‘70s strut. With hip-hop hippie Knxwledge, he might just have found his silkiest garments.
If you missed .Paak’s story when his excellent solo album Malibu dropped earlier this year, let’s briefly recap: The Oxnard native has long circumnavigated the LA scene but his star really took off when he hooked up last year with Dr. Dre on his curtain call opus from Compton. “Animals,” in particular, saw the Good Doctor shift into .Paak’s lane, and not vice versa.
Knxwledge, meanwhile, has dropped some 75 projects on Bandcamp since 2009, jumped the Atlantic to release music on Ireland-based label All-City and, eventually, worked his way into Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt’s phone contacts. His donuts are filled with Dilla-style offbeat drums and enough wacky samples and movie dialogue splices to appease God Emperor DOOM.
The team-up teased their potential on last year’s Link Up & Suede, an EP that packaged the two excellent singles with some short snippets, as well as “Droogs,” a remake of “Drugs” that deleted the computer sounds and replaced them with a Fred Williamson-sized baseline and acidic talkbox-style vocals, turning the original’s LSD-laced freak out into a California weed jam.
But the EP was just the weigh-in ahead of the main event. “A full album, fuck the EP shit,” Knxwledge told Hypetrack ahead of the release “Fuck not putting out music for five years then putting out five tracks. I hate EPs. It’s going to be a full album; it’s going to be the first one.” The producer may have made a career putting out music in the most scattershot way possible, but Yes Lawd! excels by drawing on that same beat tape ethos.
Decades of soul, R&B, rap, doo-wop, gospel and bossa nova can be heard in Yes Lawd!’s deep grooves. Knxwledge takes dozens of dusty old 7-inch singles and smashes them to pieces, forming the album’s quick-fire sonic vignettes from the melted-down scraps. Over the grubby orchestration, .Paak’s playalistic trash-talking is in full speed. These are hustler anthems: fur coats in the summertime, no joint left un-sparked, no shot of brown liquor left undrunk.
Yes Lawd! will attract 1,000 Madvillainy comparisons. Both projects were released on Stones Throw. Both fire tracks at you like they’re being blasted from a Gatling gun (most of the 19 on Yes Lawd! don’t hit the three-minute mark). And Knxwledge’s crate digging enterprises make it easy to stack his beats next to those of Madlib. Like the Beat Konducta, Knxwledge doesn’t mind dipping into the canon and pulling a Gil Scott-Heron sample, but he’ll also find moments on old Brazilian 12-inch records worth mining.
NxWorries feels like the Superman to Madlib and DOOM’s Bizarro Superman—they’re going to use their powers for good, not evil. While Madvillain sounded like they recorded in the hidden depths of a hollowed-out volcano on the super-villain’s remote island lair, NxWorries soak up the sun. On “Livvin,” the first real song after a brief intro, .Paak kisses the sky and counts his virtues over triumphant drums rolls, rich horns and a small gospel choir. “How did I do it? Nothing but the ambition.” It’s the victory lap he deserves.
Knxwledge fully unlocks the vocalist’s swagger. The songs on Malibu were relatively conventional. Yes Lawd! has a much more freewheeling approach. “Can’t Stop” is a two-minute piece of melancholic loops that makes way for indecipherable, manipulated vocals. “H.A.N.” starts off as a studio recording and ends up switching into a freestyle open mic performance somewhere in the middle. This is an album with ideas stacked on ideas.
There are songs, though. Knxwledge syncs up some old strings and horns for the Motown-esque “What More Can I Say,” while “Get Bigger/Do U Luv” is a classic track for the dreamers. A core tenet of hip-hop has always been the come up, but .Paak brings scintillating first-person storytelling, contrasting his dour 9-5 life of working in a supermarket with nights spent dressing fly, sipping cheap beer and working on his music.
Freeing himself from traditional song structure allows .Paak to fully explore one of his great attributes: building narratives through that off-the-cuff, cool-as-hell flow of his. Yes Lawd! could basically be read as a week in the life of a low-level drifter, shuffling through different girls, narcotics, and hustles. On “Best One”, an album highpoint, Anderson celebrates a woman who gives him the occasional hot meal and roof over his head: “You love me like I could be leaving in a moment’s notice/You telling me to stay until the morning/You know a nigga homeless.” His bars sound loose and conversational. For .Paak’s brash fast-talking, it’s never lost that surviving every day is worth celebrating.
“Suede” and “Link Up” are well over a year old, but both tracks increase the album’s first serve percentage, and encapsulate NxWorries’ collective sparkle. On “Suede,” the beatmaker chops up the soul as the frontman swerves his candy-painted Chevy left-to-right while name-dropping Marvin Gaye. “Link Up” is both a steal-your-girl anthem and a two-step call to action. This is dead-on rebuilding of old school ostentation, no surface-level Instagram filters needed. You could launch a presidential campaign on how these guys are better together.