Anderson .Paak may just be the smoothest human walking the face of the Earth. And I’m not exaggerating.
Up until very recently, you could find him gliding around (he doesn’t walk; lame people walk) wearing a wild array of clothing that he somehow pulls off, probably either shouting out an impromptu “Yes Lawd!” or breaking into a hilariously-rigid milly rock as flocks of girls shroud him in cheers and underwear. And, through it all, attached to his nose was his notorious double septum nose ring.
While it’s more ridiculous than any piece of clothing he’s managed to make look cool, Paak has somehow turned the bull-style nose ring into the most unattainably suave piece of fashion known to man. In some of my wildest dreams, I imagine that maybe, MAYBE I could attempt to don the orange and purple squiggly-shape-adorned blazer he wears in his “Suede” music video, but not even in my most absurd daydream would I be wearing Paak’s infamous nose ring. The piece of jewelry has been this smooth superhero’s cape, hovering with him in the wind as he captured the hearts and ears of women and music-lovers everywhere
But when the world needed it most, it vanished.
It would be unfair to call Anderson .Paak a singer, or a rapper, or someone who makes hip-hop music. What the uber-talented musician really embodies is so much more than a singular label. Paak is a genre-bending recording artist who infuses elements of soul, jazz, hip-hop, gospel, R&B and much, much more into a beautifully amalgamated cauldron of talent and personality.
Paak’s soulful pipes could lift Marvin Gaye out of his grave and his penchant for penning sultry tales of lust and side-women would make Will Ferrell’s pimp alter-ego Gator proud. Paak often paints the walls of my happiness with vibrant colors. On days when the sun is out and I’m feeling great, it’s almost impossible not to throw on one of his many gravitating songs and watch my confidence multiply as Paak croons away about married women attempting to win his love for no reason at all.
Paak’s two 2016 albums, “Malibu” and the Knxwledge collaboration “Yes Lawd!,” are sonic butter. The former details the confessions of an effortlessly talented man finally reaching fame, while the latter plays like the secretly-scrawled autobiography of a 1970’s-era pimp. Both albums follow a man with an unmistakable panache from escapade to escapade, whether it be humble beginnings picking strawberries for pennies or riding in a classic muscle car detailed with woodgrain, suede and candy paint.
As the expression goes, women want him, and men want to be him. And how could you disagree? Words almost can’t even do his natural charisma justice. Just go watch his music videos for “Suede” and “Link Up.” He wears massive circular-framed glasses, turquoise turtle-necks and fedoras while drinking 40s, wooing women and smiling his massive smile that seems to contain countless teeth. It’s truly a spectacle of personality and musical effervescence. And all the while, what I considered the centerpiece of his throwback soul style sat dangling from his nose: the septum ring. Yet, as the years wore on and 2018 brought a personal anticipation for his new album like almost no other, his trademark of smooth disappeared into thin air, and, sadly, so did his musical magic.
Before I get into the disappointment of Paak’s new album “Oxnard,” I just want to say this as a disclaimer: “Oxnard” takes nothing away from his one-of-a-kind talent, personality or musical genius. I have a handful of theories to why the new album isn’t good, ranging from Dr. Dre’s out-of-touch, and, frankly, old fingerprints being all over it to Paak wanting to achieve mainstream success and opting for a safer sound.
Regardless, “Oxnard” was an almost instant disappointment. All of Paak’s incredible energy, high-spirited instrumentals and smoothly criminal ways were gone. What remained really isn’t terrible, but at the end of the day, it isn’t Paak. I mean, there are good songs on “Oxnard,” don’t get me wrong; it’s lovely to hear Snoop Dogg weave in and out of a G-funk beat on “Anywhere” or to listen to Paak’s raspy belting over a bass guitar’s booming groove on “Smile / Petty,” but what’s going on during “Who R U?” Who chose the atrocious beat for “Mansu Musa?” Who let Paak do an imitation Jamaican patois on the album closer “Left to Right?” Where’s the soul? The funk? The impossible-to-imitate personality? And, most importantly, where’s the nose ring?
“Oxnard” may not be a bad album, but it’s not the Anderson .Paak I came to know and love. The best moments on the album don’t seem to belong to him, as strange as that may seem. The man with the amount of allure and moxie it would take to bring a morgue back to life appears almost nonexistent on his new musical offering. Pusha-T, Snoop Dogg and J. Cole all leave their mark, but Paak seems out of pocket, attempting to adapt to some of the strange instrumental choices instead of carving out his own unique sound like he has in the past. It’s an enjoyable album, but the difference between “Oxnard” and “Malibu” or “Yes Lawd!” is that it’s no longer electrifying; it doesn’t grip you with the evocative idiosyncrasies that make his past work so special.
In other words, it’s not wearing a septum ring. Well, that, and it’s not making it look better than you could have ever imagined.