IN LATE SEPTEMBER 2014, L.A.-based producer TOKiMONSTA dropped Desiderium, a mostly forgettable (sort of) full-length that probably should have been awesome. Korean-born Jennifer Lee is known primarily for these huge, Madlib-esque explorations in jazz-infused hip-hop, but she took a trap-heavy risk on this third LP. Much of it falls short in a bunch of really weird ways as a result, but the album deserves at least some accolade for one very specific reason: ”Realla”, this beautifully drugged up slow banger featuring vocals by some kid named Anderson .Paak. “Realla” wins for a number of reasons: It’s the only track on Desiderium that showcases Lee’s ability to use bass as an incubator for her impressive folio of guest spots. In terms of production, it’s the cleanest and crispest track on the LP, and the margin is pathetic. Dynamically, it reaches farther than any other track too. And then there’s the sampling, a TOKiMONSTA wheelhouse item that fluctuates “Realla” between breathtaking highs and ghastly lows. You get the idea here—the song is badass.
Most important and most substantial of all of “Realla”’s wins, however, is Paak, this kid from Oxnard, California who provides the syrupy vocals that make the track so captivating.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I should have had my eyes transfixed on Paak. See, just a few months later, he dropped Venice, a debut LP that introduced this creative, super-stylish emcee who can rap with breakneck ferocity and Kendrick-like rasp just as well as he can pull off a near-flawless D’Angelo-esque baritone. Even two years ago, Paak was flashing signs of brilliance with a truly unique blend of lyrical hip-hop and bebop-era R&B.
What I’m ultimately getting at here is that Malibu makes me wish I would have heard this shit two years ago.
That’s the long and short of it, really. What Paak has done with Malibu is integrate the best parts of Venice (namely “Put You On”, “Paint”, and “Luh You”) with this guiltlessly likable James Brown…thing. Paak’s got the musicianship down to a science. Now it’s clear he’s working on what his music feels like.
And for good reason. Paak has clearly been taking notes from Brown, Rafael Saadiq and D’Angelo, and his time in the studio making Malibu seems to have been spent refining every single measure to accentuate the soul in Paak’s voice. What we get as a result are monster tracks like “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance”. Listen to literally the very first line of the first verse of “Chance” and tell me your stomach doesn’t sink a little when Paak implores you to “Be careful: The idle mind is a dangerous place to be left in.”
There’s something to be said about the help Paak received in producing Malibu. “The Waters” features Madlib himself dropping a thick, sultry groove as the liquid foundation for one of the most soulful tracks on the album. Double track “The Season/Carry Me” features 9th Wonder going low-heavy on the tremendous first half. And Montreal-based house specialist Kaytranada delivers an earworm of a hook on “Lite Weight”, spearheading the dance sensibilities that make Malibu so vital.
There are so many other talking points regarding this album. Frankly, I’m a little put out that 2016 has been hit so heavily by an LP that will undoubtedly land in the year’s top ten. I thought I had a couple months to chill. But the point is this: Malibu will appeal to you, your mother, your son, your pastor, your record shop owner and your favorite local DJ’s, because you feel afraid to classify it as anything.
But there’s this one moment in particular when Paak makes his intention most clear. “Am I Wrong” goes off on this epic groove tangent, exposing Paak’s penchant for intricacy and attention to detail. Built large with a truly funk-heavy production effort from Pomo and featuring Schoolboy Q doing his best hype-guy impression, “Am I Wrong” gives you Anderson .Paak from all his best angles—the shifty rapper, the vocal soothsayer, the stylish auteur.
That’s the best thing about Paak, I think. He reminds me why style matters so much in music. Does it border on corny every now and then? Of course it does, because all the best look-up-not-down albums do, too. But Paak has a gift, and we’re eager to hear from this guy again soon. A MINUS