What did we do to deserve not one, but two new projects from Anderson .Paak in 2016? Ever since breaking out last year with repeated guest spots on Dr. Dre’s Compton, Paak’s star has been rapidly ascendant. His warm, soulful sophomore record Malibu is one of the best albums of the year — a kaleidoscopic epic that moves fluidly between genres and moods while basking in an aura of breezy positivity and undeniable musicality. Paak can do it all — he can sing, play keyboards, drum, lead a killer band (the Free Radicals) — the comparisons to Curtis Mayfield and Sly Stone, while perhaps not yet fully earned, certainly aren’t too far off-base. He’s a welcome respite from the bevy of processed, personality-devoid pop-EDM junk currently occupying the airwaves. But lest we forget, dude can also rap — a dexterous, raspy flow that juggles tongue-twisting double-entendres like the best of hip-hop’s current heavyweights. His new project Yes Lawd!, a beat-tape of sorts with his favorite rising producer, Knxwledge, zeroes in on his rap credentials and expands dramatically upon his ever-impressive musicality. Thank the Lawd.
Yes Lawd! pulls off a fascinating trick of simultaneously seeming scattered and yet completely focused. Paak and Knxwledge’s nineteen tracks hover most frequently in the two-minute range, often coming across as 75%-completed sketches. Yet, that scrappiness and demo-quality aura make the album all the more compelling. The record’s mixtape mood feels lived-in and the chemistry between the two artists is palpable, never failing to make your head sway or your toes tap. Triumphant opener “Livvin” and “What More Can I Say” ride dusty, exultant horn samples and chipmunked vocal samples, while “Scared Money” and “Kutless” are bolstered by electronic keyboards and borrowed 80s soft rock-melodics. Cuts like “Can’t Stop” and “Lyk Dis” embody a vintage sound — soundbytes chopped and screwed, cut up and pasted together in a sonic collage that would make Dilla proud. Knxwledge’s production work on Yes Lawd! generates a kind of audio playground where beats, bass, and samples gleefully rattle around in your headphones. Hell, even the interlude skits (“H.A.N.”, “Jodi”), typically a throwaway space-filler of hip-hop albums, are genuinely funny.
Not that we should expect anything else from Paak, but the record is also deeply, deeply soulful. Paak has one of the most captivating male voices in R&B and hip-hop today — a melodious rasp alternately nonchalant and impassioned. As a result, a good portion of the record seems deliberately designed to be played between the hours of 10 PM and 3 AM. Over Knwxledge’s buoyant beats, Paak croons and flirts his way across a seemingly endless parade of lovers, while also voicing his contradictory desire to be faithful. His Casanova tendencies provide Yes Lawd! with its primary narrative thread, particularly on “Starlite” and “What More Can I Say”. The former sees Paak begging someone to say because “they’re playing our song,” while the latter finds Paak hedging his bets by saying “Lately I’m trying to be faithful / as long as I’m off the drink.” Ultimately, the effort seems futile as the record’s closer is haunted by a scorned lover telling Paak that she hopes his house burns down.
Admittedly, some of the best tracks here have already been heard. “Suede”, released back in December, is still the standout song, a skittering, organ-slamming confidence cut and staple of Paak’s live show. The thumping, gently rolling “Link Up” is a great mood-setter, and the previously introductory “Another Time” has now thankfully been fleshed out to a wonderful Ashford & Simpson throwback. But the slight superiority of these earlier tracks does not in any way diminish the rest of the record. Rather, Yes Lawd!’s best material blends in perfectly with the sonic tableau of less refined or developed numbers. It’s very much to Paak and Knxwledge’s credit that the bona fide singles never detract from the unified aesthetic.
Part of what makes Yes Lawd! so refreshing is that it conveys a deep, unbridled love of music — both the retro and the contemporary. It’s a woozy, imperfect hip-hop fantastia, cribbing freely from the likes of DJ Shadow, Marvin Gaye, Snoop, and so many more. It embodies an instrumental and production-focused radiance absent from so much of the most popular music in 2016. Like Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, it harnesses optimism and warmth as crucial components of its work. As Anderson sings on “Suede”: “Don’t hate the groove.” Indeed, Yes Lawd! cuts a deep groove and doesn’t let up for nearly an hour of R&B/hip-hop bliss. Go get lifted. B PLUS