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ANDERSON .PAAK Oxnard gets 6.5/10

Anderson .Paak
Aftermath/12 Tone Music


Anderson .Paak has had a whirlwind few years. A feature spot on Dre’s Compton in 2015 initially drew notice on an underappreciated early career, before .Paak blew the gates open with 2016’s sublime Malibu. That effort set a benchmark for .Paak – it was a kaleidoscopic hip hop/pop hybrid that cherry-picked the best of 60s and 70s funk, soul, psychedelia, and G-Funk. Although primarily a rapper, it is sometimes difficult to tell with .Paak, whose range of influences makes him comparable to a modern-day Stevie Wonder. His latest, Oxnard, sees him retaining his influences while narrowing his scope, to mixed results.

While Malibu reads like an encyclopedia, Oxnard is more dialled in. The influences are still there – its bedrock lies in 60s and 70s funk and soul, and the sampling and production are impeccable. Opener The Chase sounds like a 1970s blaxploitation instrumental, Headlow uses sporadic phased guitars and smooth bass to perfect effect, Smile/Pretty has beautiful synth pads underpinning its languid groove. The list goes on.

However, while Malibu revelled in exercising stylistics, Oxnard is more personal and slowed down. Its songs feel deeper and at times darker, with more emphasis on rapping and guest spots. .Paak’s relaxed flow hints at a wisdom beyond his years, and when he channels his subject matter appropriately the songs really come off. Witness Brother’s Keeper (best line on the album: “If Jesus would’ve had a better lawyer would he have to see the cross”) or Savier’s Road where .Paak talks about his spirtuality, but cynically acknowledges that ‘selling faith’ to his fans may not be the way to go (“Maybe I could sell it to a fiend right now / Ay whatchu mean? / An ounce, a quarter, a P / I would sell you faith but you niggas don’t believe”). Trippy is another highlight, a love song that revels in what’s left unsaid.

If .Paak had taken this tack across the entire album, we would have a colossal release on our hands. Unfortunately, too much of Oxnard is either unmemorable or misguided. .Paak is prodigiously talented, but he is not playing to his strengths. He has amazing pop instincts as evidenced throughout Malibu, but the only time this shines here is on the deserved single Tints, which is a euphoric slice of throwback pop. The rest of Oxnard feels languid and slow, with too many songs tied up in a mid-tempo dirge, and too many forgettable choruses. Songs like Smile/Pretty, Anywhere, or Cheers are all well-produced, but they go in one ear and out the other. Lyrically there are also several forays into territory which really doesn’t suit .Paak’s aesthetic. Who R U is run-of-the-mill posturing, aggressive but boring. Headlow is about blowjobs in the front seat and concludes with an unbearable intermission that is crude and unfunny. Likewise, Sweet Chick, where .Paak rattles off a list of girls he’s been seeing, is just misogynistic and nasty, with no wit to prop it up.

Relatively speaking this is still a great release, with excellent production and a wide range of styles. By .Paak’s own standards however, this is a disappointment. I am confident Anderson .Paak will have his masterpiece, but that day is not today.


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