Just under five months after the release of his last album Oxnard, Anderson .Paak returns to his crooning best with a soulful trip into the roots of jazz and funk music. Oxnard was his rap coming-of-age, but Ventura is where Anderson feels most at home, releasing slick and seductive neo-soul from the heart with an extra dose of finger snapping.
It is very difficult when discussing Anderson .Paak not to talk about his utterly brilliant 2016 album Malibu, a sophomore record that demonstrated his near impossibly high musical IQ with impeccably smooth results. It remains to this day one of the brightest and most integral soul releases in recent years and has meant anticipation for what Anderson had next was high.
Late last year he released the follow-up album Oxnard after announcing his signing to Dr. Dre’s infamous Aftermath record label, and what stuck out right away was the more rap-heavy influence behind the album. We gave it a 7.5 rating in our initial review and ranked it 27th on our Albums of the Year list, citing the album’s raw personality and the level of ambition he aimed for. While we did all very much enjoy the album, there was a feeling that he had shifted ever so slightly from what made his artistry so infectious and cool.
Ventura feels to me like a direct address to people like me who had our say on the sound of his previous effort. While there aren’t many blatant lyrical nods to it, the musical direction tells the full story. Anderson .Paak is an artist in every sense of the word, he has free roam to do whatever he pleases on tracks because he has such charm to his sound; anything he does can sound charismatic and bubbly.
That isn’t to say Anderson doesn’t spit on this thing. His verse on the breakdown of Winner’s Circle is hot fire as he raps quirky lines about sex and self-belief with such effortless attitude and that typically smile-inducing vocal delivery. His flows on Jet Black are also catchy and braggadocious but my favourite bars come on Chosen One, particularly “Brought a totally different energy up in the room, heard your fans want to keep you in the underground, cool, when I blow up, said I did it for MF DOOM no cap, no cap.” Any mention of MF DOOM on a major label release is getting a nod of approval from me so nicely done, Anderson, very nicely done.
I would dare to say that Anderson .Paak has never sounded instrumentally better than he does on Ventura, specifically with the triumphant horns and drums on Reachin’ 2 Much or those understated synth bops and electronica use at the start of Yada Yada; a personal favourite of mine on the track listing. It would be silly of me to mention the instrumentals and neglect Twilight too, the Pharrell produced anthem with perhaps the most Pharrell Williams sounding drum patterns ever, but in the best kind of way.
The feature list on this album is phenomenal; nothing short of spectacular and truly surprising. Andre 3000 sent me to heaven with his hilariously good feature on James Blake’s album earlier in the year, but he just topped it here on Come Home. He’s a top three all time rapper with perhaps the most unique flow in hip-hop history; and the energy and sheer dexterity he brings to this song is staggering. The great Smokey Robinson shows his tones at 79 years of age on Make It Better, working hand in hand with Anderson to create an unlikely combo that sounds beautiful. Other instantly recognisable names are Brandy and the late Nate Dogg, the latter offering a harrowingly gorgeous end to the album on What Can We Do? which is a song that feels like a delightful homage to Nate.
It was going to take a great effort to match the quality of Malibu but Anderson has such undeniable talent it was never going to be too far out of his reach. I feel that with this more refined effort in Ventura, he has surpassed the grandiose ambition of Oxnard by simply keeping it real in his music and trusting in his personality to make a brilliant album. “Forgive me if I walk like a got a chip on my shoulder” sings Paak on here and by now he has well and truly gained the right to do just that, music like this deserves a performer with swagger and confidence. He’s done it again, he’s made us all smile and sway and that gets a big YES LAWD! from me.