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Despite 2016’s Malibu being Anderson .Paak’s third album, it was the first time he had punctured the consciousness of a wider audience with his own music. Following on from his work on Dr. Dre’s Compton (2015), it made him a staple of TV talk shows and festivals the world over. More often than not, it was the rambunctious, kick-the-door-down funk of “Come Down” that he performed on said talk shows, complete with a refreshingly buoyant charm and a grin a mile wide.
Emerging wide-eyed and unexpectant into the spotlight is one thing; going back for more is an entirely different one. With so many more possibilities at his fingertips, what does he make of them? A glance at the credits reveals he has filled Oxnard to the brim with a roster of producers and guests to match almost any other—Dr. Dre produces and raps, Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar pops up, and the ever-ubiquitous Snoop Dogg lends his trademark flow to proceedings. And those are just the headliners.
What these headliners and other guests (e.g., Q Tip and J. Cole) show is that this album is flavored much more with hip-hop than Malibu was. It also appears that something has changed in the way he sings and raps about women. Barely a song goes by without a sprinkling of “bitches” spewed over it.
Having re-listened to Oxnard’s predecessor, I can quite categorically say that barely a “bitch” was uttered on Malibu. So what changed? Are we saying that the word has become so entrenched in the genre’s lexicon, that even the most talented musicians and wordsmiths (of whom .Paak is one) can’t avoid using it? Is that the excuse we’re going to use to get around the continued use of such a flagrantly repulsive word?
While the weight of copious guest spots and charmless lyrics might threaten to hang heavy on .Paak’s shoulders, he emerges with half an album of high quality, by dint of his redoubtable talents for creating an atmosphere and sound that happily fuse all of his soulful hip-hop influences together.
The album begins promisingly with a zephyr light groove that features the remarkable influence and voice of Kadhja Bonet on “The Chase,” but the issues that hold .Paak back rear their heads on the remainder of the LP’s first half.
“Headlow” is the completely charmless tale of receiving a blow-job while driving, albeit to a shimmering summery groove with tender delicate Rhodes lines. Meanwhile “Tints” can be filed under “unedifying bemoaning of fame.” With Lamar’s help, .Paak outlines the need for tinted windows both to stop prying paparazzi and, of course, for use with sundry “bitches.” That it once again wastes another perfectly decent groove (this time an ‘80s iteration) is tantamount to treason.
“Who R U?” is a Dr. Dre produced track that completes the unwelcome hat-trick of disappointing songs as the production drains the very thing that marks .Paak out: soul. The skittish beats and “de rigeur” lyrical musings are nothing we haven’t heard a million times before. By the fifth song though, things start to shift slightly.
“6 Summers” offers a rebuke to the idiot in the White House and words of common sense on gun control. Beyond the lyrical content though lies the influence of Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly (2015). It’s there in the leaps and falls of .Paak’s delivery and it’s there in the tonal shifts of musicality and instrumentation.
That same shifting of sounds is evident on the first standout track “Smile/Petty.” The first half is all woozy, blissful synth lines and the second half is ripping bass lines and funk. That both halves are beset by copious references to “bitches” taints them somewhat, but musically it kicks off a second half that lives up to .Paak’s promise.
“Brother’s Keeper” is a somber, dramatic piece that features Pusha T alongside .Paak and it is a doozy. Stately, yet constantly feeling on the verge of dread, it offers the first grown-up, cohesive slice of glory. The final 90 seconds of rumination are a fittingly pensive end to a terrific duet.
Before J. Cole takes his opportunity to “bitch” on “Trippy,” there is a barnstorming G-funk sojourn to heaven in the shape of “Anywhere.” Snoop Dogg (who else?!) lends his dulcet tones to a tune in receipt of both g-funk grooves and sweet-as- fresh-peaches melodies. It’s a cracker.
If we ignore the misogynistic macho bullshit of the clearly Kanye inspired “Sweet Chick,” the album closes with two songs that add to the credit column. “Cheers” finds .Paak, alongside Q-Tip, lamenting the loss of friends to an understated, soulful track. “Left to Right,” meanwhile, blends a reggae/dancehall vibe to a funk sensibility to create a supremely satisfying slice of fun, with a chorus of sheer delight.
In press interviews to accompany the release of Oxnard, .Paak has stated that this is the kind of album he wanted to make when he was 15 and listening to Jay-Z or Kanye’s College Dropout. In some ways that is what he has produced—a juvenile, scattergun album that is massively inconsistent. At its worst, it mines tired, misogynistic material. But at its best, it shows the undoubted charm, talent and contagious spirit of its creator.
Fingers crossed for next time.
Notable Tracks: "Anywhere" | “Brother’s Keeper” | "Cheers" | “Left to Right”