Anderson .Paak in the video for 'Make It Better'YouTube/Anderson Paak

On first appearance, Anderson .Paak’s Ventura seems to be the perfect antidote to exam term. Paak’s sun-soaked lyrics and naturally swaggering vocals radiate over honey-glazed funk-soul grooves to create an album that’ll chase even the darkest revision-based blues away. The tightly-produced 11-track effort is filled with guests (Smokey Robinson and Jazmine Sullivan are the stand-outs) doing what they do best, and combining with Paak’s sandpapery yet oh-so-smooth singing and rapping to perfection. As an RnB funk-soul album, it’s positively delightful.

Despite the appealing vibe, this is not a brilliant Anderson .Paak album. It feels too safe, and so many of the artist’s quirks feel subdued or erased. Listening to Ventura is more of a one-note experience than any of .Paak’s prior works. That’s not to say that the note Ventura hits isn’t charming. The record puts you in a blissful mood, and makes the artist seem like a carefree crooner, recreating soulful classics with a hint of rap, like an indie Bruno Mars wannabe. It’s nice, safe, sedentary and completely fine with what it is.

. Paak's music has been filled with shouting samples, off-beat and constantly tempo-changing raps, and discordant disco. All of these things feel muffled in Ventura.

But nice, safe, sedentary and self-assured isn’t what we have come to expect from Anderson .Paak. We expect .Paak to be funny (as in ‘Headlow’ – from 2018’s Oxnard – which memorably describes a lewd act on the i9 interstate). We expect .Paak to have complex emotions (the pain in the opening bars of ‘Put Me Thru’ – from 2015’s Malibu – as the artist strains through the line “why the hell would you run this game”). We expect Paak to have a cockier, cooler mentality (like 2018’s Grammy Award winning ‘Bubblin’ where a refrain calls the audience to “look at the cash bubblin”, before the next verse unexpectedly starts with “I’ma need all the fries you can give me”).

Ventura delivers minute doses of each of these. ‘Winner’s Circle’ has a couple of amusing bars, but the funniest verse on the album is by André 3000 rather than .Paak. ‘Make It Better’ has superficial complexity, with promise of calling a lover to improve a relationship, but both artists seem far too overjoyed throughout to really deliver anything but one-dimensional RnB. Yada Yada has some of that trademark Anderson .Paak confidence, but not the decadent heights of arrogance we’ve come to expect.

Fans also expect more musical dexterity from .Paak. There’s less disco, less electronica on Paak’s new album. There’s also a little less tension in Ventura. Discord and unsettledness has consistently lurked behind .Paak’s tracks in the past, from the rattling bass on ‘Milk N’ Honey’ (from 2014’s Venice), to the oddly pitched bassline and faint autotuned quasi-ad-libs on ‘Who R U?’ (Oxnard). Anderson .Paak’s music has been filled with shouting samples, off-beat and constantly tempo-changing raps, and discordant disco. All of these things feel muffled in Ventura, smothered by swathes of good vibes and silkiness.

More pessimistic fans might think this marks the start of Anderson .Paak boxing himself into corners

Perhaps what’s strangest about this shift in .Paak’s style is the fact that it’s artificial. Ventura was recorded in the same sessions as 2018’s Oxnard (a straight-up hip-hop record which was criticised for being a bit over the top and lacking many slippery RnB vocals) and then divided off from that album as a separate project. Anderson .Paak, or at least his label, seemed to want to split off the artist’s personality into its component parts, making a fun rap album and then a velvety funk-soul album.

But what made Anderson .Paak’s music so compelling was the blend of the two; the ebb and flow of ‘Malibu’ and ‘Yes Lawd!’ is so exhilarating because it never settles down as one thing. It’s changing, it’s new, it’s sharp.


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The split of Oxnard and Ventura might concern more pessimistic fans. They might think it marks the start of Anderson .Paak boxing himself into corners, or being pressured by his label to be more consumable. There may be concern that .Paak has come to believe that there’s “nothing new or sharp about the cutting edge” (as he says on ‘King James’), and that he’s now going to be more formulaic, and simpler.

Fortunately, we know that .Paak hasn’t sold out his artistic integrity, or really changed direction; he’s said in interviews that he had a lot of artistic freedom under the guidance of Dr Dre, and if you listen to Oxnard and Ventura together, they balance out very well indeed. From a certain perspective, it could be that he’s got too much musical inspiration to be contained in one project. It’s a sign of abundance, of continuity, of him still being him. At the very least, the rap/soul-funk maestro will always raise your spirits, and it doesn’t seem like he’s really coming down anytime soon.

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