Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals joined Childish Gambino, Jaden Smith and BLACKPINK as one of the opening performers for Coachella on Friday, April 12. But before taking to the highly-coveted stage in Indio, Calif., he took us back to Ventura County in his 11 track LP, Ventura, which comes just six months after the 2018 release of Oxnard. If Oxnard’s hit song “Tints,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, was the song that helped me deal with my homesickness and longing for sunny Southern California last semester, Ventura’s “Make It Better,” featuring Smokey Robinson, is the next perfect song that will get me through this particularly gloomy spring season.
Ventura, just like Oxnard, features a number of iconic artists, including André 3000, whose brief interlude in the opening track, “Come Home” is very reminiscent of the old OutKast days. The pronounced nod to the age of soul is all the more clear in the second track, “Make It Better,” where we get the magic touch of Smokey Robinson in a groovy, loving, laid-back beat. On April 4, .Paak dropped a corresponding music video directed by Andy Hines.
The next song “Reachin’ 2 Much” features R&B singer Lalah Hathaway, daughter of the late Donny Hathaway who sang the original track of popular “This Christmas” that has since been adapted by many other artists like Chris Brown. One minute and 30 seconds into the song, we get a smooth sci-fi synth transition coupled with a key change into another groovy, retro tune in lyrical verses alternating between .Paak and Hathaway, who repeatedly tell us to “settle it down (slow it down)” before fading off in a brief scatting session.
In “Winners Circle” .Paak shows off his artistic versatility in a rap verse before switching back to the lyrical melody, reminding me that .Paak is a true renaissance man of our day. If you don’t already know, in addition to singing and rapping .Paak is an amazing drummer — not to mention he is also the best kind of dad. You may have seen the viral photo of him and his son, Soul Rasheed, synchronizing an adorable toe stand to pose for a photograph at the Grammy Awards.
You can check out his drumming skills on the .Paak 2 Basics series where he performs drum solos. In another track about .Paak’s relationships, “Good Heels,” we hear from the soulful Jazmine Sullivan, who you might know from her 2015 song, “Let It Burn.”
In contrast to the rather romantic tracklist, “Yada Yada” is more about .Paak as he reflects on his own music career. The lyrics go, “Came a long way from them open mics at Lemert / Forgive me if I walk like a got a chip on my shoulder / Label tried to play me like I didn’t do all the work / I found another way through the open gate and my purpose.” If “Yada Yada” is about .Paak’s hard earned title as an artist, the next song, “King James,” is a tribute to one of .Paak’s own inspirations. According to a Genius contributor, “The track acts as an ode to businessman, philanthropist, and basketball player Lebron James and how he pushes forward with his high status despite the challenges set around him. By persevering from this high status, he has the potential to uplift members of his community. Anderson seeks to praise this effort and bring more members of his community along in the face of a history of injustice.”
While the beginning of Ventura is more nostalgic toward the legacies of classic soul and R&B, by the eighth track .Paak incorporates more contemporary style grooves, especially in my favorite part of “Chosen One,” featuring young singer-songwriter Sonyae Elise. One of the verses follows a very complex, syncopated chord progression, delivered in a style that only .Paak can call his own.
The ninth track, “Jet Black,” is almost like a melancholy version of “Tints” and is a return to the original theme of relationships — one that becomes a bit more affectionate in “Twilight” and the funky melody of “What Can We Do,” featuring Nate Dogg, a big name in the West Coast hip-hop scene.
From Venice, to Malibu, to Oxnard and finally, Ventura, .Paak is undoubtedly the new voice of Southern California. His performance at Coachella marks the start of his United States tour, before he plans on stopping in the U.K. and, finally, Croatia. For those remaining in Baltimore over the summer, .Paak will be performing at the MECU Pavilion on May 28, 2019. It’s a concert sure to be memorable.