Anderson .Paak: The Music Industry Quarterly Interview

photo by Jake Giles

One of the big success stories of 2016 undoubtedly belongs to singer, rapper, songwriter, producer, drummer and keyboardist Anderson .Paak. A growing buzz has been building around Paak starting in 2015 with his work on Dr. Dre’s long-awaited Compton album, a companion piece to the NWA Straight Outta Compton film. Paak co-wrote and performed six of the songs featured on the Grammy-nominated album.

Fast forward to January 2016 with the release of Malibu (featuring the singles “Am I Wrong” and “Come Down”) with Paak quickly becoming the darling of media critics, elite music bloggers and fans of underground music. His Spotify Sessions showcase recorded during the SWSX Conference is certainly proof of that. The music site Consequence of Sound writes, “For its lyrical and musical scope, Malibu brings to mind a number of excellent albums, ranging from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions to, yes, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.” That’s very high praise… complimentary words that have been consistent when discussing the Malibu project.

This isn’t Paak’s first ride at the rodeo. Over the past four to five years, he’s released a string of albums independently starting in June 2012 with his digital album, O.B.E. Vol 1, under the moniker Breezy Lovejoy. He followed it months later with the project, Lovejoy. For the third project, he used his surname Anderson, along with the period (the dot stands for detail, about his mixed heritage) and the word Paak (describing his apprenticeship with Dr. Dre) to release 2014’s Venice album. In addition to releasing Malibu in 2016, Paak (under the pseudonym NxWorries) collaborated with producer Knxwledge for the October release, Yes Lawd! So there is no shortage of great music.

The word is quickly getting out about Paak. The Grammys are calling, the Soul Train Music Awards, the Ellen show, the NBA, along with more synch opportunities. With Anderson .Paak there’s lots more to come!

Congratulations on the success you’ve experienced so far over the last year. How does it feel to be a Grammy-nominated artist?

The best part about it is being recognized in the fields and categories of Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album. I’m really excited about being in the Best New Artist category. This has been one of the best years of my career. I did get nominations for being on the Compton album last year. But now, I can put this new accomplishment in my Twitter bio…tell my Mom and shit [laughs].

Are you planning to host any events to celebrate the honor?

The Grammys are around the time of my birthday. So, I’m sure we’re going to have a party somewhere. I am an Aquarian, February 8.

Can you talk a bit about the critical reception of Malibu, and how it’s on the Year End “Best Albums” lists of so many writers and bloggers including MIQ? How has this changed your life?

It’s dope when you can make a project that’s well-received by music snobs and regular fans of music alike. It gets a lot of critical acclaim but the album is not something that’s in regular rotation at terrestrial radio. That’s a cool position to be in. We’re able to travel and perform in all of these different places…not just in the U.S. but internationally. The success of Malibu is something that occurred naturally. We weren’t chasing trends. We were staying true to ourselves and the project. I wanted to tell my story. I was a little apprehensive at first about some of the music, but to see the positive response allowed me to trust myself more. It’s helped me as I work on my next project, too. Malibu came out at the top of 2016, and it was a gradual build gaining more and more momentum. That’s rare these days. Yes, it’s getting a lot of critical acclaim but there are still a lot of people who have never heard it and still don’t know who I am. I think it’s nice to have this kind of a build and I’m excited about the response.

photo: Jake Giles Netter

You’ve been a recording artist under a couple of iterations. Why do you believe things are finally breaking open for you now?

It’s a timing thing with the music. I’ve always had the range and dynamic where I could do different things and blend a lot of cool genres together. With my previous projects, I don’t know if the timing was right. With Malibu, I’m seeing where R&B and Soul music are going as a whole. Fans and the people are just ready to receive it.

You rap, you sing, you play drums and keys. How do you describe the Anderson .Paak music experience personally, and where do you see yourself in the scheme of artists today?

The key element is the musician aspect…the ability to play instruments. I see myself as the bandleader and musician first, and I write songs. That’s one of the most important elements to me…that bandleader musicianship quality. That’s one of the rare things. It’s important to me as I create my next album and how I present my live show.

It’s rare to see artists who are legitimately great at rapping and singing today. One would think of it almost on some Lauryn Hill level.

It’s dope that artists today can do a lot of different things: sing, rap, write and produce. It’s important to hone it, to me. I don’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master at none. At one point it was important for me to just sit down and really get my songwriting capabilities together and figure out my vocal tone; something that was unique and undeniable. It wasn’t me necessarily thinking I need to sing on the hook and rap on the verses. I wanted to develop a tone – my voice and songwriting – so that as soon as my song comes on, people know what’s up. There’s an unmistakable tone, and people cannot bite it nor can it be replicated.

Talk about your Dr. Dre connection. How influential is he to your sound and career?

Working with Dre was huge, man. He was one of those dudes who gave me his platform and didn’t have to. It’s done huge things for me. After that, things just really started to bubble. The dudes that work best with Dre are the ones that aren’t waiting for him to create their whole movement. That was never the case with me. If you can handle that part then you’ll be alright. When I’m with Dre, I want to work and learn. He really boosted my confidence and my artistry. He’s one of the best vocal producers I’ve ever worked with. After working with Dre, I don’t even record the same anymore. He was like my vocal coach. Even my vocals on my project were more intensified. Dre gave me this platform so I’m going to go hard. We weren’t waiting on anybody after that. And Dre said he really loved that about me. To continue working with him is amazing… I’m excited about the new music that we’re working on. I appreciate the trust he has in me. I have a lot of trust in him and I can see the trust is mutual.

In addition to Dre’s Aftermath, you have a number of label situations. Are you contractually obligated to any long term agreement?

Venice and Malibu were indie projects done on my imprint OBE, Steel Wool, and through Empire. I met Dre before I was done with Malibu and he put out Compton [2015]. I still had to put out Malibu through my various sources. There were a lot of people I wanted to work with, and I had a lot of leverage having worked with Dre. Contractually, my next project is with Dr. Dre [on Aftermath] and my imprint OBE. My team and I have been on a super grind so I have to shout out everyone at Art Club, OBE, Empire, Steel Wool and Aftermath.

Is there a full-scale tour in the works? What’s next on your docket of commitments?

My first commitments are to my son (who just turned 6 years-old), my wifey and getting that family time in. The last few weeks have been nuts. Everything is happening so fast. We’re going on the road with Bruno Mars in March. I’m definitely working on another tour with some other key players, and we plan on doing many festivals.

As I say these influential names, tell us in a sentence or two what they mean to you…

Stevie Wonder: He’s the reason I do what I do. Once I started getting into his music, I had to hear his songs every day.

Ellen DeGeneres: I had an awesome experience on her show. I told my team what I wanted to do and the “Ellen” show provided the platform. They were so cool to us.

XXL Magazine Freshman Class of 2016: I should’ve been more prepared.

For the photo shoot? For the freestyle cypher shit. I didn’t really know anybody…they had a bunch of really good rappers in the room. That was really cool!

The NBA: On TNT that was a nice check. Cutting that [promo] was very tiring on the body…but once the check cleared, I forgot all about it! [laughs]

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY DAVID A. MITCHELL