I have an urgent message for the 2016 Grammy voters (and please read that in caps lock if you are associated with the throng of buffoons responsible for the current Macklemore versus Kendrick Lamar Best Rap Album tally standing at an embarrassing 1-0). Just a few weeks into 2016, an Album of the Year-worthy masterpiece is already making a subtle, soulful plea for your unwavering attention. Its name? Malibu. Its creator? Anderson .Paak (a name that, if currently unfamiliar, you should pretend you’ve known way before he rose to prominence as hookmaster supreme on Dr. Dre’s comeback, Compton). Brutally transparent and undeniably smooth, Malibu establishes Anderson .Paak as an artist with talent as mysteriously deep as the blue-green waters of California’s iconic oceanside destination.
Spanning 16 tracks with a runtime just more than an hour, Malibu is chock-full of R&B, rap and soul cross-genre glory. On the album’s first track, “The Bird,” Paak’s pain, the result of a struggle-riddled life including homelessness and his parents’ incarceration, is piercingly tangible in a bluesy ballad: “My sister used to sing to Whitney, mmm/ My mama caught the gambling bug, mmm/ We came up in a lonely castle, mmm/ My papa was behind them bars, mmm.” On songs such as “The Waters,” Paak’s silky, complex flow over funky Madlib production is To Pimp a Butterfly-esque: “I bring you greetings from the First Church of Boom Baptists/ United Fellowship of Free Nationals/ Residing pastor is thy Paak/ and the first lady is a bad bitch/ with slanted eyelids and thick asses/ Sunglasses, Martin Luther King fan for you bitch n—– sweating on my patent leathers.” Whether with the neo-surfer sound of “Parking Lot,” disco/hip-hop fusion on “Am I Wrong” (including a stunning ScHoolboy Q feature) or the Jack Johnson-meets-Andy Grammer “Celebrate” (sure to be a future graduation ceremony walk-off track), Paak reaches elite status in each genre he pursues.
In a post-T-Pain/Akon era when the next go-to hook guy is still waiting to be named, Paak’s catchy choruses are unrivaled. His ode to those who cease to let far-fetched dreams turn to faded opportunity is passionate and sincere: “This one’s for all the little dreamers/ And the ones who never gave a fuck/ I’m a product of the tube and the free lunch/ Living room, watching old reruns/ And who cares your daddy couldn’t be here/ Mama always kept the cable on.”
From being unable to provide shelter for his family to acting as Dr. Dre’s next prodigy, Paak is an unmatched candidate to deliver such a message of perseverance. The album’s most powerful track, “The Season/Carry me,” is a two-part odyssey of helplessness and survival fueled by Paak’s enchanting hook work. On the song’s latter portion, “Carry Me,” Paak’s soul singing is on a Ray Charles/James Brown/Otis Redding level of sheer perfection: “Knees hit the floor, scream to the Lord/ Why they had to take my ma (Mama can you carry me?)/ To the early morn (Mama can you carry me?).” It’s the type of sound that continually warrants an audible “Oh, damn.”
Like Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange or any of the post-2010 Kendrick releases, Anderson .Paak’s Malibu aims for and accomplishes success through innovative musicality and complete lack of conformity. It’s an album worthy of both millennial-driven car speakers and the headphones of those same kids’ parents. Rarely am I able to leave an album on weeklong repeat without eventually growing weary, but Malibu is currently surfing a 10-day rotation period. If the Grammys continue their string of debacles in terms of proper recognition, I truly hope Anderson .Paak is content with receiving the holy, prestigious honor of earning my first four-Testudo review as a music critic.