It doesn’t take long to reach the heart of Anderson .Paak’s new album, Malibu. Just a minute into opening track "The Birds," the West Coast-based rapper and singer/songwriter offers:"My mama caught the gambling bug... My papa was behind them bars/ We never had to want for nuthin’/ Said all we ever need is love." His voiceis warm,strained, and conversational, like a Baptist minister or your favorite uncle schooling you, and the wide-open groove has an unhurried feel. It's immediately clear: This is a sincere, soulful project, brimming withhonesty and humble perseverance.Brandon Anderson Paak has seen a lot in his 29 years. His mother was a farmer from South Korea, and his father served in the Air Force and later worked as a mechanic until he was sent to prison. "I didn’t see him again until he was being buried," .PaaktoldConsequence of Sound in a 2015 interview. All of this life experience is reflected inMalibu, which is both his most assured and most personal project yet..Paak's name is more prominent these days given his recent work onDr. Dre’sCompton, where he appeared on six of 16 tracks, but even his sophomore album, 2014's Venice, showed flashes of brilliance. Venicewas an easy listen; onMalibu, .Paak celebrates his progression by acknowledging where he’s come from, the trials he’s endured and things he’s seen. "I spent years being called out my name, living under my greatness," .Paak asserts on "The Season / Carry Me," a shape-shifting album highlight. He grew up performing in church, and on the song’s second half, you can hear a rich gospel flair in his voice: "Ya moms in prison, ya father need a new kidney/ Ya family’s splittin’, rivalries between siblings/ If cash ain’t king, it’s damn sure the incentive." Much like Kendrick Lamar, .Paak skillfully depicts his surroundings while remaining in the foreground.Kendrick's spirit feels present at many points on Malibu. .Paak'squicksilver flow on "Your Prime" feels teleported in directly from To Pimp a Butterfly asthe music flows expansively from creamy soul harmonies to trap cadences. But .Paak is a confident and unique presence, with a strong command of style and genre as a producer and songwriter. He leapfrogs three eras in a festive suite of songs mid-album that examine heartbreak: '60s soul on "Put Me Thru," club grooves on "Am I Wrong," and '90s hip-hop on "Without You."His musical and emotional generosity ties everything together, making Malibuan expansive opus that flows in multiple directions like a classic '70s double album.Malibuis a community-oriented project, much likeChance the Rapper on last year's Surf, informed by voices from the past and full of guests who are given ample space to do their best work. The Game drops one of his most disarming, winning verses in a minute on "Room in Here"; Rapsody flows affectingly about heartache over Dilla-style boom-bap. Many songs ride out on extended breakdowns, like "Parking Lot," which feels like a studio band given room to stretch.On "The Dreamer," the album’s celebratory final track,.Paak shares his success with his community, people who look like him and work to avoid similar pitfalls. "Who cares ya daddy couldn’t be here/ Mama always kept the cable on/ I’m a product of the tube and the free lunch/ Living room, watching old reruns." This is powerful art, not only for people of color, but for everyone who exists beyond societal constraints. It’s for those who’ve been told they don’t quite fit, those viewed through a different lens because of their circumstances. It’s a beautiful reminder that, no matter what you’ve endured, you can go anywhere and reach glorious heights.
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