A testament to all that makes him such a fascinating anomaly in our hip-hop/R&B landscape, "Ventura" is an emphatic return to form for the multi-faceted Anderson .Paak.
As if you didn’t know by now, Anderson .Paak is not one for convention. Unsatisfied with releasing just one album over the the course of six months, the multi-faceted artist has brought us another captivating fusion of musical terrains and timeless style on Ventura. Far from material that had collided with the cutting room floor, the decision to release two albums in quick succession was a conceptual one on .Paak’s part:
“Growing up in Oxnard gave me the grit and the church to find this voice of mine. One town over (In Ventura) I went further and found my depth. The duality of each place inspired me greatly. From that I made two albums at the exact same time but held one back because that would’ve been too many songs to perform live for you all!”
From the outset, it becomes clear that Ventura and its predecessor are very different beasts but are interlinked by the sheer versatility of its primary artist. Oxnard’s less abrasive companion piece sees Anderson putting his best foot forward. If the previous record was .Paak basking in the splendour of success after the rags-to-riches journey that he’d endured, Ventura contains the output on which he regains the hunger and tenacity that afforded him that shaded veranda in the lap of luxury in the first place.
Along with that irrepressible creative energy that has become his calling card, his latest opus is a masterclass in artistic self-assurance. Setting off with two of its most fascinating compositions in “Come Home” and “We Can Make It Better,” a lesser artist could’ve been completely overshadowed by such high caliber talent as Andre 3000 and Smokey Robinson. But in Anderson’s case, he takes the presence of these legends in stride and subliminally makes his case to be held in similar esteem. As promised, “spitter” Three Stacks is here in all of his pomp and offsets the jazz-fusion tinged pleas of “Come Home” with the lyrical acrobatics that we so covet whilst Smokey’s appearance is utterly seamless on a touching ode to reconnection that could’ve been penned by Motown’s crack team of Holland-Dozier-Holland themselves. By no means a faithful love letter to the past, Ventura’s vitality comes from its retention of all of the post-genre flair that made his name on its forebearers of Venice and Malibu.
Suspected to be the final instalment of a beachside tetralogy, its production-- which features contributions from long-time cohort Pomo, Dem Jointz and engineering from Dr Dre himself-- maps out a sumptuous musical wonderland that has its own landmarks and quirks. On tracks such as “Twilight” and “Chosen One,” he constitutes the missing link between the cosmic exploration of George Clinton’s P-Funk and the jazz-inflected sound of Native Tongues affiliates such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and The Pharcyde. All squelchy bass, horn flourishes and emotive violins, the album may be a marvel of instrumentalism that takes you to euphoric places but, luckily, that doesn't mean that lyrical depth is overlooked.
Although Ventura may transport the listener to a sun-kissed paradise, as it appears in .Paak’s mind’s eye, the revelry isn’t without its consequences. On cuts such as “Reachin’ 2 Much” and “Gold Heels,” he soulfully laments over the complications that arise from a hedonistic lifestyle that range from substance abuse: “you’re sniffin’ too much baby, I had to (hide my yay)” to the intrepid dangers of infidelity: “You gon' get me killed, I'ma catch a fade. She'll be home soon, yeah, she'll be on the way, I just hit the 1, shit, I'm in the Palisades.” Jazmine Sullivan and Lalah Hathaway play the Tammi Terrell to .Paak's debonair, Marvin Gaye-esque crooning and attest to his much more considered approach to features than in comparison to Oxnard's onus on high-profile stars.
No matter how joyous it’s sax-laden musicality may be, .Paak proves that escapism and vapidity are in no way mutually exclusive on the consciously-minded “King James.” A celebration of black activism and resistance, he accomplishes a rare feat in delivering protest music that is devoid of the preachiness and could incite a dancefloor as he proclaims “if they build a wall, let’s jump the fence, I’m over this!” Complete with a nod to Colin Kaepernick, it’s a fitting namedrop for an album that boasts triumph over adversity as one of its key thematic concerns.
Most apparent on “Yada Yada” and “Chosen One,” these vibrant slices of neo-soul see the multi-instrumentalist celebrate his journey from homelessness to blowin’ “hundreds at The Beverly.” On “Yada Yada,” he finds himself immune to the lacerating effects of other’s words and instead espouses the benefits of the decisive actions that brought him to far greener pastures. Exacted with the scope and sincerity of Stevie Wonder in his 70’s heyday, “Chosen One” ingeniously depicts the benefits of sticking to his artistic vision amid its impactful piano and cites a similarly unyielding hip-hop icon along the way:
“Heard your fans want to keep you in the underground, cool. When I blow up, said I did it for MF DOOM.”
Although it’s not been formally declared, the Brandy-aided “Jet Black” seems predestined to become a breakout single. With its insatiable bounce and charismatic vocal performances from both parties, it would verge on promotional malpractice not to give this track as big of a platform as possible. As if he hadn’t given us enough to marvel at, Anderson provides one final piece of teleportational magic by resurrecting a G-funk legend right before our ears. Eight years on from his untimely death, the 213’s own Nate Dogg is back and as effortlessly cool as ever on Ventura’s closer “What Can We Do.” Over a beautifully optimistic beat from Fredwreck, .Paak duets with and pays homage to the man that arguably paved the way for his hybrid between rapping and singing. A séance between the generations that recalls Kendrick and 2Pac’s conversation at the end of TPAB’s “Mortal Man,” it is the emotional highpoint of the record and is sure to tug on the heartstrings of any longtime hip-hop devotee.
While Anderson cites the Californian locale of Ventura as the site of his self-discovery, its metaphysical reimagining in Anderson’s music weaves together everything that makes his output so special. Back on track after he was daunted by the glare of the mainstream, Ventura is the sound of a man that’s relishing the chance to be an anomaly in an industry of carefully premeditated decisions and soundalikes. By venturing off on his own path, his fourth album makes a compelling case for Anderson .Paak as a future all-time great. Catch him if you can.