Anderson .Paak was a diamond in the rough. The digital age has made getting cosigned infinitely easier than in the previous eras where trunk-sold mixtapes and dingy warehouse shows reigned supreme. When he burst onto the scene in 2015 on Dr. Dre’s Compton—.Paak did have a lengthy discography under the name Breezy Lovejoy and had started his California album series with Venice, though nothing earned the mass acclaim of his 2015 work—his raspy, battle-worn vocals served as the perfect ode to Dre’s final album, which hinged on the imperfections of his home town.
To say .Paak’s major label debut, Malibu, was highly anticipated would be an understatement. His sound—part funk, part neo soul—earned him praise unimaginable considering his homeless beginnings. And .Paak was sure to ride that success, collaborating with artists from Madlib to Hiatus Kaiyote to A Tribe Called Quest. He performed a tiny desk concert and endlessly teased a forthcoming project from his group the Free Nationals.
In no hurry to reinvent the success of Malibu, .Paak waited more than two years to release his follow-up project, Oxnard. Though it kept with the titular theme, Oxnard diverted away from .Paak’s usually sultry sound. At times he rapped about President Trump’s secret lovechild, and at others he did unspeakable acts in movie theaters and on highways. Oxnard shifted away from the sounds that earned .Paak spots on ESPN’s NBA coverage and Google Pixel commercials.
However .Paak’s latest offering, Ventura, rings closer to the funked out melodies of Malibu than the off-rails adventure of Oxnard. Released through Dr. Dre’s Aftermath and Doug Morris’ 12 Tone Music labels Ventura leaves .Paak to his own devices. Dre doesn’t serve as executive producer, nor do his vocals appear anywhere on the 11-track outing.
Instead, .Paak enlists production assistance from collaborators who helped Malibu reach it’s plateau. Pomo, who worked on “Am I Wrong” and the Mac Miller featuring .Paak cut “Dang!” returns to conduct on three tracks, including the .Paak and Brandy duet “Jet Black.” Likewise, The Alchemist reunites with his Californian compadre to stroll around “Make it Better” with Smokey Robinson.
Ventura excels largely because of its living, breathing compositions. .Paak is a pianist, drummer and vocalist, and as such, thrives on vibrant productions. “Reachin’ 2 Much” hits a beat switch within the first two minutes, changing up the lively percussion for smoother, loop-friendly synths and .Paak’s desaturated vocals. Subsequently, .Paak jumps between song and rap on “Winners Circle,” keeping him on his toes as he tries to woo his partner.
With Ventura, .Paak leaves behind the womanizing presence that fueled Oxnard. He turns in the tinted windows for a drop top, exposing every inch of his character that made Malibu a success. Barring that .Paak gets another recording itch, Ventura should have staying power, especially with beach season right around the corner.