Basement Dwelling: “Oxnard” by Anderson Paak

The cover for Anderson Paak’s latest album, Oxnard, immediately gives the impression of a film. “Starring Anderson Paak,” it reads, much like the marquee on a movie poster. And like a movie poster, we see an array of images all pertaining to Paak’s life. These include images of his son, two of the members of his band The Free Nationals, as well as Paak himself, standing before a large crowd next to the most glaring inclusion, which is hip-hop legend Dr. Dre. All of these images are portrayed in a cloud of smoke, as Paak stands firmly there, arms open, assuredly singing something uplifting and life-affirming.

This is the poster to the film that is Anderson Paak, Oxnard being the third film of the trilogy — and the biggest one to date due to his meteoric rise in the public consciousness in the last two years. Keeping this in mind, despite my hype for this record and my love of Paak’s previous works, I still had my apprehensions about this project. I wondered if this newfounded backing and production by Dre and his label Aftermath would result in a production too large with stakes so high that it might suck the soul out of what makes Paak so great — the soul that was allowed to freely reign on a record like Malibu. Would Oxnard be marred by tracks lacking the songwriting ability that made his previous works so instantly lovable and memorable?

The answer is a resounding no. Contrary to most cinematic trilogies, which typically see a downward trend in quality across the three iterations, Oxnard is quite possibly the strongest of Paak’s discography. It successfully shows that the rise in Paak’s stature has only led to him becoming an even better songwriter.

Straight from the get-go, it’s kind of clear we’re in for a bit of a different experience than what Paak gave us with Malibu and Venice. While Paak’s youthful exuberance and uplifting songwriting style remains intact, there’s a bit more grit to this record. It’s a side of Paak we’ve never really seen before, and one of the many qualities that makes Oxnard such a compelling listen. You can tell that the state of the world around him is influencing his songwriting, but he remains hopeful — a character trait that we could all use.

The biggest example of his political consciousness is found in one of Oxnard’s major highlights, “6 Summers,” which is a refreshingly political track from Paak. It opens with the line, “Donald Trump has a lovechild, and I hope that bitch is buckwild,” immediately giving the impression of what Paak will be talking about in this track. “6 Summers” utilizes an instrumental that sounds very similar to the opening of “Clan In Da Front” by The Wu Tang Clan, just with a bit more funk due to the baseline propelling it. The track is nearly five minutes of Paak just waxing poetic, spitting large truths and witty quips leading to him proclaiming, “This shit gonna bang for at least six summers/But ain’t shit gonna change for at least three summers.” It’s utterly heartbreaking, and possibly one of the best tracks Paak has ever recorded.

The album doesn’t stay in this lane for the entirety of it’s 56 minutes, though. The majority of the record is Paak improving upon the groovy, soulful sounds that has worked to bring in the audience he’s assembled in the past. The album’s opener, “The Chase,” expands upon the movie analogy i made at the top of this review. The track highlights rolling drum patterns as well as Kadhja Bonet’s hypnotic vocal melodies, ultimately sounding like what would play at the beginning of a 70s heist film, and paving the way for the rest of the album perfectly. Lead single “Tints” deserves every right to be a hit, as it is pure G-Funk nirvana. Backed by a Kendrick Lamar-feature, the cut wins on every level. Although it was dropped in late fall, the melody is sticky and bouncy like the way a song of the summer should be.

Another highlight, “Brother’s Keeper,” is essentially trap soul. Basically, if classic soul artists had access to rattling high hats back in their day, then there may have been something 40 years ago that sounds much like this track does right now. Another big name is featured on this track, with Pusha-T giving one of the best placed verses on the entire album. King Push feels at home with an instrumental that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on his stellar Daytona project from earlier this year.

I’d also be remiss not to bring up Dr. Dre’s contributions to Oxnard. If I wasn’t clear at the top, I was afraid upon hearing his large involvement with this record that it would result in a sanitized, less compelling version of an artist that I really love. However, it was instantly apparent upon my first listen that Paak and Dre’s collaboration really brought out the best in both of them here. Yes, Dre’s feature on “Mansa Musa” is a little eye-roll inducing, with his verse seeing him reach into his “I’m a mogul” bag that he’s been on with every verse he’s done for the last 10 years. Still, it’s not too unsavory for me to not enjoy the track as a whole, and if we needed to suffer a brief, lackluster moment like Dre’s in that song in order for Paak to secure the smooth Snoop Dogg feature in “Anywhere,” then it was all worth it in the end.

While I wouldn’t necessarily say Oxnard is a superior record over Malibu, it is an album that I likely admire more due to the risks Paak takes and stylistic moves he makes. It impresses me more and more with each subsequent listen, and I pull something new to love from it every time I hear it. This was the perfect record to come out at this point in Paak’s career because of its cohesiveness, style, humor, and heart.

Oxnard is the type of record you’d want to have to your name on when you have this level of attention and hype behind you. Oxnard doesn’t just take that potential and hype and face it head on — it hurdles clean over it and provides something that may even recruit non-believers to the church of Andy. Only time will tell if this is a creative peak for Paak or the start of a glorious new chapter in an already stellar body of work. As for the here and now, all I can say for what’s presented here is YES LAWD!

8.5 out of 10

— Dan Fiorio, Music Blogger

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