Anderson .Paak is what the world needs right now
Words by Rob Chilton
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Dance music with a smile
In a music genre that’s so often mean and moody, Anderson .Paak is a ray of sunshine. “It’s part of my personality to be light,” says the rapper. “I’m more about lightness than anything.”
He has plenty of reasons to be cheerful. In February .Paak released Leave the Door Open – the first single from Silk Sonic, his project with Bruno Mars – which will soon be followed by the duo’s debut album. .Paak supported Mars on his 24K Magic tour in 2017 but they first performed together as Silk Sonic at the Grammys in March and then again in May at the iHeart Radio Music Awards in Los Angeles. Leave the Door Open reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 upon its release. Rich soul vocals, velvet suits, big sunglasses and 1970s vibes – Silk Sonic are an audible balm for today’s irritated world.
The collaboration with Mars seems to signal a second chapter of .Paak’s career after the release of four solo albums: Venice (2014), Malibu (2016), Oxnard (2018) and Ventura (2019), all named after beaches in his home state of California. Malibu was the album that set .Paak on his way, however, earning him a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
The NME music newspaper in Britain called .Paak a “heavyweight champion of the heart.” With heroes like Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield, it’s clear to see where .Paak gets his glass-half-full sound and lyrics from. Even the name of one of his tours referenced his famous smile: The Best Teef in the Game.
“There’s no one in hip-hop that’s bringing that happiness, that fun, feelgood music that isn’t cheesy,” said .Paak, 35, who places a full stop in his surname as a symbol of attention to detail. “Not to say there’s not pain there but there’s some hope and humour and optimism. I can’t help but do that.”
The pain he mentions happened during his childhood and makes his current sunny disposition an even greater achievement. Aged just seven, Brandon Paak Anderson saw his mother badly beaten by his father, who struggled with addiction, on the street by the family home in Oxnard, 100km outside of Los Angeles. “We call the cops, and that was the last time I saw him,” .Paak says. “The cops got him, and then he did 14 years after that.”
.Paak’s mother, a South Korean immigrant who moved to America, set up a successful strawberry farm and moved .Paak and his two sisters into a plush five-bedroom house. “Life got very good,” recalls .Paak. But then two seasons of stormy weather destroyed the crop and his mother went bankrupt. She entered the world of professional gambling but served a seven-year jail sentence for not reporting her winnings when .Paak was still in high school. The family home was foreclosed and .Paak lived with his sisters.
“My whole world was flipped upside down,” he says. “I think that stayed with me. Everything is temporary and you should appreciate it while you have it. I love experiencing things that taste great and things that look good but I know it could be gone in a matter of seconds.”
Around this time, .Paak played the drums in the local church where his musical talent was spotted and encouraged. He enrolled at the Musician’s Institute in Los Angeles but couldn’t make the tuition payments and was forced to take a job as a teaching assistant.
Under the stage name Breezy Lovejoy, he sent demos to music labels but never received a reply. “Image-wise, I was somewhat of a jokester,” he admits. “I was a music nerd. I thought things would just fall into my lap. So I’d put my career in the hands of just about anybody. And before I knew it I was in my late 20s, and things just weren’t sticking.”
It was at the Musician’s Institute that he met his future wife Jaylyn Chang, a South Korean student studying singing. They fell pregnant but shortly after the birth of their son Soul in 2011, the family became homeless forcing .Paak to work as a farmhand. “I thought, my family deserves better,” he says. Relying on the generosity and kindness of friends who gave him a place to stay, .Paak was able to complete his debut album Venice. He and Chang later had another son Shine – further proof of .Paak’s cheerful nature.
Although Venice was well-received, it was Dr Dre who propelled .Paak into the big time when he invited him to co-write and sing on six songs from his 2015 comeback album Compton. .Paak’s distinctive voice that is simultaneously smooth and raspy convinced Dre to sign him to his Aftermath record label in January 2016. Along came Malibu, .Paak’s sophomore studio album with its sunny blend of soul, jazz and funk that spawned four singles, The Season/Carry Me, Am I Wrong, Room in Here and Come Down.
The album, .Paak explains, “is a tribute to my surroundings and where I grew up in Oxnard. It’s only an hour away from LA but it’s very different. I was dead set on getting out. Growing up I wanted to get to the big city and do my thing. But when I look back at it now I’m really appreciative.”
Dre later produced .Paak’s 2018 album Oxnard that featured Snoop Dogg, Pusha-T and Kendrick Lamar among others. .Paak describes working with Dre as “pure creative bliss” adding, “Just two Aquariuses going at it: two control freaks, perfectionists that just can’t stop working on a project. It’s not like I’m trapped in there with some record execs or A&Rs who are like ‘What’s the single?’. Dre is trying to have the most fun. He wants to make the craziest music ever.”
Although a huge fan of Dre, .Paak managed to keep his cool in the presence of the man who created the west coast rap scene in the 1990s. “When I finally met him, for some reason I didn’t have any super-fanboy jitter thing, where I couldn’t be myself,” says .Paak. “I was so confident by that point I just said: ‘Let me get on the mic and try something’.”
.Paak has since worked with other heroes such as Pharrell Willams and André 3000, winning four Grammys along the way. One of the Grammys was for his 2020 single Lockdown that was released on June 19, the unofficial holiday that marks the end of slavery in the US.
“This is the age of awakening,” says .Paak. “It’s no longer that we’re just here to be entertainment. We see what’s going on and we’re not going to be numb to it any more. I’m seeing it in real time just like everyone else and I don’t have the answers. All I’m here to do is give you guys something to think about while you dance.”
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