Illustration by Tanya Bearson
Nearing the end of Oxnard, as Anderson .Paak addresses his regret over Mac Miller’s overdose and Q-Tip reminisces about his friend and fellow rapper Phife Dawg, you may question how it is so easy to groove to the celebratory horns of “Cheers,” despite the song’s theme of losing a loved one. This final track of the new album by Southern California singer, rapper and drummer Paak is representative of the best parts of the project. Paak’s past albums have always brought sing along worthy R&B melodies, fantastic drumming, buttery, husky vocals and a fair amount of personality in the lyrics. On previous tracks like “The Season / Carry Me” and “Get Bigger,” Paak has showed the ability to tell a lucid story about his own life and trials. Although the vibrations of a majority of his earlier songs are undeniably sexy and hypnotic, he occasionally falls short in lyrical content. Looking forward to Oxnard, improvement on this front excited me, and listening to songs like “Cheers” shows he has been able to maintain his sound while expanding his lyrical content.
Besides lyrical improvements, Oxnard also benefits from pretty fantastic production and features, aided all around by collaborator Dr. Dre and contributions from Q-Tip and 9th Wonder. While the album’s sound is not completely unrelated to his previous project, Malibu, it flaunts some more adventurous instrumentals. For example, the intro song “The Chase” with its tense strumming and dramatic woodwinds is reminiscent of a James Bond title song with slight funk elements. We find Paak out of his normal comfort zone of melodic neo-soul on tracks like “Who R U?” where he lays down dizzying flows over a bizarre sporadic Dre beat.
The song “6 Summers” highlights Paak’s connection to the drums, laying a stellar and rhythmic beat that shines but doesn’t overpower the rest of the album. Some of the best production comes from 9th Wonder on “Saviers Road,” which features tribal drums that put the listener at a fireside ceremony, and what sounds like a super high pitched organ soars over the arrangement like ancestral spirits. “Brother’s Keeper,” featuring Pusha T, gives Paak’s smoky voice the perfect background of dramatic choir vocals and blues guitar. Snoop Dogg’s verse in the beginning of “Anywhere” is a great throwback, as he recalls the best of G-Funk in his lyrics remembering his early rap career and how cool he was in 1989. Q- Tip sticks to the theme of missing a friend on “Cheers” and ponders how memories of that person fade. Kendrick Lamar sympathizes with Paak over the struggles of fame and trying to avoid the spotlight on “Tints.”
Unfortunately, the contributions aren’t all fantastic. Dr. Dre’s vocal feature on “Mansa Musa” highlights his awkward attempt at a Caribbean accent and basic lyrics, and both he and Cocoa Sarai end up feeling superfluous while Paak offers an energetic, catchy chorus that overshadows his peers while demonstrating how far he has come with his rapping. Surprisingly, Pusha T fails to keep a groove on his own verse, and pens far more filler and less word play than is typical.
The album title, Oxnard, is the Southern California town north of Los Angeles where Paak grew up, suggesting that this project will see the artist going back to his roots, or reflecting on how far he has come. The latter is clearly shown on many tracks like “Who R U?” and “Saviers Road” through their celebratory lyrics. We’ve heard Paak speak before about his family and life as a struggling musician, as well as one gaining acclaim; now we hear him shouting from the mountaintop, looking back on the Journey to success.
It is slightly harder to hear the connection on this album to his musical roots, but upon closer inspection there is one major similarity between this album and his first, Venice. What he attempted earlier was a full spread of potential ideas and an aggregation of his influences. The album had no uniform sound besides Paak’s voice, and the experimentation at times felt like he was throwing things against the wall and seeing what stuck. On Oxnard, we can see Paak once again experimenting and expanding outside of his comfort zone, with much more consistency between tracks and tighter vein of influences.
While Oxnard may look up to Southern California Hip Hop and R&B for inspiration, Paak crafts his own distinctive sound that stands out amongst his peers and above his musical influences. Paak’s penchant for experimentation based on his musical history and experience proves his versatility and unpredictability, and keeps me coming back for another listen.