In a year that saw a number of great releases coming from already established artists – people like Leonard Cohen, Swans, Radiohead and Nick Cave – Anderson.Paak was perhaps my favourite emerging talent. Fresh off of a couple of limelight-stealing performances on Dr Dre’s 2015 album Compton, Paak stepped out on his own this year and proved he can box with the best of them. We had two albums from him in 2016: October saw the release of his collaboration album with hip-hop producer Knxwledge, NxWorries, which was a sexy and smoky blend of neo-soul and hip-hop.
But the real knockout blow was Malibu, which released within the first few weeks of the year. Like NxWorries, the album is a blend of neo-soul and hip-hop, but here we can also throw R&B as well as funk into the mix. Malibu is a vibrant and eclectic blend of musical genres that effectively blurs the lines between different styles, and is all the stronger for it. In fact, it would be difficult to pigeonhole any one of these songs as purely R&B or purely hip-hop, just as it would be difficult to pigeonhole Anderson.Paak as either a singer or a rapper. The guy switches effortlessly between the two, and is talented at both.
‘The Season/Carry Me’ is a great example of this, a tune that starts out with a real g-funk vibe and sees Paak spitting some great lines about the city he grew up in and his rise to fame: I ran bases, pitch flame/I call plays, remove labels/And fuck fame, that killed all my favorite entertainers. But the beat changes up for the second half into a soulful boom-bap slide with a gorgeous piano line, and has Paak singing a passionate chorus about his mother and his youth.
This song also contains a reference to ‘K-dot’, and the influence of Kendrick Lamar can be felt throughout Malibu. It can be heard in the use of live funk and soul instrumentation blending with hip-hop, particularly on a track like ‘Waterfall’ which really reminds me of ‘These Walls’. It can also be heard in the way Paak plays with the tone and pitch of his voice, and the snippets of recorded voices and samples which play between songs, giving the album a (very) loose sense of conceptuality. This is something that Solange also adopted for her fantastic A Seat at the Table this year, and while I think she embraced the narrative and political possibilities of the concept album a bit more than Paak did, these moments still provide Malibu with a nice through line and offer a bit of structure to the record. I’m glad to see that To Pimp a Butterfly is pushing hip-hop and R&B musicians to be more ambitious and conceptual with their music in 2016.
‘Room in Here’ is another fantastic single from the album which gained Paak a lot of attention this year. The song is one of the slickest and sexiest on the record, containing a fantastic groove of kick drums, hand claps and rolling bass. The vocals on top find Paak at his most seductive, inviting his lover into the privacy of their bedroom while the listener spectates: Aint nobody but you and me in here. A great verse from The Game combines to make this simultaneously one of the most intimate and most confident moments on the entire record, and an easy highlight.
‘Am I Wrong’ is another fantastic tune that contains shades of hip-house and funk, with a driving beat and a catchy chorus that has possibly the most pop appeal of any song here, while ‘Silicon Valley’ somehow manages to be a really heartfelt and touching song about breast implants. The two closing tracks, meanwhile, ‘Celebrate’ and ‘The Dreamer’, close off the record on a more personal note that really rounds Malibu off emotionally and makes it a satisfying listen from front to back.
I could go on to talk about any number of songs on Malibu, because I really find almost every one here to be a fantastic mix of R&B, hip-hop, funk and soul. Paak demonstrates his diverse talents across a cohesive, eclectic and sunny record that, despite being released just over two weeks into the year, was only topped by a handful of others in 2016.