A long wait has preceded this album. For the aware that had caught NxWorries before hearing Anderson .Paak’s solo or guest work, this was the holy grail of delectable slow jams. After huge year of being inundated by .Paak hooks and tours and hearing the Suede & Link Up EP in 2015, it’s wild to hear this album and what you gotta believe is one of his more sustained efforts. Held down by incredible production from Bandcamp king, Knowledge (he’s released over 60 tapes on the platform since 2009), it’s one of the most transportive, cinematic hip hop albums this year. This is a holistic album that comes off best listened to in its entirety (preferably with a fat twist nearby). It’s relatively long and tessellated with many tracks and different vibes that never really settle for too long, but it seems more definitely rooted in hip hop and funk styles than other more pop .Paak releases.
The albums kicks of with some sampling then gets into the paired organ and choral vocals that pirouette through most of the tracks. ‘Livvin’, the kickstarter of Yes Lawd, lays out the after school special melody over layers and layers of .Paak vocal pyro that falls lusciously into itself like tiramisu. It’s a dynamic and very alive voice that croons, rhymes and runs through the soundscapes. It’s a testament to the closeness of the duo that they both know when to give the other the limelight to solo, and this provides for some elegant compositions that eschew more linear hip hop styles. This is an album that has the feeling of human hands on it- a Hip Hop/R&B album that plays like a live band, like a lottery of sessions musicians sweating away on the hottest days to bring you jewels. It’s got that collaborative chemistry and the soundscapes pull you back to their place in space and time. It’s comparable to D’angelo’s Black Messiah.
Lyrically, most of the tracks are autobiographical snapshots–slivers of break ups, and making love; making ends meet or flying out on tour; ballads and exploitative hymns to the booty and the merits of an obsequious woman–he switches gears and moods capriciously, frequently without prelude. The Knowledge production is much more consistently powerful, pushing things along even when the lyrics aren’t hitting.
The minimalism of the album cover hides a wealth of wonderful organic sounds, like chicken soup for the soul-deprived. There is more vocal and instrumental mountains climbed on this album than in most discographies. Paak’s ethereal vocals take away a lot of the pique contained in the sometimes dismissive lyrics. But this is an album by a hip hop duo, which people keep forgetting. Yes, .Paak has had a lot of commercial play this year and been on some softer songs, but this is something different- more homegrown, more uninhibited. Most people were probably expecting Malibu to sound more like this, grittier and less contrived- Yes Lawd just sounds natural and unaffected.
With a voice both sexy and stunting, incredibly emotional and affective yet cool and stylised, .Paak can really hit any target he decides to swing at. Like, you’ll here the meat and bones of the beat drop out just for .Paak to bring in a vocal melody in the gap. His lyrics, ambiguously located between R&B and Hip Hop are scene-setters, more props for the vocal displays that really express the intended emotion and bravura. There are already people saying the lyrics are misogynistic but I feel they don’t have any direct malice but are more intent on conjuring West Coast G-Funk in its most authentic vein, like on ‘Suede’ or ‘Best One’.
Knowledge’s beats have the depth and range of Dilla or any legendary producer, his name should appear seamlessly amongst Stones Throw’s elite beat makers like Madlib or Peanut Butter Wolf. The real talking point of this album, I can already tell, is going to be the Amazon-like depth and explorability of the beats. Spanning cut-up sampling like on “What More Can I Say”, to layers of dulcet vocals and church ambience, B3 organs, skanking guitars, crate-digging gone wild, some real esoteric samples that’ll have other music nerds going to Whosampled like crazy. Every filigree, every serif, every detail is perfectly rendered. The fluid dynamics of a man whose head spins with suggestion, who conducts symphonies joining disparate times and cultures. The clarity and integralness of an MD high, a sensual warmth that unravels around the listener and darkens the external world.
This wizardry is evident even on the seemingly interstitial track Can’t Stop which is really an instrumental, but really doesn’t sound like it because Knxwledge’s production is literate and speaks to itself in dialectics that constantly build to overspill the horizon with disco-ball shimmer. HIs technical mastery is pronounced, in his hands a relatively bland vocal readymade will turn into an alto sax and back to a human vocal chord, then back again and wiped in delicious reverb. He marionettes horns and guitars and vocals like the main character in Being John Malkovich. True fireworks left right and centre. And a Rick and Morty sample.
There’s a crazy broad emotional palette on this album, taking us into sun drenched retro vibes and wavvy West Coast smoke anthems (Lyk Dis, Get Bigger/ Do U Luv, Best One, Suede), to introspective slowness (Sidepiece, Kutless, Starlite), and general playfulness (HAN, Link Up). These are songs that are much more than lush. Truly carnal tunes equally sharable with a lover or with the boys. It’s an album for smoking, partying, falling in love and fighting, separating, celebrating the permanence of emotional scars and the transience of the moment. For taking the fun for granted as much as for self-condemnation the morning after. It’s mood music for the past-obsessed, emotionally stunted present, and fittingly the sentiment on the album is as much break-up as make-up.