Anderson .Paak is a considered, thoughtful and expressive interviewee, which made for an enlightening meeting with the rising star who is currently NME’s New Act Of The Week. In an extended Q&A from my published interview, which is also in Friday’s issue of NME, I spoke to him about his new label boss Dr Dre not knowing what Snapchat is, dream collaborations and his recent jaw-dropping network television debut on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Here’s the full Q&A.
Hey Anderson, where are you right now?
I’m shooting the video for ‘The Season / Carry Me’ – it’s the last day of shooting. We’re doing it at the same film studio where they filmed loads of Charlie Chaplin movies – y’know, all that good stuff.
Classic! You recently made your US television debut with a performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert recently. How was that?
Man, it was good, real dope. Colbert’s really genuine. I didn’t get to talk to him properly, but right after our performance I gave him a great big hug, and he turned around and told me, “Yo, you come around any time. Come back again, please come back!” And it was real cool man – his son plays drums, so he had me sign a pair of my drumsticks and a vinyl copy of my album for him. He sounds like he had a good time, man.
You got behind the drumkit during the performance – is that what you normally do playing live?
Yeah, it’s a part of my live show. A lot of people don’t know that I do that, but drumming is where I started, and everything else came after. It was really the first thing that caught my attention. I was writing, y’know, and everybody rapped, thinking that they were gonna be a rapper or a break-dancer when they grew up. But when I first started playing drums I got a hold of something that became my hobby, from when I was about 12 until now. Drumming is a real part of my live show, and I like to do it because so many people aren’t expecting me to go and do it.
It’s certainly a pleasant surprise. So your UK tour this month – will this be your first time making the jump across the pond?
I was just there a few weeks ago, actually – we were over there for a press run, and to attend Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards, where I got the Breakthrough Artist of the Year award. We did a bunch of stuff: we visited the BBC and did a Maida Vale session [with Mistajam], did a Boiler Room session on the day ‘Malibu’ came out, and then a TV show in Paris. I’ve toured Europe before a couple of years ago, opening up for Watsky on his tour on like 30 dates.
Have you noticed a difference in audience reactions when you come to the UK and Europe?
Yeah – I mean, every time I go, it seems like the fans are really appreciative of the culture; they’ve got a lot of respect for the past, especially within hip-hop. In places like Germany and France they’ve got a love for true old-school hip-hop and the real R&B stuff – they’ve got a real respect for it still. And you can tell from their reaction to the music that it seems like they’re really into it, and that they’re really excited just to see someone like me coming from the West Coast – from LA, even – and bringing that sound over to them. They really appreciate it, there’s a difference.
You sold out London’s XOYO (February 25) well in advance – does it bring pressure at all?
I was still under the pressure of not selling tickets, I didn’t think people would show up! It was like, “Right, we’re going to do this tour,” and I was like, “Damn, I hope enough people know about me so that we’re not just playing to the [venue] staff!”[laughs]. There’s no pressure when they say it’s sold out – I mean, I get excited about that. A lot of people haven’t seen us perform, and I don’t think there are many artists out there who have a show like ours. We do a lot of preparation so that we don’t have to feel any nervousness or anything like that. Instead, you’re just kind of anticipating the show; waiting to get out there and meet and talk to the people – just getting really excited about playing.
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So your huge news is that you’ve just signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label. How did you guys celebrate?
We drank some tequila! I went to his house, and we watched his Coachella performance [when he and Snoop headlined in 2012]. His wife and daughter were there for a second, and we just had a couple of shots, man. I’ve been gone so much and he’s been filming so much, and honestly, the celebration part was so short – we’re just excited to get in the studio and make some more music. That same night when we were toasting up I was like: “Yo, let’s get you on Snapchat and just announce it!” And he was like, “Right now?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it right now – then it’ll be everywhere the next day!” And he was like “What is Snap?” I said, “Just trust me.” He wanted to get the right angle and lighting – Dre’s a perfectionist – and we did it. I blasted it off right away, and the next day my phone was just lit: I had so many tags, been featured on so many blogs, and had so many calls from unknown numbers – people who thought they were related to me!
How did you and Dre hook up?
I got invited one day by Tyhiem Cannon, the head of A&R at Aftermath, to come over and work on something for Dre over some DJ Dahi production. I was a little bit sceptical that it was going to fall on deaf ears, but my manager was just kind of dragging me to the studio, and I was like, “Alright”. So I got over there, and I get to the studio and the first two people I meet were Dre and DLC. They’re there watching the play-offs, and I was like “Well, OK I guess they need to hear something from me.” So we go into the studio and meet Justus and King Mez – the two main writers for the ‘Compton’ project – and they’re really cool, saying to me like, “Yo man, we love your song ‘Suede’, we’ve been playing it for weeks.” And I was like, “oh wow man, that’s great.” They wanted me to do something on these beats that they had – which turned out to be ‘All In A Day’s Work’ – and I just lost my mind, I just loved it. I was really into the beat and I just wanted to get on the mic just there and then, but they just started playing ‘Suede’ and were like, “Yo, we need Dre to hear this.” He hadn’t heard the song yet, so I was kind of nervous and hopeful in a kinda “wow, I hope he likes it” way, so that he’ll still let me get on the mic. So they played it, and Dre cranked the volume up loud. And then he played it again. And then he played it again. And after the third time, he was like, “OK, let’s work!”
So then they played ‘All In A Day’s Work’, and he was giving out ideas for what he wanted the vibe to be; just singing different melodies and explaining what he thought the beat should be – and I thought it was right up my alley. And so that’s when I asked if I could just get on the mic and try something – and he was like, “Oh yeah, you wanna try something right now?” So they brought the mic in, and I closed my eyes and started riffing off the top of my head. When I opened my eyes, everyone in the room was just like “Wooooh, yeah!” And, after that, I was always over there.
I didn’t know what project this was going to be for, I didn’t know much about anything until ‘Compton’ actually came out. I couldn’t believe how many times my name was popping up on that tracklist.
So how does it feel to be part of Aftermath?
It’s such a surreal thing. Five years ago I would have laughed if someone had said, “Not only are you going to be working with Dre, but you’re going to be on his last project [‘Compton’].” It was so far-fetched to even be working with him, so to think that I would be on that project that everybody thought was never going to come out is just really crazy. And then you start to think about the lineage of all the people that he’s produced, and what they went on to achieve and how they went on to produce other people – y’know, he’s one of the only guys in hip-hop that has that story where he’s made other people millions, and then they in turn make millions for themselves. It’s just crazy now to be a part of that lineage.
I just feel really good. My story’s a little unique – everybody who works with him has a unique story – because I felt like I was a completely unknown artist when I met him, even though I had a lot of projects already out. But I think it’s interesting that when we started working together he had a sense of trust in what I could do, and he was happy for me to come in and work my magic and just do what I feel like I can do. And he was just also up for giving me ideas, and I can elaborate on those, so we have that kind of mutual respect in the lab. I don’t know if he’s actually worked with many other artists who also produce for themselves as well, so I think I was kind of unique in that sense too. I’m just very excited for what kind of music we’re going to be making – even though we did so much on ‘Compton’, we haven’t done too much music together outside of that, so I’m looking forward to developing that working relationship with him in the studio and getting to know him more – seeing where we can go with it; what sound we can make together, y’know? I guess I think about the different artists that he’s worked with and how I’m going to fit into that, so I’m just excited and I’m glad I’m on the team, and I’m ready to put some numbers on the board now.
There’s been talk of you working with Flying Lotus as well – what’s the status on that?
We’ve been meaning to do something together for a while, yeah. We met a while back, and we’ve always been in the same circle of friends with Thundercat and everybody. I’m a big fan of Brainfeeder so we talk frequently, and once our schedules align, I’m pretty sure we’ll make some great music together.
It’s certainly time to aim high – who would you love to collaborate with?
At this point, I’m more interested in working with producers and writers; people that I can have conversations with and share my stance on songwriting. But I’m really excited to possibly be working with Pharrell in the future. I really want to work with Jack White. I’d still like to get a track with Stevie [Wonder], as he’s working with all the new people. It’d be awesome to sit down with D’Angelo, and hang out with him for a little bit.
I’d love to get back and work with those I’ve already collaborated with as well: of course The Free Nationals, of course Callum Conor. I’m really excited to work more with Kaytranda and POMO, and I loved working with Hi-Tek. I want to start digging back and working with some of these older hip-hop producers too, we kinda mesh well: I want to work with Madlib, DJ Premier. Yeah, man, musicians: Chris Dave… everybody! Dope people. I wanna do a song with Adele! Nobody gets Adele as a feature, so maybe I can get it [laughs]. I hope she knows who I am!
Anderson .Paak plays London’s XOYO tomorrow evening (February 25) as part of DJ Semtex Presents.