Rapper and crooner Anderson .Paak has spent his past four albums proper (the run was interrupted by 2016’s ‘Yes Lawd!’, an accomplished collaboration with LA producer Knxwledge) telling his extraordinary life story, though the order’s been all jumbled up, his rise to fame presented as a big bang that’s ricocheted in all directions – past, present and future.
Having broken out with 2014’s ‘Venice’, the Cali musician, real name Brandon Paak Anderson, first achieved trued greatness with 2016’s ‘Malibu’, a lush ‘70s soul-inflected record that revelled the good life he was living as a #blessed rapper who kicks it with Dr. Dre, on the cusp of superstardom (its stunning, loved-up, punch-drunk centrepiece single ‘Heart Don’t Stand A Chance’ saw to that). Last year’s ‘Oxnard’ referenced his childhood in the titular Los Angeles neighbourhood, while this latest album name-checks Ventura, the sun-kissed Californian coastal town in which, he’s explained, he “found [his] depth” as a teen.
Opener ‘Come Home’ sets the tone, a rattle of tambourine implying a faith in louche living that borders on the mystical. And while that four-record run might suggest a string of different concept albums, this is a simple collection of woozy slow-jams and blissed-out recollections (a step back from the hip-hop stylings of ‘Oxnard’, which wrong-footed some fans). “We would make love at a drop of a hat,” he croons with a smile on the Smokey Robinson collaboration ‘Make It Better’. And ‘Come Home’ makes you feel rich and carefree and beautiful even before Andre 3000 nonchalantly calls himself a “phenomenon”.
There’s a hardboiled romance throughout the album, so no wonder there’s a sample of actor Chazz Palminteri purring through dialogue from Robert DeNiro’s 1993 gangster movie A Bronx Tale: “You’re only allowed three great women in your lifetime. They come along like the great fighters, every ten years. Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis.” Producer Dr. Dre, who was also at the helm with ‘Oxnard’, has imbued the record with a sun-kissed, honeyed tone. Occasionally .Paak dips into the mire of the here and now – on ‘King James’ he jokes, “If they build a wall, let’s jump the fence / I’m over this” – but largely this is escapist revelry.
The truth is that ‘Ventura’ isn’t a patch on ‘Malibu’, and neither was ‘Oxnard’, though each explored similar territory, sonically and thematically. Maybe he needs to regroup, take a longer break between releases, and figure out what the next tetralogy sounds like. As winning streaks go, though, Anderson .Paak has proved himself heavyweight champion of the heart.