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#14: Ventura – Anderson .Paak
On July 30, 2019, when I started this journey I’m calling the “Top 19 of the 2010s” I gave Anderson .Paak’s 2019 album Ventura honorable mention and said this:
I’m certain time will place this album safely in my top 20 albums of this decade, but it’s too early. Paak will be well represented on this list later anyway, so Ventura can wait its turn.
That was over three months ago when I’d only had three months to enjoy Ventura. I intentionally left a spot open knowing that as it continued to grow on me it would earn a spot on this list by the time I finished. Approximately 100 days later I’m ready to place this album at #14. Given time I’m sure it will continue moving up, but looking at the more established albums that lie ahead on this list it seems fair to place Ventura here for now.
I can’t write about Ventura without first mentioning Oxnard. After a streak of hit albums and songs from 2015-2017 many – me included – were eagerly awaiting Anderson .Paak’s next move. In November of 2018 he dropped Oxnard. I don’t know how to describe my mixed feelings toward that album.
The first single “Tints” is unquestionably one of my favorite songs of the past several years. A breezy disco/funk jam featuring Kendrick Lamar that fits musically with Quincy Jones’s work on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. The lyrics are absurd. It boils down to him needing tinted windows on his ride so he can get road head without anyone seeing. There are few things more fun than blasting this track yelling, “I can’t be flying down that 110 with no bad bitch in my whip, I need tints,” along with it. If you’ve been reading my blog with any frequency you’ll know this already: I don’t always concern myself with lyrics. I love a song with a good message and impressive songwriting, but if it’s catchy and funky I don’t really care what they’re saying as long as it’s not blatantly racist or something. I’m not listening to funky white power anthems or anything. I’m guessing there aren’t any funky white power anthems anyway, right? Back to my point, “Tints” is about trying to hide the fact that he’s hooking up with girls in his car? I don’t care. The shit is funky as hell.
Did I mention this is the second song on the album about road head…and it’s only the third song on the album? Technically, “Headlow” is about blow jobs in general, not just road head, but I think you get my point. I don’t really need one song about road head on an album, much less two, and he led off with them. I’ve always found .Paak’s tales of infidelity and light misogyny comical and somewhat charming. Easy for me to say as someone who’s never been a victim of light misogyny, I guess. He’s got a magnetic personality and the happiest smile I’ve ever seen. He can sing lyrics like, “If I call you a bitch it’s ’cause you my bitch, and as long as no one else call you a bitch then there won’t be no problems,” and I laugh at it because that’s just .Paak fucking around. He says it with a smile and a wink. It’s not hateful. Ellen DeGeneres has repeatedly referred to him as one of her favorite artists and he’s appeared on her show as a guest many times. He showed up to perform for her on her birthday once. Ellen – one of the classiest, most beloved, generous celebrities of our generation – wouldn’t be getting birthday serenades from him and touting his greatness if he was some sexist piece of shit. By the way, click those Ellen links because the performances are amazing.
Still…something about the way it comes off on Oxnard hit my ears the wrong way. The thing is, I still love that album. It’s not as consistently great as some of his others, but the high points are as high as any album in recent memories. “6 Summers” takes on Donald Trump and the gun violence epidemic and should’ve been a hit single. “Anywhere” is a 90’s throwback featuring Snoop Dogg that honors the R&B music that I grew up on. There’s a lot to love on Oxnard. I just don’t think it’s quite at the level of his other work. When you’re constantly hitting home runs it seems like a failure when you only hit a double.
I wasn’t alone. Oxnard was not received as well critically as his previous work. Then in early-2019, just months after the release of Oxnard, .Paak announced that he spent so much time in the studio with Dre that he had enough material for two albums. The next one would feature more soul music. In April of 2019, five months after his last album, Anderson .Paak released Ventura and all was right with the world again. Where Oxnard felt uneven and occasionally cold, Ventura corrects that in the first minute. The first lyrics to the opening track, “Come Home“:
Darling, I have to be moved from afar
The truth is the only thing worth holding on to anymore
Untie me, let me loose from the cord
I’m so gone so far, I deserve more
Yeah, I’m begging you
I’m begging you please come home
No one even begs anymore
With his unique, soulful voice .Paak is begging us to come back. Then, just to double down on the greatness, Andre 3000 awakens from his hibernation and delivers a verse like only he can. Within three minutes whatever sins were committed on Oxnard are forgiven and I’m back. The second track, “Make it Better“, features Smokey Robinson in the chorus and feels like a throwback to Smokey’s hey day. If “Come Home” didn’t win you over, “Make it Better” had to. For 40 minutes .Paak’s one-of-a-kind blend of hip hop and soul reminds you why there’s nobody out there making music right now like he is. Is he singing? Is he rapping? Is he drumming? What genre is this? Did he just say, “You’re sniffing too much baby, I had to hide my yay?” It doesn’t matter. It’s great music. Stop thinking and enjoy the ride. Oxnard can take Ventura’s temporary place in my honorable mention. Ventura belongs on this list.
Now it’s awards time:
This is a photo finish, but I’m giving it to Make it Better. For a guy who constantly sings songs about infidelity and the consequences, he sure knows how to write about being in a long-term relationship and the emotions that go along with it. It’s fun and sexy to write about new love. It’s more complicated and less exciting to write about real, long-term love, but he nails it on this song. It’s a side of him I wasn’t sure existed, but he pulls it off beautifully. It has a hip hop beat, but there are soaring strings along with a hint of What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye with the guitar. Smokey provides background vocals. It’s a true throwback love song that melts your heart and makes you want to sing along and slow dance with your wife at the same time.
Anderson .Paak is the reason I created this category. You could go a few different ways with this on his albums. There are heartfelt lyrics about love (see above). There are over the top lyrics about sex and cheating. There are laugh out loud funny lyrics. There are offensive lyrics (if you’re the type that’s easily offended). There’s something for everyone! It depends on what you prefer. I tend to lean toward thought provoking lyrics, so here’s my choice:
We’ve been through it all, though it could be worseWe’ve been moved around in a state of alertThere’s nothing new or sharp about the cutting edgeIf they build a wall let’s jump the fence, I’m over this
The critical reception to the song King James was not always kind and I’m not sure I get it. .Paak is making statement about race in this song. At one point he sings about Colin Kaepernick from a first-person perspective. I feel like a lot of the criticism was simply based on the fact that .Paak typically doesn’t seem to take things too seriously, so why should we take this seriously? On the other hand, if he doesn’t say something he runs the risk of the same people criticizing him for not using his platform for anything meaningful. Someone in his position can’t really win. Don’t be so serious. You’re not serious enough. Whatever. .Paak is one of those rare talents with the ability to deliver a message that doesn’t feel preachy. I like the vibe on this track, but especially the lines from the first verse above. If they build a wall let’s just the fence, I’m over this. Hell yes. I’ll jump it with him.
Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song
This song only clocks in at 1:38, but I’ve listened to Good Heels hundreds of times already. Yes, it’s another song about him cheating, but Jazmine Sullivan joins him on this duet to sing from the perspective of the girl he spent the night with. He’s already gone, his girl is on the way home, she’s locked out of his place, but she left her stuff in there. She needs to get in and “get her little thangs, get her little keys, get her little rings” before his girl gets home and finds out. I have so many questions about this song.
So, he brought a “friend” home and they had “too much fun in the A.M.” He’s already gone. I’m guessing he’s gone to work? Doesn’t matter. Jazmine has been trusted to see herself out before his girl gets home. One might think he would stay home in that situation to guarantee that she got out and all evidence is gone or destroyed. He must’ve had an important meeting or something that morning because he just left and assumed she’d get out.
Instead, she got up, put on her “good heels” and just walked out, I guess. She got outside and realized, “Oh shit, I left my keys, clothes, and rings in there. What was I thinking going out to my car naked in my shoes?” She went back to the door get in but it must’ve locked behind her. This seems like a good place to mention that one of the lines in the song mentions a fire escape. If his place has a fire escape, he’s either living in an apartment building or an incredibly large home that’s open for tours like Paisley Park or Graceland or something. I’m going with apartment building. She’s definitely outside because she says that it’s cold out. That means she walked naked through the apartment building and got outside before she realized she left her rings, keys, and clothes inside. She did, however, remember her cell phone, because she’s able to communicate with him, I’m assuming via either phone or text. Now he knows she’s locked out but “he just it the 1, shit, he’s in the Palisades.” I don’t know where he lives (Oxnard?) and I’m not familiar with Southern California geography, but apparently he’s too far away to get there in time to let her in before his girl gets home. She must work nights.
Now she needs to find a way in the apartment armed with nothing but some high heeled shoes and a cell phone. If I had a dollar for every time that’s happened to me… Forget about the premise. It’s a dope song. I can’t stop listening to it.
Ring Walk Song
The entire song Winners Circle isn’t ring walk music. Most of it feels like it was taken straight from an early-2000s Musiq Soulchild album, and that’s a good thing in my opinion. Then at about the 2:25 mark the song transforms. Nothing but drums and an insane bass line with .Paak rapping over it. Gets me hyped every single time.
Favorite Happy Song
I’ll go back to Make it Better on this one. If this doesn’t make you feel good, nothing will.
Song I’d Play if I Was DJing
Give me a minute to talk about Chosen One. In 2017, the year after Malibu and Yes Lawd! I was getting antsy for more Anderson .Paak. I realize that’s completely unfair since he’s already prolific as it is, but those two albums were so good I was fiending for more. Late that year this video surfaced of .Paak working in the studio. When they start playing an insane groove with some guitar and slap bass. I immediately texted it to my brother asking, “What the fuck is this song and where can I hear it?” I waited. When Oxnard arrived a year later my main objective was to find the mystery song from the video. It wasn’t there. Disappointment. I don’t typically stalk celebrities on Twitter, but I was tweeting at him, “Where’s that song from the YouTube video?” No response. I can’t die without ever hearing this song. Then he announced another album on The Tonight Show and my first thought was, “The song from the video!” April 2019, 18 months after seeing that video for the first time, I got to hear the song. Coincidentally it’s called “Chosen One” and it was worth the wait. Crazy instrumental work by the Free Nationals. Laugh out loud funny lyrics about his sexual prowess. He repeatedly mentions keeping it a buck like Milwaukee. What more could one ask for?
6th Man Award
I’m not here to question Dr. Dre. His resume is unparalleled. The Chronic and Nirvana’s Nevermind transformed music forever in the early-90’s. He launched the careers of household names like Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and 50 Cent, among others. All of that said, I blamed Dr. Dre for the things I didn’t like about Oxnard. So much of .Paak’s greatness came from him sounding so different, especially on the NxWorries album. Knxwledge’s production on that album is amazing. The entire album is just a bit off, and I mean that in the best way possible. Malibu incorporated work from multiple producers (shout out to Hi-Tek’s work on “Come Down”) and a lot of the Free Nationals. Oxnard sounded too conventional. Too polished. That’s not to say that there wasn’t some great music, but I felt like it was too straight forward. I realize there were a lot of producers on that album, but I know he worked with Dre as well. When I found out Ventura was also with Dre I was skeptical…and I was obviously wrong. Ventura is warm and funky. It feels like a throwback at times and feels fresh at other times. A nice combination of many sounds at once, which fits the artist. If I’m going to blame Dre for anything that disappointed me on Oxnard, I have to praise him for the things I love about Ventura.
That’s is for the newest record on the list. You’ll be hearing a lot more about Anderson .Paak as the countdown continues. Number 13 is next and it’s one of the oldest records on this countdown from someone I’ve been listening to for 30 years. I would also argue that not only is this one of the most underrated artists over that time period, but this album is also one of the most underrated of the decade. You’ll have to wait to find out.