Top 19 of the 2010s: Number 3

We’ve made it to the final three. A final three that still isn’t cemented. Since I had to eliminate one of them, here’s my post on #3. Before I start, here’s the list so far:

#19: New Amerykah Pt. 2 – Erykah Badu

#18: Lemonade – Beyonce

#17: Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody

#16: Lonerism – Tame Impala

#15: Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote

#14: Ventura – Anderson .Paak

#13: Stone Rollin’ – Raphael Saadiq

#12: We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – A Tribe Called Quest

#11: The Electric Lady – Janelle Monáe

#10: But You Caint Use My Phone – Erykah Badu

#9: No Beginning No End – José James

#8: Currents – Tame Impala

#7: Dirty Computer – Janelle Monáe

#6: “Awaken, My Love!” – Childish Gambino

#5: The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake

#4: Because The Internet – Childish Gambino

#3: Yes Lawd! – NxWorries

Let’s quickly recap Anderson .Paak’s 2016. In December of 2015 he teamed up with producer Knxwledge (pronounced like knowledge) to create the duo NxWorries (pronounced like no worries). They released an EP called Link Up & Suede, which was essentially a single for the songs “Link Up” and “Suede” with some filler thrown in. A month later .Paak released his sophomore solo album Malibu and it blew up. While Malibu continued to build momentum in July of 2016 .Paak announced that the NxWorries album was finished and its release was imminent. In October NxWorries released their first – and to this day, only – album, Yes Lawd! The album includes both of the outstanding tracks from their original 2015 EP, “Suede” and “Link Up” along with 17 more tracks. Both Malibu and Yes Lawd! appeared on multiple year-end “best of 2016” lists. .Paak earned himself a Best New Artist nomination at the Grammy awards, which he lost to Chance the Rapper. I love Chance, but I’d like a recount on that one. It’s funny to me when someone is nominated for Best New Artist a few years into his/her career. .Paak’s first album Venice was released in 2014 to little fanfare, but it did well enough to catch the attention of Dr. Dre. Dre featured .Paak on six tracks on his 2015 Compton album. It’s funny that he was nominated for Best New Artist for his work in 2016. Best Breakthrough Artist would’ve been more appropriate were that award to exist.

Two things separate .Paak’s 2016 solo album Malibu from his NxWorries album Yes Lawd!:

First let’s address the elephant in the room: the rampant objectification of women. Damn near every song on this album is a cheaters’ anthem. When .Paak isn’t singing about his sidepiece he’s singing about a “stank ass ho with a tongue piercing” or how his girl needs to “take the whole thing.” How do NxWorries release this album to nearly universal acclaim in today’s PC world? It’s like we all looked at each other and agreed that we’d let this one slide because the music is so damn good. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I’ve repeatedly referred to “Suede” as my favorite song of the century and the lyrics are appalling by today’s standards. .Paak is in full 1970’s blaxploitation pimp mode repeatedly making references to bitches, tricks, and hoes.

It’s not just me. In August of 2016 Anderson .Paak and his band Free Nationals performed on the popular NPR YouTube Tiny Desk series. I repeat, NPR. A progressive firebrand. The last place you’d expect to tolerate this kind of language. .Paak opens with three songs from his Malibu album, then opens it up to the small studio audience for requests. The crowd immediately shouts “Suede” back at him to which he responds, “OHHH! I thought this was a more cultured, like mature…so y’all like being called bitches over here? I talk a lot of shit on this song. Is that OK?” Clearly the band wasn’t prepared for the song because they had to start it twice before they got it right. But when they did get it right? Damn, it’s smooth. Free Nationals are a hell of a band. When the performance is over .Paak declares that “Suede” is one of his mom’s favorite songs. To this day .Paak’s Tiny Desk performance has more views than any other on that show. By far. 35 million more views than BTS’s performance. I’m honestly not sure how that’s possible. I guess 10-year-olds aren’t familiar with NPR.

So, why is he able to get away with this? I don’t have the answer. If I had to guess I’d say it’s because he delivers his vocals with a wink and that patented Anderson .Paak toothy smile that lights up a room. I hear it and treat him like a puppy who just peed on the floor. “Anderson, these lyrics are wrong! Bad boy! Oh, I can’t stay mad at you. You’re Anderson .Paak. You’re so happy.” I think about .Paak’s wife frequently when I listen to this album. What does she think? If any of these tracks are autobiographical how the hell does she feel about it? They’ve been married for ten years so apparently whatever they’re doing is working for them. None of my business.

The bigger reason he gets away with it is that we’re talking about objectification here, not misogyny. It might sound like semantics, but there’s a key difference between the two. The definition of objectification is “the action of degrading someone to the status of a mere object.” Misogyny is “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” Don’t get me wrong, neither one is good. I’m saying objectification is less bad because it doesn’t come from a place of hate. You never get the impression that .Paak hates women. The women in his (presumably) fictional lyrics are sexual objects. He doesn’t seem to have contempt for them.

I’ll stop trying to excuse this now. It’s bad either way. I love an album with some abhorrent lyrics. It’s not the first time. NxWorries is Kidz Bop compared to Doggystyle or Efil4zaggin.

The second factor that sets Yes Lawd! apart from Malibu is the phenomenal production of the less recognized member of the duo, Knxwledge. There’s a long line of impressive hip hop producers that’s too long to list here, but I’m going to shout out a few anyway. Of course there’s J. Dilla who I consider to be the master and godfather of the sound Knxwledge deploys on this album. Dilla used warm, soulful samples and pieced them together in a way that made them sound more human. The imperfections in Dilla’s production are what made him Dilla. The most noticeable example I can recall is his beat on “Wordplay” from A Tribe Called Quest’s 1996 album Beats, Rhymes and Life. If you put a metronome on this song it will always match on the one, but the kick and snare are often behind the beat between the ones. I don’t have enough space in this post to do Dilla’s work justice. You could write a book on the greatness of Dilla, and people have. If you want to know more about what set Dilla apart watch this and this.

Dilla’s work understandably inspired a generation of great beatmakers. People like Kanye West, Madlib, 9th Wonder, and Knxwledge come to mind first for me. My personal favorite hip hop producer of all-time is 9th Wonder, but I don’t think any of them – including Dilla – have created a better beat tape start to finish than Knxwledge did on Yes Lawd! Every track on Yes Lawd! leaves me thinking, “How did Knxwledge hear that song and decide that it should be sampled for a hip hop album?” Knxwledge possesses a special ear for finding music that sounds nothing like hip hop the ability to turn that music in to a dope beat.

There’s one other factor that sets Knxwledge apart from others. We’ve already established that Dilla knew how to humanize his beats by being slightly off time while always being right on time (if that makes any sense). It is possible to push it too far. At some point it goes from cool to just plain sloppy. There’s a fine line between sounding like a genius and sounding like you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. Knxwledge gets as close to that line without crossing it as anyone I’ve ever heard on this album. He pushes the sloppy programming just far enough so that it sounds cool without going too far. I don’t know how to describe where that line is, but I’ll say I know it when I hear it. My favorite example is “Lyk Dis” from Yes Lawd! The casual observer might listen to that track and not even notice a thing. However, if you’re like me and you’re constantly analyzing the music you listen to, give “Lyk Dis” a closer examination. If you can, ignore .Paak’s vocals. Start following little details like the snare and hi hat. Try to tap your feet along with it. Everything hits on the one the way it’s “supposed to” but there are all kinds of subtle modifications going on in between. It really jumps out during the chorus when the lyrics “just lyk dis” hit way too early every single time. It’s almost impossible to exaggerate how early it is if you’re trying to sing along.

I’m going to call Knxwledge’s work on Yes Lawd! flawed perfection and I mean it as the highest possible praise. It’s the apex of the sound Dilla invented. I measure the beats on every other album against this one. It’s gotten to a point now for me where if music sounds too perfect and everything is on time exactly where it’s “supposed to” be I’m bored with it. Anderson .Paak does all of his Anderson .Paak things to make this a great album, but it’s Knxwledge’s work that turns this into a classic.

Awards time.

Favorite Song

I said it before, I’ll say it again. It’s “Suede” in a landslide. This track features both members of the duo doing what they do best. Knxwledge did everything I mentioned above in creating the perfectly imperfect beat. .Paak talks a lot of shit, but in a way that’s so outlandish it’s actually charming and laugh out loud funny. Is it really my favorite song of the century? It depends on my mood. Either way, it’s on the short list.

Favorite Lyric

I’m copping out and calling this one a tie. One serious and one just for fun. Fun first:

My mama said don’t trust these hoes, boy be about your loot (True story)
Now if my mama told me that, why the fuck would I listen to you? (Yes Lawd)
Never go broke chasing riches
But you might go broke chasing every lil’ stank-ass ho with a tongue piercing, now

This is the second verse of “Suede” and it’s one of my favorites of all-time. Did his mama really tell him “don’t trust these hoes, be about your loot?” Word for word? That’s fascinating. Then .Paak follows that line with the hilarious “if my mama told me that why the fuck would I listen to you?” For the final half of the verse he starts with “never go broke chasing riches” which leads you to believe he’s going to finish the verse with something to say about bitches. Instead he throws a curveball and references “every little stank ass ho with a tongue piercing.” Another hilarious line. All delivered in a way only .Paak can do it. Perfection.

My real favorite lyric on the album goes like this:

I left home at 17 had to lighten the load
I was young but I was keen to survive on my own
In the fall gotta gig with my brother Elhaj
Shopping work, bagging groceries, pushin’ them carts
I was grateful to be working but say my back is hurtin’
I don’t think it’s the purpose, no this can’t be the call
At night, I workin’ grave, just counting the time
On my break I wrote a song ’bout the love of my life
This ain’t right
Couple dollars and change
Walking home in the rain
Jump in the front of the train
Bitch, I might
On top of the roof, empty bottles of brew
Take a hit of my J, I’m in flight
Closing my eyes visioning Monte Carlos with tinted windows and balling legitimate
Open my eyes I was in the same predicament
The next day I called in; said “I quit”
Bitch, I get bigger

This is the first verse of “Get Bigger” and I can’t say I relate to all of this. I did not leave home at 17. I was never a grocery bagger. I can relate to everything else here. Closing your eyes envisioning something bigger, then opening them and finding yourself in the same predicament. Feeling like there should be more to life. Wanting something greater professionally and knowing there’s only one way out. Calling in and saying “I quit.” It’s a miserable feeling. .Paak describes it beautifully. This song got me through a lot of dark days.

Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song

There are so many options to choose from here, but “Lyk Dis” is so good I can’t choose anything else. The lyrics are early-80s Prince level nasty, but Knxwledge’s beat is so smooth the lyrics are easy to ignore if you choose. There’s a version of this song performed live on a Rome rooftop that displays Anderson .Paak’s flawless voice. He delivers a pitch perfect laid back performance that demonstrates his underrated vocal ability. Just a laid back, sexy track.

Ring Walk Song

This isn’t a “ring walk song” kind of album, but there is one choice that makes sense here and that’s “H.A.N.” Let me put a large asterisk on this and say that I would personally never use this as a ring walk song. The H stands for ho, the A stands for ass, and the N stands for the N-word. A ho ass n***a is not something you’d ever hear coming out of my mouth, and I wouldn’t want to imply that by playing this song. However, if you’re Terence Crawford or Deontay Wilder walking out to the ring for a championship fight, I think “H.A.N.” would be the perfect song to belittle your opponent.

Favorite Happy Song

Starlite” is a soul music masterpiece. Knxwledge’s production is lush and soulful. .Paak sings (raps?) a tale of meeting a woman, falling in love, then the two of them evolving and drifting apart. Just when it sounds like a sad breakup song .Paak exclaims, “Hey! Goddamn bitch they playing our song,” and it does a 180 about how he wants her in his life for the rest of his days. A gorgeous song with vocals that are somehow simultaneously sentimental and hilarious. In the hands of a lesser duo this song wouldn’t work, but Knxwledge and .Paak made magic.

Song I’d Play If I Was DJing

As fun as “Suede” is I’ve given that track plenty of love in this post. Instead I’m going with its counterpart on the original NxWorries EP, “Link Up.” Most of Knxwledge’s beats on this album are laid back, but “Link Up” is a great dance groove. If the beat doesn’t inspire you, check out the bodega dance party in the music video and tell me you don’t want to be a part of it. If that doesn’t work for you, check .Paak’s lyrics to the chorus:

Don’t hate the groove
If a bitch wanna choose, gonna shake her loose
If a n***a act rude, I’mma take his boo
Cause I only wanna dance with you (Come on!)
Don’t hate the boss
If a bitch wanna choose, gonna take a loss
If a n***a act rude, I’mma take his broad
Cause I only wanna dance with you

I really only posted that because I think his use of “broad” is hilarious. He couldn’t work a “dame” in there somewhere?

6th Man Award

My 6th Man Award on this album goes to Stones Throw Records. Not to oversimplify, but if you listen to music released by Stones Throw Records, it’s almost certainly going to be cool. They’re one of those labels you can just trust. They don’t sign weak acts. It’s the home of J. Dilla’s legendary Donuts album as well as much of Madlib’s most beloved work. Stones Throw paired up Madlib and rapper MF Doom (Madvillain) for 2004’s Madvillainy, arguably the most recognized and beloved album in the Stones Throw canon. Stones Throw was also the home of the Dilla/Madlib (Jaylib) 2003 album Champion Sound. It was only fitting that the pairing of Knxwledge and Anderson .Paak found a home with Stones Throw. I hope there’s more to come, and if there’s any truth to what Anderson .Paak says, there will be soon.

And now we’re down to just two. Like I said in my last post, I know which two albums I’m writing about. I still genuinely haven’t decided on the order. As soon as I decide I’ll post it.

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