Top 19 of the 2010s: Number 1

We made it! It’s time to give praise to my #1 album of the 2010s! First, as always, a recap in case you aren’t caught up yet:

#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

#2: Black Messiah – D’Angelo and The Vanguard

#1: Malibu – Anderson .Paak

It’s a struggle coming to grips with getting old. That phrase is true in general, but it’s even more significant when you’re a fan of popular music. When I was young I would defiantly declare, “I’ll always know what’s going on with new music. I’ll never be like old people who get stuck in their ways listening to old music.” The reality is that I stopped caring about popular music in my early-20s. I was already content listening to the same artists on repeat. I still am for the most part.

What I found that I was missing as I got older was not the need to keep up with what was relevant. I missed that feeling you get discovering something new. I missed falling in love with a new artist. The feeling I got the first time I heard The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest or Reachin’ by Digable Planets. The first time I heard “Definition” by Black Star or “Brown Sugar” by D’Angelo and thought, “Those are my people.”

I turned 40 in 2016. It was another reminder that my youth was fading further in to the rearview, not that any reminders were necessary. Despite my insistence on avoiding damn near everything new, there were a lot of fresh artists in the early 2010s that I discovered. Janelle Monáe. José James. Childish Gambino. Hiatus Kaiyote. Tame Impala. I consider myself a big fan of all of them. However, none of them gave me a rush quite like I’d get when I was young. D’Angelo summed it up best on “Back To The Future” when he said “I used to get real high. Now I just get a buzz.” I’m only three years younger than D, so I can relate. The majority of my music listening in the 2010s was spent digging into the distant past to find something new. Prince, Stevie, JB, Miles, Trane, etc. If I wasn’t listening to them, it was the same artists I’d fallen in love with growing up and remained in my rotation. D’Angelo, The Roots, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, Common, etc.

Enter Anderson .Paak.

By May of 2016 I had seen the name Anderson .Paak many times on my Twitter feed or Okayplayer.com, but I paid no attention. At this point damn near every popular contemporary hip hop or R&B artist I take the time to check out is at best a mild disappointment. Despite seeing his name many times from sources that I trust, I was not in a hurry to check him out because I was certain he’d be another letdown. The only reason I remembered his name was because the last name started with a period. What kind of last name is .Paak? Every time I saw his name there it was again. That period. Why?

Let’s clear that up before I go any further. Anderson .Paak’s real name is Brandon Paak Anderson. He began performing under the stage name Breezy Lovejoy but at some point (wisely) realized it was time for a rebrand. He obviously lost the first name and just flipped his middle and last name for his on-stage persona. But what’s up with the period? He explained it in a 2016 interview with NPR:

“The dot stands for “detail” — always be paying attention to detail. I feel that people take you as serious as you take yourself. I spent a lot of time working on my craft, developing my style, and after I came out of my little incubation I promised that I would pay attention to detail. And on top of that, I want to make sure that dot is always there to remind me and to remind others.”

Cool. “The dot” is what got my attention. Well played.

I remember the first night I listened to Malibu like it was yesterday. It was mid-May 2016. As an IT guy I was going through one of those rough stretches when you feel like you’re working two jobs. We were doing server work, which meant it had to take place after hours. When you’re doing server work it’s not like the day-to-day stuff just takes a break for you. I’d work my normal hours during the day, come home for a few hours in the evening to spend some time with my wife and kids, then later in the evening I’d kiss everyone goodnight and go back to the office to take down servers while nobody else was working. Some of those nights lasted until 9:00 or 10:00. Bad nights would last until sometime between midnight and 2:00 AM. On the worst nights I’d see the sunrise from the office. I can think of few feelings in life as miserable as seeing the sun come up knowing that my co-workers would be arriving any minute and I still had server or network issues preventing them from doing their jobs.

On this specific Thursday evening in May it was especially difficult to leave my family. It was beautiful outside and anyone from Wisconsin knows how we treasure nights like that after the long, cold winter and spring. It didn’t help that I knew the night’s work was going to be particularly complicated. I treated myself to some new music in an effort to improve my mood. It was time to finally check out the guy with the period in his last name. I downloaded Malibu on to my iPhone and pressed play on my commute back to the office. I was sampling each track for a few moments to catch the vibe. I nodded and thought, “I like this. So far, so good.” I was at a stop light on the corner of West Mason and Oneida in Green Bay admiring a gorgeous sunset in the distance when I first heard “Come Down” and had my moment of, “Wait, what the fuck is this???” It was an adrenaline rush. I sat up in my seat and suddenly Anderson .Paak had all of my attention. Also the driving. Driving had my attention as well, but you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, there was little time for further exploration. Five minutes later I was in the office and the night went sideways quickly. How can I sum this up? There was hardware failure on the server. Our troubleshooting sent us down the wrong path. The sun came up. People couldn’t get online. Every person I saw approached me one of two ways: Half greeted me with a level of pity that made me uncomfortable. The other half impatiently asked, “When will it be fixed?” before reminding me that they had something important to work on like somehow I wasn’t aware of the urgency of the situation and didn’t feel the weight of hundreds of frustrated people crushing me until they told me just now. Ugh. I don’t blame any of them, but it still took every ounce of my willpower not to snap back sarcastically. I was sleep deprived. We had emergency brainstorming sessions. A technician from the manufacturer was called. It was just before 1:00 PM when the problem was finally resolved.

I had one thought lingering in the back of my head throughout the nightmare: as soon as the panic and dread subside I’ve gotta check out Malibu again. At some point that weekend I was able to give it the listen it deserved. I fell in love immediately. That feeling that I had missed for so long was back. I had a new musical obsession. Who is Anderson .Paak? Where did he come from? Does he have more music? I spent countless hours watching live Anderson .Paak performances. Two nights ago while researching for this post my wife saw me watching Anderson .Paak and Free Nationals put on an amazing performance for Grubhub on YouTube and she said, “Uh oh. You’re in the zone again.” Yes, I am.

So, why Anderson .Paak? What is it about him that caught my ear while others fell by the wayside? I’m going to start here. He’s been blessed with a voice that’s difficult to replicate. A lot of people can sing, but few have a unique voice and know what to do with it. He has a rasp that can’t be imitated and the ability to rarely, if ever, miss a note. He’s always pitch perfect. The lyrics to this song are ridiculous and hilarious and he accidentally knocks over a table, but watch this performance of his song “Silicon Valley.” Look past the clowning and appreciate the sick vocals. His singing voice is special.

Adding to his versatility, the guy can spit. He can captivate on the mic without using his singing voice. Anyone that can go bar for bar with Busta Rhymes has some skill on the mic. In this way he reminds me of Lauryn Hill. Someone who can sing and rhyme at a world class level. He has an ability to blend R&B and hip hop like nobody I’ve ever heard. Much of the time I can’t tell if he’s singing or rapping and I come to the same conclusion every time I try to figure it out: Who cares? No need to label it anything other than great music.

Next is his musicianship. He’s a fantastic drummer. I’m not a drummer myself – although I’ve always felt like I was a drummer at heart that picked the wrong instrument – but it doesn’t take a musical genius to see that .Paak frequently flashes subtle brilliance behind the drumset. He’ll begin musical performances behind a drumset, then jump out and stand in front of the band at the microphone and vice versa. His ability to spit lyrics while performing something complicated behind the drums is difficult for me to fathom. Either one is a challenge on its own, but both simultaneously?

The next Anderson .Paak quality that I admire is his work ethic. Beneath all of the outward clowning is someone rapidly improving at his craft. .Paak’s Grubhub Sound Bites performance with Free Nationals from February 12, 2021, was more proof that there’s a fire burning underneath the easy going, fun loving California vibe. No band this tight ever got there without a lot of hard work. .Paak strikes me as the kind of guy who relishes being underestimated. He’ll put on a big smile and say something funny, disarm you and let you think he’s about to do something silly, then catch you off guard and slay when the music starts.

Since 2014 he’s released four solo albums, one album as 1/2 of the duo NxWorries, multiple one-off singles and songs for soundtracks, and more features than I care to count. I could dedicate an entire post to his feature work alongside other greats like Mac Miller, A Tribe Called Quest, Talib Kweli, Rapsody, Hiatus Kaiyote, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Kaytranada, BJ The Chicago Kid, and Justin Timberlake to name just a few. There’s also the obvious #1 song in America right now “Leave The Door Open” and upcoming album with Bruno Mars as well. I would question his high output level if the music wasn’t good, but everything .Paak does is high quality. I don’t dare compare his work ethic to Prince, but his five year run of consistency is reminiscent of the purple one.

Lastly, it’s impossible to list all of the personality and charisma. He carries himself as if was born for this and he’s enjoying every minute of it. His infectious smile is on constant display. His sense of humor is present in his lyrics and nearly all of his performances. His pairing with Bruno Mars is elevating his status to another level, but if there was any concern that the spotlight might get too bright for him, check out his May 29, 2021, performance of “Leave The Door Open” on the iHeartRadio awards. Bruno Mars might have the flawless, otherworldly voice, but .Paak’s charisma is off the charts…also he’s no slouch vocally. I would typically worry about to artists of this level pairing up to make mediocre music for a cash grab. Not these two. The Silk Sonic album is guaranteed to be good.

Anderson .Paak did more than enough during the second half of the 2010s to easily become my favorite artist of the decade. He also cemented himself alongside Prince and D’Angelo in my personal pantheon. I can’t wait to see what he does next…but nothing he does will be able to recapture that unexpected thrill I had the first time I heard Malibu.

Time for awards.

Favorite Song

It wasn’t until I saw .Paak’s Tiny Desk performance that I gained an appreciation for the second track from Malibu, “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance.” In a post-performance Q&A on YouTube recently .Paak was asked what kind of music he likes and he answered “anything that’s soulful, funky, true, honest, sexy, cool, stuff with live instruments…” That’s a perfect way to describe “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance.” .Paak’s cool rasp gliding over a laid back groove, transitioning effortlessly from rhyming to singing. This song melts my heart. Shout out to Daniel Seeff on guitar for adding an extra element to this superb, breezy neo-soul masterpiece.

Favorite Lyric

Do not be concerned about the money in your brother’s hand
What’s mine is yours
I thought you knew me better than that
I was under the impression that we all want the best of life
So let’s celebrate while we still can

I’ve never been to Southern California, but I’ve listened to enough music over 40+ years. I could still make a playlist of songs that sound like SoCal the way I imagine it. Malibu’s penultimate track “Celebrate” would be included on that playlist. “Celebrate” separates itself from those other songs because of the lyrical content. A reminder to stop and celebrate the fact that you’re “doing well…I mean you’re not dead.” .Paak sings about imagining his son as a full grown man and spending a whole day “throwing records in the deep end.” It’s a brief, lovely celebration of every day life.

Favorite Slow Jam/Chill Song

Room In Here” is just good, old school, 1990s style baby making music. It’s got a boom bap beat that seems more suitable for hip hop than a slow jam, but it’s brilliantly accompanied by an Ahmad Jamal piano sample. .Paak once again excels on this track jumping from singing to rapping with equal effectiveness. The Game adds a dope verse including lines like “She a good girl, maybe there’s too much smoke in the room, and she don’t want that Mary Jane in her Vidal Sassoon.” This is a sexy track and one of my favorite slow jams of the decade.

Ring Walk Song

I was just copying the link for the “Come Down” video on YouTube and I started reading the comments. The second comment on the list said, “New fans coming in from Silk Sonic are in for a fucking treat.” Well said. Anyway, “Come Down” wasn’t just the best ring walk song from this album, it was the best of the decade. This DJ Hi-Tek beat was inescapable. It’s impossible not to get hyped when you hear this song. One of the great tracks of the 2010s. I have nothing more to add.

Favorite Happy Song

Part of what attracted me to Malibu before I heard it was the inclusion of one of my all-time favorites, Talib Kweli. Kweli appears on the the final track “The Dreamer” supplementing the feel-good finish to this amazing album. “The Dreamer” is everything you’re looking for from a happy track; uptempo and inspiring. It has a hook that you can sing a long to. If you don’t feel good belting out, “This one’s for all the little dreamers and the ones who never gave a fuck,” there’s something wrong with your soul.

Song I’d Play If I Was DJing

If you want to crank shit up to 11 and set the roof on fire “Come Down” is your jam. Since I’ve already given that track enough love, how about “Am I Wrong” as a cooler alternative. This track has a groove that was clearly made for dancing. Because I like you and want you to see good things, check out this live performance with José Rios and Kelsey Gonzalez on guitar and bass, respectively, taking this song to the next level.

6th Man Award

In all of the awards I’ve given out over 19 albums this will be the last and may also be the easiest. I’ve watched countless Anderson .Paak performances online and he has the incomparable Free Nationals by his side for nearly all of them. Much like .Paak, they all look and act super chill, but they are sick musicians. Guitarist José Rios seems to be the butt of all of .Paak’s jokes and he also doesn’t seem to mind. Once the music starts his guitar has a Santana feel to it. Kelsey Gonzalez does what every great bass player does: lays down infectious grooves and stays out of the spotlight. When Ron “T. Nava” Avant isn’t stealing the show with pure piano skills he’s doing it with a vocoder. Callum Connor is the band’s super producer, drummer, and DJ who doesn’t get the love he should because .Paak is usually drumming with them, at least in the performances I’ve seen. When Free Nationals released an album in 2018 without Anderson .Paak I wondered if I’d enjoy them without their front man. The answer was an emphatic yes. Their self-titled debut album is one of my favorites in recent memory. Much like The Revolution, The Free Nationals might not get the recognition of their charismatic front man, but their talent is one of the driving forces behind the great music we’re listening to.

Holy shit. That’s it! The Top 19 is finally complete! There was a lot of music to love in the 2010s, but for me, nothing topped Malibu as an all-around good and enjoyable album. It’s been in my rotation for five years now and I don’t see it leaving anytime soon. Thanks to Anderson .Paak for delivering my favorite album since D’Angelo dropped Voodoo back in 2000. You never know when that next great record is coming or where it’s coming from. Anderson .Paak started as my lone beacon of hope on an otherwise miserable night and became one of my favorite artists of all time. Let’s put 2020 behind us and hope for more good things in the 2020s.

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