Anderson .Paak finds himself in an interesting predicament. His career is taking off, smack-dab in the middle of the crisis that is the 21st century Black male recording artist. You have singers who can rap (Chris Brown, Trey Songz) and rappers who can sing (Drake, Vic Mensa). Anderson is a rare type who has put both talents on equal level to work together. Whether you’ve heard him all over Dr. Dre’s Compton album, spouting pimp eloquence on NxWorrries’ “Suede,” or singing over tunes on his 2013 album Venice, Anderson .Paak has a voice that fuses the lamenting of a lovelorn crooner with the carefree flow of a southern emcee. Backed by producers like 9th Wonder and Madlib, his new album Malibu is a cosmic blend of infectious dance beats and graceful melodies, yet is still grounded in scratchy, gritty rhythms with lyrical introspection and empathy.
This release has garnered overwhelming critical acclaim and a frantically increasing fan base. After signing with Aftermath Entertainment this January, Anderson joins the ranks of Dr. Dre protégés which include Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar. EBONY.com sat down with him before one of the shows he’ll perform this week at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. Although the California vocalist is aware all eyes are on him, he is poised and grounded enough to follow his muse instead of the dangerous allure of fame.
EBONY.com: Last month you made your TV debut on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, giving the host a big bear hug afterwards! What was going through your mind?
Anderson .Paak: It was pretty surreal. I was happy and grateful that we did that. At the end of it, I was just so happy, proud of my guys, and relieved it was over. I just had to get it out my system. You have all this energy coming at you and the audience, which was awesome, too. They were giving up good vibes. People started cheering when I went to the drums and that’s when I knew the crowd got it. They were with us.
EBONY.com: You are part of this exciting new generation of vocalists— including BJ The Chicago Kid, Raury, and Vic Mensa— who sing and rap. Describe your vocal style.
Anderson .Paak: Nothing I do is ever void of melody. I know it might seem like I’m doing a lot of rapping, but I’m always utilizing tone and trying to find a key signature. So, I don’t look at myself as a rapper. I’m of hip-hop and MC’ing is a part of it, so I’m definitely utilizing those tools, but there’s a lot of MCs that could care less about melody and combining the two. At one point, I was just MC’ing and then I separated the two and was just singing. What’s more important to me is like what Kendrick [Lamar] said and that is to have a unique voice without fingerprints. They can compare all they want but what I’m going for is to stand out. They think it’s rapping, and that’s fine, but I always feel like I’m utilizing melody and I see myself as a vocalist/songwriter. James Brown and Curtis Mayfield were the same way.
EBONY.com: I would say that you’re closer to a James Brown sound where you have that sound that is preaching melded with speaking and singing. Your song “Suede” is a perfect example of that.
Anderson .Paak: In “Suede” I was thinking, where do we want to stretch these vocals out, where do we want to keep them shorter, and where do we want to pause. I grew up in the church, man so that is my foundation and that’s why these things are coming out. When the pastor’s up there, they do this thing called looping. They are literally riffing and spitting in the key of the organ. When looping, you’re in key, you’re in a rhythm, you’re in a pocket and that’s where James Brown was pulling from, and so that’s where I’m pulling from. The only difference is I’m coming at it under hip-hop. I came up out of that culture, so I can’t act like rapping isn’t part of it, too. Those fundamentals are there, and I really like rappers. I don’t want to disrespect anyone who really does this rap s**t.
EBONY.com: There are some great producers on Malibu – 9th Wonder Hi-Tek, Chris Dave, DJ Khalil. As a producer yourself, what did you take from them?
Anderson .Paak: I took a lot, man; different things from different producers. For instance, from Khalil, I learned how I need to make music. I need to be at least at some point writing songs as I play on the drums. On the next album, we’ll be doing much more of that writing while playing. I learned a lot from working with and watching Knowledge, seeing how he produces non-stop. He doesn’t dwell too long on stuff. He’s very simple, using only about two or three elements. I like that in production. Sometimes it doesn’t take more than three drums, a melody, the vocal, looping a sample or whatever, just as minimal as possible.
EBONY.com: Did you purposely want your work with Knowledge and NxWorries to differ from Malibu?
Anderson .Paak: Absolutely, yes. These are my musical personalities, and with NxWorries, I felt like I was expressing so much because it’s a group aspect, a duo. I’ve never had that before. Sometimes with my music, it wasn’t always that clear, but the last two years have brought me clarity in understanding styles and aesthetic. With NxWorries, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I think a part of me was excited because I was part of a group. I thought, I can be whatever I want and we can be whatever we want in terms of look and sound. It’s a completely new thing started from scratch.
EBONY.com: On Malibu’s “The Season,” you said “F**k fame/it killed at my favorite entertainers.” Do you find yourself resisting fame now that you’ve been thrust into the lime light?
Anderson .Paak: I just try not to let it consume me. I understand that you have to be careful what you wish for sometimes. In making something that you put your heart into, you want people to respect, love and receive it. You want it to hit them. There were a lot of years when I didn’t have that for myself. Stuff was kind of going under the radar, and it wasn’t getting to ears. I didn’t feel like I was making music that mattered. And now, I feel the opposite of that. I’m aware sometimes about these things and that’s what I was referring to with that line. I’m part of the generation that grew up with great rappers like 2Pac and Biggie and people like Amy Winehouse. We’ve seen a lot of different artists come and go. Even people who are still here, they seem consumed and blinded by fame. It may not have taken them out physically, but they have been taken out. Some things happen when you put your music out and the fame comes and everybody is telling you that you’re the s**t. You get lost in that s**t, it consumes you and then you’re done for because you lose sight of who you truly are.
EBONY.com: Do you feel pressure or vindication since you’ve signed to Aftermath?
Anderson .Paak: I feel both. This is the next level of the game and now I accept the challenge to be recognized by the top. I know there’s some pressure that comes with it, but pressure has always been there. I have a family to raise, so I’m used to that pressure at this point. Dre has a legacy to uphold. Now, I’m a part of that team and I have to put some numbers on the board. I’m not going act like it’s not on my mind because it is, but it was on my mind during the Malibu album and I wasn’t signed yet. I was writing like I was signed and that this was going to be the record to really mean something. I got these beats from 9th Wonder and Hi-Tek and so I was wanting to write my ass off and that’s how I feel about this. It’s definitely been a vindication of my hard work and the pressure is on, but what am I going to do? I know that this is what I have wanted, so I can’t fold now. There is no time to be scared. I’m about to do all these festivals. I’m about to get a lot of hindsight with this and I’m going be working on the [new] album steadily throughout it all. I just want to make my imprint and put my definition in the sand and continue to do what’s never been done before.
Anderson .Paak performs Wednesday night at the NPR Showcase at the SXSW festival. For more, check out the festival at sxsw.com/live