Going bankrupt, falling asleep, and falling in love can all happen at first gradually, then suddenly. Success can happen the same way — or at least that’s how it did for Anderson .Paak. The Oxnard, California, native, born Brandon Paak Anderson, has been a career musician for the better part of the last decade. He earned considerable respect around Los Angeles’ underground scene performing under the name Breezy Lovejoy before assuming his current identity in 2012 and ascending to national recognition over the past year.
Last October, .Paak released Venice, an intoxicating collage of sounds that sweeps across the spectrum from throbbing rap to funky smoker love anthems to minimalist R&B. But none of those things would take him to the next level. Instead, a funky collaborative effort with LA producer Knxwledge (together known as NxWorries) captured Dr. Dre’s attention and landed .Paak substantial placements on Compton earlier this year.
In the months leading up to Compton’s release and especially in those that followed, .Paak’s buzz reached a fever pitch. He’s worked as a drummer, producer, singer-songwriter, and rapper honing all those skills to create the sound Rolling Stone described as “club kids, Cali weed and Tumblr R&B.” His music is best described in intangibles; it calls forth colors, textures, and abstractions. The rasp in his voice on “The Season/Carry Me”, the lead single of his forthcoming second LP, Malibu, feels precisely like the soul only a Southern Baptist upbringing can give you. The record’s second single, “Am I Wrong”, meanwhile, evoked a “glinting disco wonderland.”
As .Paak wrapped up the American leg of his tour alongside Tokimonsta, he talked to Consequence of Sound about Malibu, his journey since Compton, and police brutality.
More information about Malibu is starting to come out. What will you be looking to say and accomplish with the record?
I feel like it’s a good representation of the maturation of what I’ve been doing, which is having fun and working with a lot of different shades and tones within R&B and hip-hop and even funk. This is me streamlining it into a certain zone, but still playing with that range and dynamic and getting to do it with some weathered producers and features as well.
You collaborate a lot. If it’s not on your own music, there’s a constant flow of music featuring you coming out. What makes a good collaboration for you?
A good song. It’s teaming up with different people in order to create a good song. Not just one person’s verse is good or that person’s verse is good. It’s a marriage and each person is working with each other. With the collabs on an album, it’s giving someone a break from your voice. It’s supposed to be refreshing to hear another tone, and it should add to the song. If it doesn’t do that, then it shouldn’t be on there.
So how do you choose the people you work with — whether they’re hopping on your song or you on theirs?
I just have to feel the music. If I don’t know them and they send me a song that’s super hot, I’m down if I feel like I can bring something to it and make it even better. Some people I have personal relationships with, I get to know them and we go into the studio and that dynamic comes through in the music. At the end of the day, it’s just got to make sense musically. If the song moves me, I’ll most likely get on it.
Sometimes when people change their names, it can be a symbolic thing or a turning point. Would you say that was the case when you decided to go from Breezy Lovejoy to Anderson .Paak?
Yeah, that was the case. I went into mostly making music for eight months straight. I did it every day like it was a job. I woke up, made music, and went home and did the family thing. I had never simplified my life like that. After I came out of it, I had a bunch of music and I felt like it was time to transition to a different name.
You have plenty of longtime fans out there, but Compton boosted that signal a lot. How would you describe your journey from then to now?
It’s been an amazing journey. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s built a lot of character. I’ve gained a lot of experience, and I’ve cut my teeth in front of a lot of different crowds. I still have a lot to learn and I’m still a very young artist and still developing, but I’m very proud of the things that I’ve been through and the experience that I have gained. It’s helped me to maintain my originality and hold onto that because now when I’m working with these different producers, the thing I’m most proud of is they’re seeking me out for what I do — they want me to do what I do. It’s not to try to copy someone else or sound like someone else. They respect what I do, and that’s a great feeling.
Tell me about your band The Free Nationals. Are you looking to put out an album under that name?
I would love to put out a Free Nationals album. My guitar player, Jose [Rios], he puts out his own albums. Callum Connor, the DJ and the producer of a lot of Venice and this new Malibu project, he has an album he’s working on. Kelsey [Gonzalez] is always working with different people. I met Jose back in ’08, ’09, and we’ve been rocking ever since. We’ve gone through different incarnations of the band, but this one in particular — with Kelsey and Matt [‘Lo Def’ Merisola] and Callum — has been rocking for about three or four years now, but I’ve known Kelsey for quite some time. We all met at school in Los Angeles at a music college, and we started to build from there. Me and Jose and Matt went to the same school and then we met Kelsey through mutual friends. Kelsey was playing with Miguel at the time. We all started jamming and rocking shows, and it just kept working out. Those are my brothers.
You’ve said it took a lot for you to trust your art and really put yourself out there. What would you say was the moment when you decided music was it and it was time to commit — that it was now or never?
I started playing drums when I was about 11 years old. Since I started drums, I knew I was going to be doing music. I loved it and it was something I was always going to do. But there’s a point where you find your passions, you find what you love and you ask yourself, “Is this something that I’m going to make my living with?” I think that was something I went back and forth with up until I was about 21. I had different jobs and was just doing music on the side. At 21, I was like, “You know what, I’m going to really try to do this full time. I was just going to be a drummer, at least a session player, and drum for different people.” And that became, “I’m going to do this artist thing and I’m going to do that full time. I’m going to drum, play, sing, and really feed my artistry and make my own music. I’m not going to be a backing person.” I had my son, I got married, and it turned up another notch. “I’m going to change my name, get the music I want to make and the people I want to make it with. I’m going to get these people to handle the creative and these people to handle the business.” It got a little more fine-tuned every year.
What did your parents do, and what was your upbringing like?
My mom was a farmer. She was born in South Korea and was adopted in the ’50s. They moved to Compton in the ’60s, and that’s where she grew up, in the South Central area. Then she moved to Oxnard where she had my two older sisters and my little sister and me. She never finished college, but she got into produce. Oxnard is one of the biggest produce hubs in California — strawberries and vegetables and whatnot. She started her strawberry business — independently owned strawberry business — and was a great businesswoman and made a lot of money doing that. My pops was in the Air Force. He’s from Philadelphia, and he’s a twin. He got into the Air Force and moved around. He made it out to Cali, he was kicked out of the Air Force for weed, and after that he built cars and was a mechanic until eventually he was sent to prison when I was about seven. I didn’t see him again until he was being buried. I had a step pops as well who came in the picture very early. He joined my mom’s business and started working with her in the produce. But eventually around 17 they were both sent to prison. My mom, now that she’s free, she works with the elderly and she has her bachelor’s. She wants to travel and get her master’s as well.
On “Animals”, you touch on police brutality and the uprising in Baltimore. What are your thoughts on the national conversation going on around these issues?
It’s a big problem that’s been going on for years. In America, there seem to be certain neighborhoods where these problems go on. I think the bigger picture is that there’s a strategic, built-out plan that’s been going on since the beginning of cities being built. It’s a domino effect. You have people who grow up in shitty neighborhoods without any kind of leaders. A lot of them don’t have father figures. A lot of them go to schools that don’t have proper funding. And these people are pushed into certain areas of the city, and then they are kind of managed by these cops, like zookeepers, almost. And those cops get shitty pay as well, and they treat the people like shit, and some of them are corrupt. In order to make more money, they’ll feed the streets with more drugs and more corruption, so there’s a bigger thing that goes on that plays into police brutality. I think a lot of it stems with people not being happy with their situation. Cops aren’t happy with their situation. People that are living in shitty environments aren’t happy with their situation, so things clash.
I don’t think it’s fair that people only want to shed light on it when things are coming to a head. When white businesses are being attacked and looted, that’s when it becomes a super issue. It’s too late at that point. I don’t have any answers at all, but I think digging deeper is the key and you can start with how the kids are being educated and getting more funding into these neighborhoods. Someone told me something the other day: Once the people that you look up to move out of your neighborhood and there’s no leaders, it’s fucked. Once the doctors and lawyers make more money, they want to move. Things like the Cosbys don’t really exist anymore. There’s no examples. Just generations of misguided. I don’t think that’s something you can really blame on black youth or inner city youth at all. It’s part of a bigger scheme of things, and I think it needs to be nipped in the bud before people say it’s our fault.
Have you personally been affected by police brutality?
I can say, honestly, I haven’t. I’ve never been attacked. I can probably count the number of times I’ve been pulled over. Cops have never roughed me up or anything like that – knock on wood. But I will say this, though: Parts of the system in general have had a role [in my life]. Using me and my family as an example, we came up in Ventura County, which is a predominately white neighborhood. My mom was sentenced to 14 years for a blue-collar crime where no one was killed or anything like that. That was pretty systemic in using her as an example because she is a woman of color that had her own business and was doing her own thing and definitely got in over her head, but I felt that was a very unfair amount of time they gave her.
I found the statement for your all-covers EP, Cover Art, to be particularly interesting. I know you said the goal was to pay “reverse homage” to rock songs, but what made you even want to do it?
At first, I was just trying to figure out a way to fight this writer’s block. When that happens to me, I just end up making covers; I think it helps the creative juices. I love it. It’s just fun to me. In the midst of that, I was getting hip to all these documentaries and different things, and I thought it was interesting that a lot of rock ‘n’ roll records were called “race records” back in the day. It was black music, negro music, and radical music at the time that radio was not supporting. They didn’t really support it until white artists started getting behind it and remaking songs and they became hits. You had a lot of these groups coming out like the Beatles and Stones; their direct influences were blues artists and people like Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. The same things happen now with hip-hop in particular and people feeling some type of way about white artists coming in and all of a sudden calling themselves hip-hop and fusing it. So I thought that was an interesting concept for me to not just redo a Stevie Wonder tune or a James Brown tune, but maybe take these beloved white alternative rock songs that I love and do them over, put a little more grease on ‘em and flip the script.