Well, whaddaya know? Another Anderson .Paak album… Nice. The California entertainer blew my mind back in 2016. His second full-length album dropped and life couldn’t have been sweeter. What .Paak’s Malibu album did for black music will never go forgotten in my book. He showed America how hip-hop and R&B were meant to mix together. Personality? Check. Catchy hooks? Check. Incredible flows? Double-check. Additionally, to top everything off, he released another fire album that year. I dunno about you, but 2016 was good to me. Anderson was a big part of that. His joint album with producer Knxwledge also packed a punch. Anytime I’m behind a Nissan Rogue SL AWD in standstill traffic (which is somewhat often, strangely), I can’t help but yell “Yes Lawd!” Both albums were killer. Yet neither received any hardware. History says this is nothing new for young black musicians.
However, either Yes Lawd! or Malibu deserved at least a Grammy nomination. Nevertheless, Anderson pushed onward into stardom, hopping on tracks with legends like Dr. Dre, Mac Miller, and Snoop. Since those killer albums, .Paak has returned with quality material. His second LP in less than 6 months, Ventura sees a more mature, soulful approach from this Cali native. Before the album dropped, my true dude Memo posted “Make It Better” in our group chat. Featuring the great Smokey Robinson, this track was right up my alley. I love the throwback feel of the song and Anderson’s passionate performance. Although Smokey sticks mostly to the background, his presence alone is all the cosign .Paak needs. Another track I loved was “Winners Circle.” Here he puts on his best Musiq Soulchild impression and it goes over well. He also works in a solid flow towards the back end. This man is so talented.
During my first play through Ventura had a much more comfortable sound than its predecessor. Where Oxnard shined was in its production value. Some didn’t like Dr. Dre’s mix as it tended to overshadow .Paak’s unique personality. Conversely, I felt that about this current album. To me, Dre’s engineering gave Oxnard a sharp polish and resulted in a full, lush sound. The songwriting was what lost me there. Five months later and his tracks have a more agreeable atmosphere. However, the songwriting is still missing the umph necessary to make waves in the long-term. Despite improving his cohesion overall, .Paak continues to stretch himself too thin. An artist of his caliber will cause a cultural earthquake with the right amount of time and inspiration. With the gifts God gave him Anderson will sweat out a solid album no matter what. That’s what these two albums are to me, above-average efforts.
Alas, they still feel like lukewarm cousins of one truly great album. They are more than placeholders. But they are less than what Anderson .Paak is capable of. The guests here perform valiantly. André 3000, Jazmine Sullivan, and even the late Nate Dogg appear. By all means, they don’t disappoint. Yet they don’t amaze either. I attribute that mostly to the fairly generic song topics this albums presents. Lyrics like “We don’t have to, but we have to” and just the whole “Good Heels” interlude in general let me down. Nothing pops out of the speakers on Ventura for me. Despite my admiration for lead single “King James” for its powerful message and funky bassline, it should not be the most ear-catching track on an Anderson .Paak album. We have evidence of his potential. He is at a place in his career where it’s time to pump out material and cake up.
So, I can’t really be mad at the man. However, I expect more from him. Not more music — more substance. My plea to all the .Paak fans out there is this: RELAX… There is no need to apply pressure to a great artist for more and more music. We’ve heard what comes from non-stop studio sessions. These last two records are good albums. But do either of them have a signature Anderson .Paak song on them? Some would say, “Yes, absolutely!!” For me, though, I would say not exactly. “Make It Better” is certainly a fire track. I don’t want to knock it or any of these groovetastic cuts. They underwhelm me nonetheless as a unit. The tunes here come and go without making too much noise. The more I listened to this album, the less interesting it became. Like its predecessor Ventura is a well-orchestrated collection of songs.
Yet as an artistic statement, it suffers from fatigue. Here he seems to beat the dead horses that are pulsating kick drums and old-school love songs. Of course, .Paak puts his own modern twist on soul. But overall many of these tracks bleed together. The cohesion of the project is noteworthy and I liked how it ended with Nate Dogg signing off. Ultimately, though, this album makes me wish .Paak stashed some of these ideas away. With more time Ventura would have left a taste more like a fine wine than the name-brand sparkling grape it ended up having. There is absolutely nothing wrong with sparkling grape. Matter of fact, that shit slaps. It can’t give you that infectious buzz nevertheless. Anderson does a great job here. If you’re into his music or R&B in general, check this one out. Just don’t anticipate it to knock your socks off.
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