Review Summary: Anderson .Paak went into this album with new life experiences behind him and an evolved sound, and it paid off big.
My musical journey with rapper/producer/singer songwriter Anderson .Paak is one that started in August of 2014; with the release of "All You Can Do" by Watsky. I fell in love with that album and a large reason why was Paak's production and numerous vocal guest appearances. From that point on I've been following him pretty closely and have become a rather large fan (even though I hadn't back tracked to the days of Breezy Lovejoy or even heard his debut "Venice" until only a few months ago). When the tracklist for Dr. Dre's third solo LP "Compton" was announced and I saw Paak's name appear multiple times I became extremely excited, and little did I realize he'd catch so much momentum in the only six months leading up to his sophomore album "Malibu." Towards the end of 2015 he teamed up with Stones Throw producer Knxwledge and put out a relatively good collaborative EP, and in the months between this EP and "Compton" he built up his arsenal of connections by doing features for artists like The Game, Busdriver, GoldLink, Blended Babies, King Chip, Madlib, Blu, and MED, so with all this hype "Malibu" was shaping up to be a great project. Did it deliver?
Well. While it may not mean much for me to say an album is my "album of the year" when said year is only nineteen days removed from the one before it, it's true regardless. "Malibu" is fantastic and everything I needed to solidify my being a fan of this man. It'd be an understatement for me to say Paak has charisma and personality. It practically bleeds out of him when making music, and it's all so genuine and endearing. He frames his narratives with enough maturity that this charisma is never overbearing, but rather one of many reasons to get enthralled in it all. It doesn't just sound like a young man from California living day to day. He actually displays that he's lived a little bit of a life, and is effectively applying his experiences to the lyrics. His content is both relatable and believable. And as a vocalist he's got excellent control and some of the most sticky and addictive melodies I've heard in a while. Thankfully he makes great use of his features also. Rhapsody delivers a verse that effectively fleshes out the narrative on "Without You" by lending a different perspective, and this makes the track more well rounded. The Game lends an amount of sincerity that might have been missing on the quieter moments of "The Documentary 2" and "The Documentary 2.5" on "Room In Here," and ScHoolboy Q, BJ the Chicago Kid, Sonyae Elise, and both The Free Nationals United Fellowship Choir and Timan Family Choir contribute fantastic performances.
But where I think people are going to gravitate most to this project is with the production. And for good reason. Paak assembled a top tier group of producers, with the likes of Madlib, 9th Wonder, DJ Khalil, Hi-Tek, etc.. and for the most part they all performed with the upmost attention to detail. And Paak even has a few production credits on the album as well (he fully produced "The Bird" and "Put Me Thru"). There's plenty of influence pulled from Funk, Jazz, Latin (predominately in the horns), Hip-Hop, and of course R&B. And it's packaged and presented in a pretty sizable amount of diversity (both in sound and era of influence). I absolutely love the bass coming through on this LP. It's very thick, organic, meaty, and full of personality, and this all comes through perfectly in the fantastic mix. And the nuances that play either ethereally or in the forefront go over great as well. Whether it be the splash of G-Funk synth leads on the bridge of "Am I Wrong?," the thin and brittle guitar that finds it way on multiple cuts across the tracklist, the sour looped synth riff on "Light Weight," the different styles of boom bap percussion (with dashes of swing here and there), the fantastic piano samples on "Without You" and "Room In Here," or the numerous warm nondescript synth chords on tracks like "Come Down," "Am I Wrong?," and "The Dreamer." This album is just one huge quilt of multiple different colored patches precisely and meticulously sewn together.
But this album isn't perfect. There are little things in the LP's sequencing and production that I think could have been improved on. While as a whole it flows extremely well I do think "The Bird" was a questionable choice for the opener, being that it lacks the sonic ambition or energy that the rest of album encapsulates (not to insinuate that I don't like the song, because I do quite a bit), and the way "Put Me Thru" transitions into "Am I Wrong" feels a little stagnant and repetitive given their very similar drum performances (although like I said with "The Bird" both songs on their own are great). There's very rare spots that the production lets up, and they're quick and few and far between. Whether it be the rubbery saxophone on the aforementioned "The Bird," the spotty guitar solo on "Heart Don't Stand A Chance," or the rather rough instrumental transition on "The Season / Carry Me." And as I said earlier, I love pretty much all of the features, but I do think Talib Kweli could have done more to reinforce his verse with a stronger inflection (and his rhyming of "miracle" and "lyrical" is just funny to me).
But all of that being said this is still a wonderful album, and one that is going to stick with me until at least the end of the year for those obligatory 2016 lists we're all going to be making this upcoming December (and I imagine it'll be pretty high up). Anderson .Paak is a passionate force behind the mic that oozes in personality and personable writing. He selected some fantastic instrumentals and features, and sequenced the album in a way that even though it's an hour long it flows incredibly well. Although I love this project and have very few gripes with it I can honestly say I see potential for even better down the road. But until we get there this will definitely keep my attention for a while.