Anderson .Paak - 'Oxnard' Album Review
It seems that every other week hip-hop fans proclaim the death of the genre, be it the dreaded ‘mumble rapper’ or the ‘Soundcloud’ menace, fans will always find a reason not to enjoy hip-hop. In the case of this, the best cure is always to ‘listen to the classics’, you know, back when things were ‘good’, however, whenever people try to demonise modern hip-hop they conveniently leave out some of the genre’s most nostalgic artists that pay homage to the roots of the hip-hop experience. One of the brightest examples of this comes from the best teeth in the game: Anderson .Paak, California’s funkiest star, who proves on Oxnard he isn’t afraid to mix it up as he combines elements from all corners of hip-hop to create a collage of the West Coast sound that is a treat to listen to, even if it’s magic fizzles out towards the end.
After the sensational Malibu in 2016 I was excited to get my next hit of jazz-soul infusion with Oxnard and the first couple of tracks certainly sell that sound. With the luscious opener ‘The Chase’ featuring syrupy guitar work that nods to neo-jazz artists like BadBadNotGood and Kamaal Williams. Following that is the song that is no doubt in everyone’s heads already ‘Tints’ with Kendrick Lamar, and it's fair to say Oxnard was shaping up to be another synth-funk ride until ‘Who R U?’ hits and shakes up the formula. Venturing into a new lane for Paak, ‘Who R U?’ is straight up West Coast hip-hop and he couldn’t sound better, spitting bars over a bouncy beat produced by Mell and Dr. Dre. From here on it’s clear that Paak is approaching this album differently, no doubt the influence of Dr. Dre‘s help on the project. Tracks like ‘Who R U?’ and ‘Mansa Musa’ see Paak embracing his hip-hop influence entirely on some fantastic West Coast g-funk production. This isn’t to say that he has never ventured into the rap scene before as parts of Venice and Malibu certainly saw Paak rapping his heart out, but with the Dr. Dre production, it becomes more focused and certainly more classically West Coast.
Along side his hip-hop influence he’s also modernised his funk and soul sound, with synthier tracks like ‘Smile/Petty’ that seem to follow in the footsteps of the new alternative R&B wave, spearheaded by acts such as The Internet. One of the best uses of this alternative R&B sound is the fantastic ‘6 Summers’ which sees Paak making a rare manoeuvre into politics, chanting that ‘This s*** gone bang for at least 6 summers/ But aint s*** gone change for at least 3 summers’, a clever wordplay on not only the longevity of his music but also America’s open gun laws, something that he tears apart in the second half of this brilliant track. Another highlight comes courtesy of ‘Brother’s Keeper’ a grimey and epic banger produced by Dem Jointz, Jairus ‘J-Mo’ Mozee and Paak himself. With a grand West Coast instrumental that Pusha T absolutely eats up, ‘Brother’s Keeper’ is one of Paak‘s best songs to date from the crisp guitar riff to the jazzy breakdown closing it out.
It isn’t all groovy for Oxnard however, as the album doesn’t close nearly as strong as it opens with the final few tracks relying too much on style over substance. It’s difficult to criticise them, because there’s no denying that they sound instrumentally impeccable (courtesy of Dr. Dre‘s mixing) but at the end of the day they do very little to stand out from the classic Anderson .Paak sound, and despite a very touching tribute to close friend Mac Miller on ‘Cheers’, the final 4 tracks on the album do very little for me. Don’t let this put a sour taste in your mouth however, as Oxnard is without a doubt Anderson .Paak’s most diverse album yet as he jumps from G-Funk to Soul with some of the cleanest instrumentation I’ve heard this year, even if it gets caught up in it’s own glory towards the end.
Check out Oxnard below: