Keeping with tradition, the fourth album by producer and rapper-drummer Anderson .Paak is dedicated to a city on the coastline of California: this time, the sleepy, surf haven Ventura. Named after an Italian Saint in the 18th century, it translates to ‘good fortune.’
“Good fortune, man,” Paak laughs after being asked what it means to acquire such a thing. “[It’s] what you leave on this earth, what you’re going to pass down, and the balance of what you’re putting out there.”
For anyone who’s poured over Paak’s interviews, you’ll know it’s rare to see the singer without his wide, infectious smile. He knows it too. The versatile artist titled his forthcoming US tour ‘Best Teef In The Game’, where he’ll be joined by the likes of Thundercat, Mac DeMarco, and Earl Sweatshirt. A photo of Paak wielding a toothy grin beams on the poster.
Released in just under a five-month turnaround following 2018’s funk-heavy Oxnard, the soulful, sensual 11-track Ventura was also produced by Dr. Dre –“I’m gonna be friends with Dre forever,” he quips – and likely recorded at the same time as the album’s predecessor.
“I haven’t even really gotten to reflect on [Ventura] too much because I’ve been boggled with this Coachella madness, but I feel good,” Paak explains. “I feel a sense of peace. Uh, yeah – I feel peaceful.”
Thinking back to what ran through his head while writing Ventura’s lyrics, Paak explains, “I was in a real lovey-dovey mindset. I wanted to make something sweet, ya know? When I was working with Smokey Robinson, he’s like, ‘Yeah, you gotta make it sweet baby! You gotta make some love with your words, ya know?’” On the Robinson collaboration Make It Better, Paak paints a picture of reigniting his relationship in a Hotel-Motel, crooning in his raspy drawl “[lets] give each other new instructions on what makes us feel good now.”
“I wanted to do something that just feels so good, [something that’s] not rocket science,” he says. “Naturally there’s going to be some saucy topics and stuff, but it’s going to be smooth sailings.”
It wasn’t intentional to have any theme; rather the record was built the same way you might build a mix tape. “I’ve been married for going on ten years now. And I wanted something that she can feel proud of, and that’s filled with dedication, you know – like a love letter.
“So this record kind of irks me and made me cringe inside, but I felt like, you know what, that’s what the last record [Oxnard] was too: it was me opening up and being like, okay, let’s try something different. Do something about like, what are you really going through? Saying, well shit, I’m trying to make my relationship entertaining, you know? I’m trying to make it sexy. Well, fuck it: let’s do a song about that. And then realising, oh shit, a lot of people can relate to that.”
But that’s not to say Ventura is all about romance. In ‘King James’, a title dedicated to the basketball player Lebron James, Paak speak-sings: “what we built here is godly, they can’t gentrify the heart of Kings.” He’s joins the voices of artists of colour who are bringing attention to the rapid gentrification of non-white neighbourhoods: last year, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra addressed how corporations are milking money out of NYC’s Harlem in her album The Navigator; Kendrick Lamar’s music often confronts the insidious forced relocation of African-American people across history in the US, and Australia’s own Indigenous artists, like Sydney’s Dispossessed and Melbourne’s Drmngnow, are continuing the fight for First Nations folk’s land rights and to protect sacred sites.
“When I was touring I felt like I was always hearing the same story,” Paak explains. “And we call it gentrification, or restoration, I don’t know, whatever the fuck. But everywhere I was going, everyone was saying [stuff like], ‘you know there used to be a lot more people of colour over here, and now it’s all different.’ I know that this has been happening all over the place, in real time, but you’ve got to keep your heart protected, you know,” he continues. “You can spread that and people will follow that, and that essentially counts more than anything.”
On bringing up how big business seems to be dismantling black communities in the States, he replies, “Yeah, it’s in Inglewood as well now with building the arenas. So much money is going into these places. There’s only a few places left where there’s any black community. It hits home for the people that grew up there. They’re seeing the local stores that they always used to go to are gone, and changing into whatever. So it’s tough, and on the other hand they’re probably like, ‘damn, at least we’re not getting pinged on by gangs anymore’ … but the characteristics of the neighbourhood is changing out there. They’re diluting it down – that’s a heavy thing,” says Paak.
For Paak, having good fortune is all about “not getting too hyped up on your own smell.” He wants to stay connected to where he came from. From his youth to his mid-twenties, the 33-year-old’s fortune moved between moments of upheaval and uncertainty. At seven-years-old, he witnessed his father assaulting his mother, and get subsequently incarcerated for 14 years; he spent a period of time homeless with his newborn son and wife after being let go from a marijuana-farming job; his mother lost her strawberry farm in Oxnard, and was eventually arrested for failing to declare gambling winnings.
Paak wound up his stint performing as Breezy Lovejoy in 2012 – a pseudonym given to him by his stepbrother who thought Paak was a real gassy guy – and made a conscious effort to improve his work ethic. After Venice, he produced his second 2016 record Malibu in closets using a crappy Mac Mini and dented mics. “First coming up on the game [I went from] just doing everything I could to get a radio hit to then just doing the most introspective shit that I didn’t even think people would care about and then basking in the glory of it, you know what I’m saying?” he says. “And feeling it, and now just coming at peace with all of it, and being reflective and seeing the things that really matter. Like, you know, my love ones, and wifey, and friends, music, the food, the wine,” he says, followed by a laugh.
One of the first moments that Paak really connected with music was while watching his mother dance as he played the drums – he was just twelve years old at the time. Asked if making people feel happy and joyous is his key motivator for making music, he replies, “Yes. Absolutely. Yeah I love, I love giving people that happiness, that feel good feeling, those times where they feel they can’t control their body from bopping and dancing and feeling confident and feeling cool, you know?
“Like, I love giving that feeling out,” he continues. “If the music makes someone feel that way, that’s really what I love about it. And that’s why me as a collaborator is really important too.” His fourth LP features the late Cali rapper Nate Dogg, André 3000 and Brandy, among others. “I love being able to bring people together and bringing worlds together, and old and new, because then I’m getting excited, I’m feeling inspired again too, and that just drives me for sure. That was a big part of these last two albums [Ventura and Oxnard].”
Paak thinks back to the artists that inspired him: “Snoop Dog, Dr Dre, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson. Ah, shit dude, Aretha, Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes … the people I just really admire have still maintained themselves.” Self-reflection is clearly important to Paak. “I feel that what you put out there is what people are gonna talk about, [they’ll be] hearing those stories about you when you’re gone. So my thing about good fortune is making sure your reputation is thorough: you’re always spreading love, you’re leaving something behind, something that was outside of [music]: my kids, my family, the peace of mind and integrity, with this music,” he continues.
“I never ever feel like, ‘yeah, I did that, I sold my soul’. Or, ‘man I’ve done some shit for the money that I’m not proud of and I’m a sucker now’. If you can make it out and really not feel like that, and just be down to earth,” he says, “you gonna have that longevity. And you gonna have that good fortune.”
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