Flashes of greatness and West Coast swagger…

“The music business moving too fast for me.” Anderson Paak’s statement on new album ‘Oxnard’ seems paradoxical. Since mixtape ‘Venice’, it’s the industry that has struggled to keep up the pace, rather than him.

Riding an unstoppable vertical path to the top, Paak has put together a string of critically acclaimed releases that have thrust his name into lights. From co-signs from the biggest names in the game, to features on every hit record, the Californian rapper has sprinkled gold dust on everything he’s touched, leaving the scene gasping for breath. His latest exploit ‘Onxard’, a tribute to his hometown, adds yet another notch to the belt.

Before anything else, Paak is a performer. Oxnard reflects this theatrical spirit, opening with a psychedelic jazz-fusion medley that creates a true sense of live performance. Flashes of packed arenas and blinding lights emerge as Paak takes centre stage and pulls you into his world.

And in Paak’s world, there are no limits to his offering. He walks the delicate line between rap, funk and soul, flitting from one discipline to the next with an almost alarming confidence. On ‘6 Summers’, he takes aim directly at Trump and his “love child”, taunting with ferocious flows on a menacing guitar riff. The mood is then quickly soothed, with smooth vocals as he reminisces over the “girl with the brown skin” on ‘Trippy’.

Equally effective wearing both hats, Paak is goofy one moment, gritty the next. Endearingly bragging about the joys of his success and narrating his struggle to get there.

The beats bang like only a Dre produced album could. Yet as with ‘Compton’ - on which Paak shone - there are a couple of tracks that can be taken or left. In truth, ‘Oxnard’ offers less of a whole project than ‘Venice’ or ‘Malibu’, yet all these albums inform the shape he has taken today.

There are moments of reflection at the tail end of the record on ‘Cheers’, featuring Q-Tip. Paak pays a touching tribute to the recently passed Mac Miller, “wishing Mac was still with me…wishing I could save him”. Tip draws a poignant parallel to the loss of Phife Dawg, bringing together new and old faces of hip-hop in a fitting meeting of minds.

Although not his greatest work to date, 'Oxnard' confirms Anderson Paak at the upper echelons of the hip-hop scene. Paak embodies the spirit of Prince with a West Coast swagger, representing a new kind of hybrid: pop for the hip-hop fans, hip-hop for the pop fans.

As the record approaches its close, Paak ponders the question, “Where am I going from here?” He answers, “Shit, anywhere as long as the runway is clear”. He’s right. ‘Onxard’ is only another step on his path to greatness, and the sky is the limit.

8/10

Words: Angus McKeon

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