On his major label debut last year with Oxnard, named after the Californian city where he grew up, Anderson Paak (who calls himself Anderson .Paak) struggled to reconcile the identities of protégé and individualist. His mentor Dr Dre, the album’s executive producer, seemed to want to place the idiosyncratic R&B singer in the framework of a post-Kendrick Lamar West Coast rap scene, which Paak attempted with a mix of diligence and self-indulgence.
Ventura continues his auteur-ish habit of naming albums after Californian places with significance to him. It was recorded during the same sessions as Oxnard and Dr Dre is again the executive producer, but the music is closer to the style of his breakthrough, 2016’s Malibu.
His backing band The Free Nationals are more audibly involved this time, playing an unvarnished, liberated variety of soul, R&B and funk. Basslines are prominent, the drumming has a live, one-take freshness, cool flute parts give proceedings a vibey 1970s feel. All parties, Paak included, are apt to deviate into jazzy breakdowns with scat singing.
OutKast’s André 3000 does a guest rap on “Come Home”, while Paak breaks into passages of rapping himself on other songs. But the hip-hop elements feel more organically attuned to the album’s wavelength here than Oxnard. His raspy singing voice, intermingling softness and roughness, is well suited to riddling lyrics in which paradoxes abound. Social comment appears too, in a sideways fashion (“Build a wall, let’s jump the fence, I’m over this”).
It makes for an engaging experience, with Paak as an unpredictable, charismatic centre of attention. But West Coast adventurism can shade into aimlessness, like the over-elaborate jazz-funk of “Reachin’ 2 Much”, during which Paak offers advice — “I think you’re doing way too much, settle down” — that he might have heeded himself.
‘Ventura’ is released by Aftermath Entertainment
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