Interview: Anderson .Paak talks about growing up in Oxnard, CA, music school days, and working with Dr. Dre.
In 2014, Anderson .Paak ditched his old moniker Breezy Lovejoy for his current nom de guerre, which is a play on his given name, Brandon Paak Anderson. The thing about the name Breezy Lovejoy is that it is actually a perfect summary of .Paak's entire musical aesthetic -- his jubilant, raspy voice, lyrical warmth and spontaneity, and a free-spiritedness also evident in his septum piercing and his Twitter name: Andy.
Born to a black father and Korean mother in Oxnard, CA, .Paak, 29, was a virtual unknown until 2015. His big break came when Dr. Dre heard "Suede," his carefree summer jam with savant-producer Knxwledge, and invited him to work on Compton. On an album full of spring chickens, .Paak showed the most promise by far, and everything he's touched since then -- namely, The Game's "Magnus Carlsen" & "Crenshaw" and Blended Babies' "Make It Work" -- has turned to gold.
As if .Paak wasn't already white-hot at the end of 2015, his new album Malibu, released on January 15th, currently owns one of the highest audience ratings of any album ever reviewed on HotNewHipHop. The hype is real. Anderson .Paak is the grooviest, most exciting new voice in R&B.
Read our exclusive interview with .Paak below.
What does Oxnard mean to you? Is it vital to your music the way Compton is vital to The Game or Kendrick Lamar?
[Oxnard] is a small town. The whole city is built off produce, and then there’s the beach over there. So it’s built up of people who come out to work or just retire. Or you have a lot of people that come from Mexico and different places to work in the fields and start families out there. It’s a beautiful city but it’s also kind of a boring city, so there’s room to get into a lot of trouble. There’s gang activity. Oxnard is about an hour away from LA, so you have a lot of people maybe that grew up in LA and they get in trouble, and they dip out into Oxnard to kind of lay low for a little bit. So you have that whole atmosphere. And then you just have regular kids who grew up there, like myself.
LA is just far enough to look up to. There wasn’t a lot going on in Oxnard, and I couldn’t wait to get out when I was growing up. But I think that growing up out there and not growing up within LA directly was better for me, because there were less distractions. I think my perspective is different, just in terms of doing music [in Oxnard] and then coming to LA. Because LA was such a fast town, it was a big learning process for me when I got out to here. When I came to LA, everything was still new to me, and I was a very late bloomer. And I think growing up in Oxnard had a lot to do with that. When you grow up in a small town, you learn to appreciate different things. It's slower.
When I came out to LA it was just like, I didn’t know it all. And I think that’s important. Just, coming in the game and not being a know-it-all and being able to absorb everything, because I was ready to learn, I had no choice. I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of things.
You grew up going to a Baptist church. What role did that play in your musical education?
Yeah, that was like my first schooling. I got my first drum set when I was like 11. I just loved the raw energy. You know, you’ve been to concerts, when people are just super hyped on a band and the energy is going crazy? I kinda relate to punk shows where the energy is crazy and everybody gets on one vibe and they start doing dances together. It’s kinda the same, man. Growing up in a Baptist church, the energy shifts, and everybody that’s in tune, they feel it, and you know, people are shouting, people are dancing and screaming.
And gospel music has so many parts to it. Modern gospel is basically just like fusion music, so you’re playing funk, hip hop grooves, and then going to Latin, jazz, all these things. I learned so much. And I learned how to follow a lead in church. Like learning how to play behind a singer and read the energy. I think church really helped my musical reflexes, And I think that’s dope. A lot of musicians are singers, they don’t have good intuition. They might have chops, but there’s a certain intuition that goes into being a musician and a singer that you only develop by really cutting your teeth out there and playing with different people and having that experience. And where you know, ‘Okay, this might work for this,’ and your taste, and your patience, and when to strike and when not to. That’s the stuff that develops over time. And church really helped with that.
Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
My biggest inspirations would be people like Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Jay Z, Kanye West. I love Chris Dave, the drummer. He produced a track on the album, which I’m super proud of, man, that I was able to get a song with him. And Pino Palladino on bass. Those are like the cats.
The 'Malibu' singles are heavy on the jazz harmonies. Do you listen to jazz, or is it more like you listen to jazz in the sense that jazz informs these other types of music that you listen to?
There was a stint where I did listen to jazz. It wasn’t really my [main] listening music, but I do always end up going back to jazz. I love Robert Glasper Trio and during that time I listened to a lot of Miles Davis, and studied up on my Miles, my John Coltrane, a lot of Brad Mehldau, different guys.
I went to music college for a couple years, and I was put on to a lot of jazz and fusion stuff. At the time when I was going to school, that was a lot of what I listened to. I really wanted to stretch out. I wanted to improve my vocabulary, because jazz musicians can play more styles musically. It’s just the vocabulary and the conversation. You can talk to more people that way, and that’s always what I’ve wanted to do. And I think that’s what jazz brings to it, and that’s the stuff that I love listening to. I grew up listening to that, fucking, uh, the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Yeah! I love that.
What were you studying in music school?
I went for drums. I wanted to learn how to read basic sheet music. Because I had come out from Oxnard, I didn’t want to work a job anymore. So I was like, if I’m gonna work a job, I might as well learn how to read music and can I at least find some work. I learned how to play drums by ear, so I didn’t know any fundamentals, any basic technique stuff, and I didn’t know how to read sheet music, and I wanted to be able to get more work.
I met a lot of dope musicians. I was there for about six months and I had to drop because I couldn’t get a loan for the next semester. So I dropped, but then what happened was before I dropped, I got pulled out of classes one day to TA. They needed drummers to make a band for these vocalists who need bands to play their finals in the classes. And the guitar players, and the bass players, and the keyboard players. Any band needs a drummer. So there was a couple times that I got pulled out of class to fill in for TAs that didn’t make. And I got a gig when I dropped out, working as a TA for about two years. I got to take all the classes, I learned how to read basic sheet music and play all these different standards, all these Herbie Hancock tunes and all these fusion tunes that I would have never heard if I wasn’t in school. And that’s what I did. I just played and learned and met people. A lot of the people that are around me, even my guitar player who plays in my band, I met at school.
Pretty clutch that you got that TA job.
That was everything.
How did you link up with Knxwledge? What attracted you to his music?
It was a mixture of things. So soulful and so hypnotic. The samples that he chose, I hadn’t anything like that since like Dilla or Madlib. The sound he was getting, it was so unique to him. I heard a bunch of people that were trying to do that sound, and he just stood out the most. It was just so simple and all the stuff that he did, it just hit me so hard. The feeling was so there.
His output was crazy. He just puts out all these joints. It was enough music for me to OD on for weeks. And that’s what I did. That was it. I listened to it all the time. A couple weeks after that, he hit me on Twitter. I was just as excited to know that he was reaching out as when I met Dre.
He sent me a bunch of beats. And in that first batch was the beat for “Suede.” So that was one of the first tracks that I wrote to. I had all the tracks and I spent a few days riding with them in the car, just writing to them slowly. Writing a little bit to this one, a little bit to that one.
I recorded “Suede” at the studio I was at. I didn’t know how he would take it, I sent it to him with a little disclaimer saying, “This is the first tune, I’m finna keep writing, and it’s gonna get better from here.” And he came right back like, “Dude I love this, this is crazy.” So we just kept working from there. And we had the makings of an album before we knew it.
I feel like his sense of rhythm is so deep, like Chris Dave. Next level pocket.
Exactly. He’s on his own level.
How would you compare working with Knxwledge to working with Dre on the 'Compton' album?
In comparison, Knxwledge is the opposite of a perfectionist. He’s got such a good sense of rhythm, making beats is like breathing to him, or eating. He wakes up and he eats. That’s what he does. And it’s like, he doesn’t beat himself over the head trying to find a sound or anything, that’s just all he does.
He didn't have like a lot of experience with working one particular vocalist, especially a singer, before working with me. So a lot of the times, he would just give me the track, and I would do my thing by myself, and then he would give me his input.
Dre is the total opposite. He’s one of the best vocal producers in the game, period, when it comes to hip hop, and just music in general. And the first thing I noticed about Dre is his ability to vocal produce. Just every take, making sure the inflections are right, and the rhythm, and the pocket. He’s a real stickler.
And he’s looking for that feeling, just like with Knxwledge, he’s just looking to just find his feelings. Trying to find the pain. That’s what we do. And he works really well with musicians, he knows how to get what he wants out of people. He’s driving the ship. He’s got a clear vision of what he wants, but he’s down to explore too. In my experience with him, he’s not afraid to just find something. Like try something out, like ‘Okay, that didn’t work, let’s try something else.' Which is really refreshing as well. And so it’s just like, the sky is the limit with that dude. He’s used to working in different studios with a lot of access to different things. That’s another thing that’s different from him and other producers. A lot of producers just work in Ableton and think they’re set up. And Dre is like, “Oh, let’s get the string section.” Big boy making big boy classics. And that’s awesome. Dre likes to go big.
It’s still early in our development. I’m excited to go in more with him and see what else we come up with.
How would you compare the sound and overall vibe 'Malibu' to 'Venice?'
It’s just a natural maturation. I feel like it’s everything coming streamlined together. Just the development of the sound. I’ve always wanted to explore and play around with different elements within hip hop and R&B and soul. And I feel like we’re doing that, but we’re just getting better. We’re more trained, and now, more people have been able to hear me. So that’s opened access to be able to work with people like 9th Wonder, Talib Kweli, The Game, Hit-Boy. Things like that have helped tremendously.
But even if you get access, you still have to be able to make good records with people, and that’s what’s happened. Meeting different people who were also inspired and we were able to make good records together, and I put them on the album and it worked. And I’m really proud of it. I’ve made some music that’s true to myself with people that I grew up listening to. To be able to a couple tracks with 9th [Wonder], that’s just crazy. I feel like Knxwledge is gonna be right up there with him.
And I feel like a lot of people avoid what we’re doing. A lot of people, there was a time when you would listen to the west coast sound, and it was a sound that was true to the west coast. You’d go to the east coast, and there was like Ghostface Killah, and you’d be, 'Oh, this is east coast,' and you’d go to the south and the Midwest and so forth. Now everything sounds like the same region, because it’s got the same texture, everybody’s from the trap. Everyone’s got a lot of the same sound. So I think we’re filling the void with bringing the soul stuff back and lot of the traditional west coast stuff back with Malibu. We’re touching on it as well as taking it further to the next level.