“DRUGS” was a single released in 2014 by Anderson .Paak. Like any notable work of art, the song’s potent lyrics and stylish video brought about a myriad of different critiques and perspectives. The subsequent controversy and dialogue served him well. With “DRUGS,” .Paak’s ultimate goal was rebirth. As we settle into one of his favorite Koreatown haunts, he shares, “I wanted to put something out at that point that people would have strong feelings about. Whether they hated it or loved it, they just were gonna have to pay attention to it, share it, talk about it. Something with strong emotion.”
Anderson .Paak produced, recorded, and performed as Breezy Lovejoy for 6 years prior to the release of “DRUGS.” “I was tired of things getting overlooked, not being talked about. When I did ‘DRUGS’ it was like, fuck that,” he recalls. .Paak admits to being “all over the place, scatterbrained” as Breezy Lovejoy—ultimately releasing two projects, building a strong reputation as a drummer and session musician, and gaining a worldwide cult following along the way, thanks to ample talent, cameos, and viral music videos. The random nature of Breezy’s sonic path, a quiet refusal to be typecast, kept his burgeoning fan base mostly curious and open. It provided him the necessary wiggle room to emerge from his cocoon of safety and comfort—bold, bright, and difficult to ignore.
.Paak’s sophomore effort Malibu (2016, Steel Wool) preceded “DRUGS” in conception. However, the response to the topical single prompted a shift in direction, which led him to create his debut album titled Venice (2014, Steel Wool). “Once I saw everything happening around ‘DRUGS,’ we put out another single called ‘Might Be.’ From there we decided to make something a little more fun and modern sounding, more party vibes…kind of a stretch of me doing stuff I wasn’t used to doing. And just like the street, it’ll be long and vast and take you to different places.” The Oxnard, California native pauses to assist his adorable bow-tie sporting 5-year-old son with his napkin and chicken wings. “What I was hoping, was that by the time we got to Malibu, there would be more people paying attention and I could deliver my story essentially, and make the album I’ve always wanted to,” he states.
It worked. Soon after the “DRUGS” / Venice experiment, trusted manager Adrian Miller received a call from Aftermath A&R man Ty Cannon with word Dr. Dre was interested in having Anderson contribute to his new project. With a chuckle he recalls, “I was skeptical. I didn’t think it was gonna be for Dre so directly. But we get to the studio and the first people I meet are Dre and D.O.C. Then I meet Justus and King Mez, the two main writers for Compton. They were like, bro, we love that song ‘Suede’ [note: Nx Worries is a collaboration between Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge. They released ‘Suede’ as a single in 2015 on Stones Throw Records]. We’ve been playing it for three weeks, we can’t get enough. We want to know if you can deliver on these beats we got.”
But first, Dre needed to hear “Suede.” .Paak recounts, “I was like, damn he hasn’t heard it yet? I was nervous at that point, ‘cause what if he was like, ‘nah this is weak,’ and just leaves the room.” He laughs. “But he came in, they played it for him and he immediately cranked it up. He played it again, and again, and after the 3rd time he said, ‘All right, let’s work.’” he recollects with a grin. “The first beat they played was for ‘All In a Day’s Work.’ Dre was going through ideas for melody and prose. It was right up my alley, so I was like, let me hop on the mic. I went in, closed my eyes, they were all in the room, and I kinda just went off top. I opened my eyes and everybody was just like, ‘WOOOO!’ From there, we started writing the song based on that template. After that I was there almost every other day ‘til the album was out.”
Anderson shines on Compton, appearing on six tracks, easily holding his own alongside industry heavies Ice Cube, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, et al. Critical acclaim followed with scattered whispers of Anderson’s role on Compton, reminiscent of Snoop’s role on Dre’s seminal Chronic album. The half-black, half-Korean rap singer has crossed the line of visibility and the door to the world stage has been opened to him. As the mainstream pendulum lurches clumsily back toward recognizing hip hop of substance as noted with recent platinum efforts from Kendrick and J. Cole, Malibu follows as an introspective portrait brimming with the kind of poetry and prose that inform those of us who know the struggle. And for anyone not paying attention to the words, the record is a fantastic voyage into balmy oceans of groove—from classic boom bap to deep disco, funk, and muted deep house nods, it’s hard not to move body parts.
“My mom was always into soul music. I knew a lot of Curtis Mayfield, Frankie Beverly & Maze, O’Jays, Earth, Wind & Fire, before I knew any other music,” .Paak was the only “black kid” in school growing up in Oxnard and Ventura. As a little boy, he beatboxed constantly, which worried his teacher, so much she called his mother to ask about any possible mental conditions. Initially wanting to play saxophone in junior high band, he ended up with drums when no horns were available. His stepfather took note and brought home a drum set. Up until a few years ago, due to his increasingly bloated schedule, he played drums for his community church. Barely out of his 20s, the musically gifted family man chronicles his story like a humble war veteran who has seen things and tasted pain no person should ever have to. But he came out alive and healthy and his work ethic, winsome smile, and engaging charm are evidence of his excitement at an unknown and potentially bright future.
Photographed by Jabari Jacobs. Styled by Melissa Lim.