The Turning Point Of Anderson .Paak
How Dr Dre’s rags-to-riches protege became the future of hip-hop
The story of Anderson .Paak could one day make a barely believable biopic. As a child, he witnessed his addict father nearly kill his mother. Years later, she ended up bankrupt and then in prison for tax evasion. Meanwhile, after losing his job on a medical marijuana farm, the musician himself ended up homeless and selling drugs with a (second) wife and son to support.
But the movie should really begin at the inflection point in the musician’s roller-coaster ride to success – a pool party held last year in Los Angeles to launch Dr Dre’s much-hyped Compton, the hip-hop mogul’s first album in 16 years. Anderson .Paak, born Mr Brandon Park Anderson, an artist largely unknown outside LA’s underground scene, had made it onto six of the album’s 16 tracks. “Nobody knew who I was at the party,” he says. “Dre took a real risk, he took a gamble. When he met me, I was essentially a nobody.”
Mr Anderson, now 30, has a distinctive voice that is both as smooth as late-night soul and as husky as a hangover. His sound is a genre-blending mix of 1960s funk, 1970s soul, 1980s RnB and 1990s hip-hop, infused with gospel. He has drawn comparisons with artists such as Messrs Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams and Outkast’s André 3000, and released three full-length solo albums (the first filed under his initial recording name Breezy Lovejoy) and a mixtape of covers. He is also one half of the RnB duo NxWorries.
He is currently touring his second album, Malibu – which was released in January to universal critical acclaim – with his band The Free Nationals. “One of the year’s best albums,” Pitchfork declared. “He may not be a household name yet but Anderson .Paak is on the way to becoming one,” The Guardian raved. Just watch his Mr David Bowie tribute on Canal+ for a masterclass in bravura, Anderson .Paak-style – an all-singing, -drumming, -dancing and -rapping performance.
Mr Anderson and his three sisters (two older, one younger) were born and raised in Oxnard, a Californian town halfway between LA and Santa Barbara. His mother and uncle were orphaned during the Korean War in the 1950s and adopted by an American soldier, who took them back to the US and raised them with his family in Compton. His father also served in the military, as an Air Force mechanic, before being discharged; he ended up a violent drug and alcohol addict and was imprisoned for 14-and-a-half years for nearly killing his wife – a brutal assault that Mr Anderson remembers witnessing as a seven-year-old – as well as firearms offences.
After the incident with his father, his mother remarried and worked hard to support the family, building up a fruit stall into a successful organic strawberry business. Having at one time lived in a one-bedroom apartment, Mr Anderson spent his school years in a comfortable five-bedroom home. He was “an MTV kid” who learned every word to Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre tracks and performed them for the school’s show and tell, swear words and all. Once, his teacher called his mother, concerned that he was making disruptive noises in class. “I was beatboxing,” he says. At home, the soundtrack to his early years was his mother’s funk and soul from Mr Curtis Mayfield to Mr Marvin Gaye, Mr Michael Jackson to Mr Stevie Wonder, and his older sisters’ hip-hop albums of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.
Aged 12, he started playing drums in a black Baptist church group. “I had never done anything that I understood so quick, it was so natural. I was just going for the music,” he says.
The family’s luck ran out when the El Niño weather system ruined two consecutive strawberry crops and his mother filed for bankruptcy. She and his stepfather became successful professional gamblers in Las Vegas, but, in Mr Anderson’s final year of school, they were imprisoned for not declaring their winnings and that’s when “everything went to shit”. His mother served just over half of her 14-year sentence.
Mr Anderson has a varied resume. In his late teens, he worked night shifts as a carer for mentally disabled people. “That was an interesting time, very humbling,” he says. “It taught me to really appreciate the things you take for granted: you have all your limbs, you can still see and breathe.”
At 21, he married his church-going girlfriend, but it was swiftly annulled. He went to the Musicians Institute college in Hollywood, where he met his second wife, who is from South Korea. When she fell pregnant, he panicked. “I shit a brick. What am I going to do? I can’t even support myself,” he says. He and a friend in a similar situation landed well-paid jobs tending the plants on a medical marijuana farm in Santa Barbara, earning $150 an hour. “Eventually, we started selling it,” he says. “Making a lot of money – $5,000 every few days, in cash.” But he didn’t save any of it, and when he lost the job and couldn’t pay rent at his sister’s house anymore, he, his wife and young son, Soul (now five), found themselves homeless, sleeping on friends’ floors while he scraped a living, earning a few hundred dollars a month from gigs. As he sings on his track “The Season/Carry Me”: “I was sleeping on the floor, newborn baby boy. Tryna get my money pot so wifey wouldn’t get deported.”
That was his wake-up call. “That experience [being homeless] added so much character. It made me really appreciate being able to record, being able to work. I was eager to work after all that.” So he knuckled down. He dropped the Breezy Lovejoy moniker and started going by Anderson .Paak instead.
“The dot stands for detail – always be paying attention to detail,” he says. “I spent six, seven years making music and nobody cared. And now some of those same people care, and they are going to have to put the dot. It says a lot to me when people don’t do it.” Point made.
“In truth, I first discovered him when I was looking for the next Prince,” says Anderson .Paak’s manager, Mr Adrian Miller. On songs such as “Might Be” (off his 2014 album Venice), or “Silicon Valley”, Mr Anderson offers himself up as a funny and unconventional Romeo who has no problem handing control over to the women he’s trying to woo.
“With RnB and hip-hop, you’re ‘The Man’, always,” he says. “But I’ve always had that little bit of vulnerability. I wasn’t a sex symbol in high school; I was just a chubby kid, so that’s very much a part of my personality. I like putting that wit in there.”
He began to find reason in his rhymes and then he and fellow artist Knxwledge – performing together under the name NxWorries – came up with a track called “Suede”, which last year went viral, amassing 1.4 million views (and counting) on YouTube. Dr Dre was looking for a new sound and Mr Anderson’s voice chimed with the godfather of West Coast hip-hop. “I was a little apprehensive,” he says of getting the call to meet his idol. “Everybody says they got a plug in with Dre. I figured I’ll show up even if nothing is happening.” It proved to be genuine.
The recording of Compton was shrouded in secrecy: “Until it was out, I didn’t know what actually was going to make it [onto the album],” Mr Anderson recalls. “When the online pre-order came up, I was in my room, looking at my computer and I couldn’t believe it. And then my phone just started going nuts.”
Mr Anderson is already hard at work on his next album, which, he says, Dr Dre is helping him to produce. His list of dream collaborators is as eclectic as it is ambitious: Messrs Jack White and Pharrell Williams, Nas and Adele.
“I love her voice,” he says of Adele. “She doesn’t get with anybody; she doesn’t ever feature with another vocalist, so it would be nice to get her on something greasy.” And with that the humility gives way to the kind of hubris you’d expect from hip-hop’s next big thing.
Anderson .Paak’s career highlights
Live on Canal+: This exuberant live performance on French TV in January showcases Anderson .Paak’s range. In a song that effortlessly melds soul, hip-hop and disco, he sings, raps, dances, plays the drums and segues into a timely tribute to Mr David Bowie.
“Animals”: Anderson .Paak appears six times on Dr Dre’s much anticipated third solo album – more than any other contributor – and this track, with its clever wordplay and smooth melody, is arguably the highlight of their collaboration.
“Come Down”: With a bass line to wake the dead, the artist and his band elected to play this masterpiece of hard funk at this year’s Bet Awards.
“Glowed Up”: Kaytranada is a Haitian-Canadian DJ whose 2016 album 99.9% features Anderson .Paak on a catchy track with a bouncing, propulsive beat and an ominous whistle.
“Might Be”: This smooth hip-hop track is a standout from his 2014 album.
“Heart of Gold”: An inventive R&B update of Mr Neil Young’s classic original from Anderson .Paak’s mix-tape of covers.