Over the last two years, Anderson Paak has been receiving praise for everything — from his well-received sophomore album Venice to his appearance on Dr. Dre’s Compton. However, despite Paak knocking on the door of popular fame, it’s only with his latest album, the soulful Malibu, that he’s grabbed my attention.
Paak’s delivery and the overarching stylistic direction of Malibu is reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s magnus opus, To Pimp a Butterfly. But Paak is more than just a Lamar-esque figure, and Malibu is more than just a rehash.
Where Lamar preaches, telling his listeners exactly what he thinks, Paak is more conversational, and where Lamar discusses societal issues, Paak is more anecdotal, relying instead on his own life and family history as subject matter. Paak reflects, while Kendrick remonstrates.
Lamar’s political statements are nowhere to be seen with Paak, whose narratives revolve around his own past. His mother’s gambling problem, the first time he fell in love, trying on Jordans for the first time — no experience is too weighty, or too inconsequential for Paak to reveal. But he doesn’t stop at regaling his listeners with stories of his past, he moves onwards to hammer home the emotional importance of these memories. Even the most seemingly rote, immaterial of Paak’s stories carries with it something of significance, and Paak revels in sharing that.
This similarity with slight differences extends to the album itself. Malibu, like To Pimp a Butterfly, is a jazzy album, full of retro nods. They exist beyond the basic description of genre. In many ways, it could be argued that Malibu is even more expansive than Butterfly. Paak floats across decades with abandon, from the ‘70s-inspired “Put Me Thru,” with its funky guitars, to the ‘90s-R&B-influenced “Without You,” with its airy, carefree beat.
Over the course of 16 tracks, Paak examines what made the last 40 years worth of music successful, and then incorporates those successes into Malibu, enriching it. But Malibu doesn’t stop there, it also successfully integrates trap affectations, appealing to the modern scene.
It’s this lush range of influences and narrative that make Malibu a rewarding, interesting record. Yet Paak’s laid-back storytelling and personality almost take a back seat to the sound. At times it feels as though Malibu exists beyond Paak, rather than an album that exists to make him a star.