Life After Dre: Anderson .Paak on 'Compton,' Style & His New Album

"This is what I was training for when no one was listening, for that moment I'd be in the room with Dre."
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"This is what I was training for when no one was listening, for that moment I'd be in the room with Dre."

Did Anderson .Paak lie to me? 

When I first heard that Paak was all over Dr. Dre's new Compton album I immediately flashed back to my interview with him last year. At the time, October of 2014, I asked him if he was writing for other artists and he largely shook the question off, saying not really, but he was open to it. And now I was looking at a Compton tracklist that included Brandon Anderson's name about as many times as Andre Young's.  

Had he actually been writing for Dre at the time but had lied to me about it? If so I wouldn't blame him in the least - who in their right mind would blow their chance to be on Dre's secret new album by leaking the news to me? In fact, it was far more interesting to imagine Paak leading this secret double life at the time; up-and-coming artist by day, secret Dr. Dre collaborator by night.

So when I spoke with Paak again last week I brought it up and....turns out nope, he had been telling the truth. "No man, I really had no clue that shit was about to happen," he promised. Well damn then, turns out lives really can change that fast. When he hung up the phone with me in October he only had dreams of working with someone like Dr. Dre, and just a few short months later he was watching NBA playoff games in the Aftermath studios in-between recording sessions, and it all happened because of one song, "Suede." 

"Mez and Justus had been listening to 'Suede,' had been bumping it for weeks, so when they got the beats from Dahi they said we gotta get this kid, Anderson .Paak in," he recounted. I could tell his initial connection with Dr. Dre was already becoming one of those stories for Paak that goes from "a thing that really happened" to "a story about a thing that really happened" through the sheer force of repetition, but I still needed to hear it, so I made him tell me the story again. 

"I had sent music to Dre before, but it just never got to his ear, or he wasn't in the right space for it," he continued. "So they called me in, I went into the studio, I met Mez and Justus and everybody, and then they bring in Dre to listen to 'Suede.' Dre listens to it two times, and the third time he's like, 'Let's work.' He threw on the beats from Dahi, I hopped on the mic, started freestyling, he liked it, and we just began building songs from there."

So it really was one song that changed Anderson .Paak's life forever, or at least that's the short-sighted way to look at the twisting helix of fate and history. It'd be more accurate to say that years and years heaped upon more years of work created the one song that gave him the chance to prove he deserved to have his life changed by one song.   

"It's crazy," said Paak, "but at the same time, this is what I was training for when no one was listening. When I wasn't getting invited to red carpets or events I was in the studio working, developing my craft, for that moment when I'd be in the room with Dre. I knew the opportunity would come, but being able to execute when you get the opportunity? There was a long period when I was cooped up in my little room, developing my chops, but all those things are the reason why people like Dre and Premier fucked with the music." 

Paak couldn't have possibly known he was training for Compton all this time, Dr. Dre himself seemingly didn't know he was making Compton until earlier this year, but in retrospect, Anderson's role in the album's creation seems obvious. Go back and listen to Paak's excellent last album, Venice, and you'll hear exactly the same kind of sonic range that Compton embodies as it veers from hip-hop bangers to hard rock to more introspective soul like "Animals." Paak really didn't work any secret music industry connections, he didn't copy any formula, the only real key to his recent success has been his insistence on remaining relentlessly himself. 

"Thank God I was able to just do me," he said, "because no one was reaching out. There was a point in time when people were afraid [of his versatile sound]. And to see Dre at that point in his career when he doesn't give a fuck about a radio hit, he just wants to do this record, that record, it's an amazing to be a part of that because that's naturally what I do." 

And so even now that there's a very real spotlight on him, Paak isn't changing his approach to music at all. He had been making music with Knxledge, the music that opened the door to Aftermath, simply because he believes in making great music with other artists he admires, and the exact same thought process is behind his recent EP with Blended Babies. Once again he's watching the seeds he planted long ago blossoming now, and so it really does feel like the planets are aligning for Paak. Musician Goes From Relative Unknown To Household Name In One Year sounds like a cliched headline, but in rare cases it's accurate, and by the time 2015 comes to a close Paak just might be that rarity.  

"It's actually happening now," he said, "and I want to ride this wave as long as it lasts, then ride another one and another one, build that muscle memory, until I've built my own wave."

That wave will soon include new work with artists like The Game, ScHoolboy Q and 9th Wonder - turns out he's still willing to be honest with me about who he's been in the studio with - and the release of his upcoming album, Malibu. According to Paak, Venice was about a journey, an exploration of how far he could take his music, while Malibu will be more like the destination, a sustained mood and vibe. With a description like that and given Paak's eclectic history it's almost impossible to predict what Malibu will sound like, but I'm confident it will still sound like a Paak album because he really hasn't changed, even if some of the people around him have. 

"Sometimes it's hard not to be angry because, before, I was sitting in these meetings with the same people, had the same music, and they weren't seeing the vision or doubted, and now they want on the bandwagon. It's hard to be around those people. It's hard to be nice," he said. "But it doesn't matter because I still have to stand on my own, tell my own story, put out my own albums. Nothing's ever come easy for me in this music shit, so I'm going to make the most out of the situation. I'm not going to wait on anybody. It's on me."

Now that sounds like the truth. Anderson .Paak always tells me the truth.