Anderson .Paak was a relatively-unknown SoCal artist until he appeared on six of the 16 songs on Dr. Dre’s final album, Compton. As a result of earning Dre's stamp of approval—and later a record contract with Aftermath—the Oxnard native was given access to a large, mainstream audience. What has since kept interest surrounding .Paak's name and music at a deafening level, however, is the mesmerizing magnetism he brings to every record. By shining in a supporting role, .Paak created the desire for fans to hear him stand alone.
In just a few short years, .Paak's name has become synonymous with excellence, which is largely due to each appearance being better than the last. To call him a show-stealer would be inaccurate, though. A .Paak guest feature causes the entire record to radiate much brighter; he has the presence of an excellent supporting actor whose every scene adds value to the overall show or film. .Paak had to be Idris Elba on Law & Order and The Wire before being Idris Elba the leading man on Luther and Beasts Of No Nation.
Releasing two full-length works of greatness—Malibu and Yes Lawd! with Knxwledge—back to back in the same year is astounding, but to truly appreciate Anderson's music is to dig into his work as a guest feature artist.
So, without further adieu, here are Anderson .Paak's 10 best guest features, ranked. If you're on Spotify, we have a Best Anderson .Paak Guest Features playlist.
Editor's Note: In 2015, Anderson teamed up with production duo Blended Babies for a four-track EP. The music is excellent, a must hear if you’re digging into Anderson’s back catalog, but since the material was a part of a collaborative project, it was not eligible for the purposes of this list.
10. SiR - “New LA” ft. Anderson .Paak & King Mez (Her Too EP, 2017)
SiR’s debut EP on TDE begins with “New LA” featuring Anderson and King Mez, both artists who received mass attention for their contributions on Dre’s Compton. California is Anderson’s home state and a recurring muse of his music; it’s no coincidence his two full-length solo albums are named Venice and Malibu. “New LA” samples Drake’s “With You,” a cotton candy pop record, and adds even more sugar―Cardiak constructs the audio equivalent of McDonald’s sweetest tea as the song’s foundation.
Instead of being the soul singer, Anderson is Paakaveli, rapping with an air of languor over a sound that rivals Cali’s infamous warmth. Despite being short in length, there’s an allure to the way Anderson puts together an image of a conversation between him and a woman. Stomachs will rumble due to the mention of sweet fries and grilled fish, and debates may be raised by the nod that LA has the best weather year-round, but the most engrossing aspect of his verse isn’t what he says but how it’s delivered—a slow flow that gradually speeds up and ends just as the vivid story felt most compelling―the .Paak effect. You’ll always want more.
9. GoldLink - “Unique” ft. Anderson .Paak (And After That, We Didn't Talk, 2015)
Stylistically, GoldLink and Anderson are leaves that fell from similar branches―hybrid artists who are able to effortlessly weave melodic rap flows and soulful singing. The concept of merging the two is becoming more common in the industry but few do it better. “Unique” is close to a role-reversal record, Link puts his vocals on display while .Paak is able to showcase the water-walking flow over one of Louie Lastic’s most rug-cutting grooves. Energy is high as Paakaveli enthusiastically declares that mink has been added to the wardrobe; he commands attention moments upon arrival and keeps captivation until the final lyric. Dripping with charisma, the rapping is good but it’s when Anderson switches to singing that the charm amplifies. Link and .Paak are soul brothers who, hopefully, will bless our ears with more collaborations in the future.
8. EOM (Elements of Music) - “Get Along” ft. Anderson .Paak & Blu (Sunrain, 2015)
There’s a dustiness to the soulful sounds Knxwledge presents to Anderson when the two collaborate as NxWorries, the union between an old soul and a crate-digger. Knxw isn’t the only producer bringing a slice of past into the present, though. Virginia's own EOM brought out .Paak’s inner backpacker first with “Get Along.” Every element from the vintage keys to the dusty drums gives the song an old-school vibe, and Anderson’s storytelling also seems rooted in an era long forgotten. Stacy, Debbie, and Vicky are named, but it's the way Anderson captures his relationship with each that showcases how strong his pen is as a rapper. He's a true storyteller with a natural knack for creating illustrations. Smooth as a criminal, Anderson’s imagery is superb as he walks us through his woes with these relationships. The two verses and the hook are album cut-worthy―”Get Along” could have easily appeared on Malibu between “The Season/Carry Me” and “Put Me Thru.”
7. The Game - “Magnus Carlsen” ft. Anderson .Paak (The Documentary 2.5, 2015)
The Game has spent his entire career vocalizing how Dre was the door that allowed him entrance into the rap arena, so it came as no surprise that he would want Dre’s latest protégé to appear on the second installment of his Documentary 2 album. Vocally, Anderson’s singing is superb. When he begins, I can't help but hear a touch of BJ The Chicago Kid, another soul singer blessing the new generation. It wouldn't surprise me if "Magnus Carlsen" was a cut that was meant for Compton. It's only missing a verse from Dre himself. Despite the content being painfully honest and melancholy, the amount of soul he breaths into “Magnus Carlsen” puts a halo over Game’s horns. In addition to gracing the hook, .Paak also sings a verse and includes ad libs and backing vocals, adding extra layers and textures to further dress the record up. What truly makes Anderson an excellent guest feature is his versatility. He is the seasoning that adds the savory flavor, and the very heartbeat of what brings “Magnus Carlsen” to life.
6. Rapsody - “OooWee” ft. Anderson .Paak (Crown, 2016)
In an alternate universe, 9th Wonder discovers Anderson .Paak before Dre and signs the talented artist to Jamla instead Aftermath. There’s a chemistry when he works with 9th's camp that’s natural as if he were the missing piece to complete their conglomerate. “OooWee” brings together Rapsody and .Paak like distant relatives; a better combination than American Deli hot wings and Super Bowl Sunday. Andy only supplies a hook for Rapsody, but the soulful "ooowee"s that are scattered throughout the track are immaculate.
During Rap’s final verse, Anderson’s vocals are utilized perfectly. It’s how space is filled, using him to add shading to her verse is like adding an extra coat of paint to the canvas so the picture can truly pop. I liken Anderson on “Ooowee” to Jeezy's ad-libs on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” which goes to show how a minimal touch can add more to the experience than even a verse could.
Even when doing less, .Paak adds value to records like no other.
5. Domo Genesis - “Dapper” ft. Anderson .Paak (Genesis, 2016)
One of 2016’s most infectious and fun singles is Domo Genesis’ “Dapper.” Members of Odd Future aren’t known for making summertime music, songs that could end up on Spotify's cookout playlist, but “Dapper” is an exception and it’s largely due to .Paak bringing his sultry vocals and irresistible charm. Domo has a Mase-esque cool to his verse. It would have still been a fan favorite without .Paak, but the decision to add Anderson was the cheat code he needed to have a single that will live longer than Keeping Up with the Kardashians. With a better push, “Dapper” could have easily been the summer stoner anthem of 2016. Even lungs that refuse to smoke the fire would have a hard time resisting the groove―”Dapper” is peak feel-good music with Anderson bringing the warmth and soul. There’s no other artist who comes to mind that Domo could’ve enlisted here who could elevate this record the way Anderson did.
4. Jonwayne - “Green Light” ft. Anderson .Paak (Jonwayne Is Retired EP, 2015)
Jonwayne is a rapper’s rapper; an emcee who cares about lyricism over hits, who would rather sit at the roundtable with spitters than topping charts alongside jingle-makers. While Anderson’s gifted with a prowess for penning impressive hooks that are catchy enough for radio domination, Jon didn’t want the crossover record. He gave Anderson room to showcase his inner wordsmith. This is by far one of the strongest verses I’ve heard from AP, and he admits near the end how rare it is for the chance to perform with this much space on a song.
Jonwayne uncaged the beast, let the dog off the leash, and received scorching bar after scorching bar. Someday, .Paak will be given the chance to truly prove himself as a beat destroyer. If only Gangsta Grillz was still around to give him the opportunity (same goes for Frank Ocean). Just look at the way he put these bars together:
"Yeah, I'm beginning to fall in the center of my basis, and with a deep grin/ Smile in amazement, these old sneakers changed to alligators, my hand me down/ Pea coats switched to velvet blazer, born inside an igloo, my pops ice chamber/ Cooler than what's underneath the ice skater."
3. Dr. Dre - “Animals” ft. Anderson .Paak (Compton, 2015)
Dr. Dre’s Compton is littered with great moments—Eminem on “Medicine Man,” Kendrick on “Deep Water,” King Mez on “Talk About It”—but an album-stealing highlight is .Paak on “Animals.” The song explores, in depth, how Anderson feels about the disenfranchised, especially from the scope of being young and black in America. While Dre’s verse is full of aggression, showing the scars from his humble beginnings, there's a calm to Anderson's contribution. He gives a sense of musing on the times as an objective insider. Like a reporter giving his honest outlook on all that he’s witnessing, he’s able to acknowledge America’s views on class, how the media reports on what’s happening in the hood, and how this is likened to being made to feel like an animal.
The passion is in the hook, which is where his feeling cuts through listeners. How he delivers both the chorus and verses is done at a masterful level, and if you think .Paak is a one-trick pony who only sings about women and dancing, “Animals” shows another side. Music for the times by an artist with an understanding of the generation he’s living within.
2. KAYTRANADA - “GLOWED UP” ft. Anderson .Paak (99.9%, 2016)
Versatility is a quality to Anderson’s artistry that makes him such an exciting prospect. He can do a song with anyone and is able to find room in different spaces to apply his sauce. On "Glowed Up," KAYTRANADA produced an otherworldly, bass-heavy, intergalactic foundation for .Paak to dance upon, and dance he does. This is the kind of track that showcases range and adroitness, finding a way to be outside his element and still make it sound as if he's at home. .Paak doesn't try to overdo, strictly rapping on the first half and approaching the beat switch with a hook/bridge direction. Two halves of the song, two halves of .Paak–the rapper and the songwriter.
A true artist knows when to flex what skill, and how to approach each song to bring out the very best results. "GLOWED UP" is KAYTRANADA throwing the perfect alley-oop for Anderson to go above the rim and shatter the backboard.
1. Mac Miller - “Dang!” ft. Anderson .Paak (The Divine Feminine, 2016)
“Dang!” is Mac Miller’s song—the first single from The Divine Feminine—and had the glow of potential to crossover and dominate radio. The production is warm, the sonic palette far more jazz and soul than Mac’s usual singles. Even with a beat crafted for a pop hit and Mac’s lighthearted verses, what truly makes the song is Anderson .Paak. He is the most important component to the record―the peanut butter to the jelly, the bun to the patty, the engine to the car. Without Anderson, there’s a lacking element, an incompletion that would have turned a noteworthy favorite into a good song. Mac was able to leave his comfort zone, and this is not to discredit his ability to adapt, but .Paak is there as the catalyst for the transition.
An artist can tell their time is near based on the music that is made that’s tailored to their sound. Anderson can do R&B, soul, funk, and hip-hop, but few can participate in all these realms and do it with excellence. “Dang!” should’ve been bigger, the kind of single that should have dominated the world. Sadly, it wasn’t, but thanks to Anderson .Paak, it will continue to be cherished by those fans lucky enough to be aware of its greatness.