As a fan of the gifted polymath Anderson .Paak, naturally, my hopes were skyscraper high for his long-awaited debut on Aftermath Records, 2018's Oxnard. When an album’s expectations are higher than the world’s tallest totem pole, to be dissatisfied is to experience crushing disappointment.
Unfortunately, with Oxnard, I was crushed.
It’s only been five months since Oxnard was released, but already .Paak is back, following up Oxnard with the 11-track Ventura.
The rather sudden follow-up isn't a conventional practice—most artists not named Future tend to wait eight months to a year before returning with a second full-length album—but rules are for followers, not leaders.
My only expectation before pressing play on Ventura is that Anderson .Paak uses this album to reclaim his position as an artist who leads. That's all.
In usual 1-Listen album review fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. “Come Home” ft. André 3000
A woman’s voice is paired with elegant piano keys. Beautiful harmonies, warm as Atlanta’s spring weather. Anderson has arrived, and has snuck an angel in his vocal cords. His singing voice is full of soulfulness. Production is absolutely exquisite. If this were a painting, it would have all the vibrant colors of a Michael Fishel illustration. The writing is pleasant, begging a woman to come home, but a heavenly beg. Background vocals are taking this to the next tier. André's word flood is like having water wash over you on a hot summer day. He isn’t missing a beat. How he’s able to stitch together images with his words is a gift I’ll never take for granted. The definition of a wordsmith. Keeper.
2. “Make It Better” ft. Smokey Robinson
Dreamy, so dreamy. This man’s singing voice brings the calm relief of puffing a cigarette without any of the health risks. Loving Anderson over a mid-tempo. Paak is making music we can sway to. Two songs in and he's going down the checklist, checking off everything we love about him. His singing, songwriting, and production is the best trifecta since Joe Budden, DJ Akademiks, and Nadeska were on Everyday Struggle together. Uncle Smokey Robinson fits so well here. Their voices go together like rappers and expensive jewelry. So much soul. I’m starting to question if Anderson was born in the right generation. My parent’s parents would love this. Paak is two for two.
3. “Reachin' 2 Much” ft. Lalah Hathaway
Yes, yes, yes. Here are the sunny California grooves I wanted on Oxnard. I can almost feel the sand beneath my feet, the sun above my head, the palm trees and ocean view. What an incredible vibe he’s setting. These chords, riffs, and drums! Beat switch! And it’s even groovier. We went from the beach to the dance floor—a grown and sexy dance floor. Don’t bring your shoot dancing to this two-step party. Have Thundercat and Anderson collaborated yet? This song is making me wish these two were in the studio together. It’s wonderfully infectious. Ha, love the Badu reference. This entire song is a treat.
4. "Winners Circle"
A Bronx Tale sample. Classic movie. Oh yeah! This is a deep groove! The bassline could be packaged as an energy drink and sell more than Red Bull in its first year. I love when Anderson finds the pocket to employ his effortless singing flow. Rapping .Paak. He sounds good here. Passionate. Women and relationships are his sweet spot topics, but he was still able to sneak a Trump shot in there. Another really good one.
5. “Good Heels” ft. Jazmine Sullivan
Anderson went full R&B and soul with Ventura and I’m not upset at all. Is this him playing drums on all these records? I need to know. Jazmine! She sounds like she really caught the vibe. I wouldn’t mind if Anderson executive produced her next album. This is a nice sound for her. This one is way too short. I like the theme and storytelling between these two. I’ll play it back.
6. “Yada Yada”
A slow build up. Different from how all the other records dive right in. Some nice bass. Keys. The record is coming together gradually. Almost one minute in and not a single vocal. Wait, here they are, and they came in so eloquently. I like the structure here, the sound is warm as a valley of sunflowers. I don’t like how long it takes to really strike, though. When Anderson starts rapping it gets good. Yep, really good. I just wish the song had the same energy from the start.
7. “King James”
I can’t believe we’re already seven songs in here. There’s an ease to how Ventura flows. These grooves blend into one another like binging a serial drama on Netflix. The taking a knee reference was a nod to Colin Kaepernick. I like how authoritative Anderson’s voice is. “King James” is uplifting. Anderson managed to store positive energy in a song. Each piece of instrumentation is working in his favor, translating to an enjoyable experience. Ventura is a well-oiled, old school party bus.
8. "Chosen One" ft. Sonyae Elise
Yes, this is another one. I can’t believe how lush these instrumentals are. Everything sounds like your ears are being filled with sunlight and happiness. These textures are pure as a newborn's giggle. The MF DOOM no cap line was everything! That’s the rapping I want to hear from Anderson. Sonyae Elise came to lift us up toward the clouds. I’m loving the hook. Loving it. Sonyae killed this. Yes, lawd! This is good.
9. “Jet Black” ft. Brandy
Oh, this is sweeter than Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. This is moonwalking through a mansion in a pair of expensive gators music. It’s rich, infectious, and feeds the soul with sweet singing as the beat encourage your foot to tap or your shoulders to shimmy. Every shot Anderson is taking has gone in. I can’t tell you the last time I heard Brandy on an album. We need more Brandy features.
These horns! I really love the rhythms this album is offering. Even though Anderson is singing, musically, this album is so lively. One of my issues with Oxnard was how the music dragged. “Be careful but still have fun,” the mantra of the summer has been spoken, kids. Such a nice swing. I need Alfonso Ribeiro to record a video dancing to "Twilight." I like that he made a song about losing your way. I dig it, I dig it. Definitely one of my favorites.
11. “What Can We Do?” ft. Nate Dogg
Oh! Now, this is a nice change of pace. I don’t know exactly what’s happening here, but I like it. Who made this beat? Is that Nate Dogg? Man, I’m about to shed a tear or two. Of course, we get a Nate Dogg vocal feature on the day Nipsey Hussle is buried. LONG LIVE NIPSEY HUSSLE. LONG LIVE NATE DOGG. What a wholesome way to end the album. The conversation between Nate and Anderson at the end hit me like Kendrick talking to Tupac on "Mortal Man." R.I.P to all the greats no longer here.
Final (first listen) thoughts on Anderson .Paak's Ventura:
According to a source connected to Anderson, Oxnard and Ventura were initially created in tandem, designed to be released as a double disc; one highlighting Anderson as a rapper, the other concentrated more on his soulful side.
After hearing Ventura in its entirety, I refuse to believe these projects were created in the same headspace.
Oxnard and Ventura exist in completely separate worlds; Oxnard is visiting Anderson at an uncomfortable Airbnb, while Ventura is Anderson in his home, comfortable, showcasing all that makes him great. When an artist stays true to their heart, the music simply sounds different.
From top to bottom, Ventura highlights the core qualities that make Anderson. Paak one of the most pleasant voices in modern music. From Anderson's soulful vocal presence to the live instrumentation, the album is a warm and special listen.
Simply: when he's in his zone, there’s little wrong Anderson .Paak can do—and he does no wrong on Ventura.
Ventura is the Aftermath debut album fans were hoping for; the one we all expected; the rightful heir to Malibu.
Anderson .Paak got his groove back. Yes, lawd.