Anderson .Paak Got His Piece — Now He’s Giving It Back: Interview

“I had nothing for a long time. To have a career that’s lasted over ten years... A lot of kids don’t even get to have hindsight.”
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Picture this: The critically-acclaimed bassist Thundercat shreds away on his pink, six-string bass, surrounded by the equally talented members of the Free Nationals. To his left is saxophone virtuoso Kamasi Washington, his face contorting with effort as he adds intricate harmonies to the soundscape. In the foreground is the Let It Happen dance team, three young sisters from the Netherlands who have danced on The Ellen Show. And finally, elevated above the action, Anderson .Paak, beaming with joy from behind his drumset, screaming, “Don’t I make it look easy, don’t I make it look good?

Anderson’s supergroup performance of “Come Down” took place at the third annual .PAAK HOUSE IN THE PARK, at Macarthur Park, in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Instead of hosting the event at a marquee venue like the Hollywood Bowl, a one-off extravaganza with tickets going for well over $100, Anderson makes attendance donation-based. If you can afford to pony up some money, great. If not, the show is free.

“When I lived out here, I used to play a few shows with Dumbfoundead,” Anderson tells me before the show. “I’d come over here with my son; we’d play in the park and watch the skaters. Macarthur Park gets a bad rap at times with the history it has, so we wanted to flip it on its head and bring some positivity.”

People young and old packed out the park for .PAAK HOUSE, stretching from the Levitt Pavilion stage up the hill to the street. Special guest artists Kali Uchis, Jay Rock, and Freddie Gibbs blessed the audience with their attendance, while kids jumped for joy in a bouncy house next to the stage. LA legend Tommy the Clown popped up with some good old-fashioned krumping, even challenging host Anthony Anderson to a dance battle to the crowd’s delight.

In the past year alone, Anderson has graced the primetime stage on Saturday Night Live, sold-out Madison Square Garden, and taken his superhuman live show around the globe. Still, he says the feeling he gets at Macarthur Park is unlike anything else.

“You get to touch people here; you get to really see them,” he explains. “[Events like] Coachella are an experience for the privileged, for lack of a better word. It’s for people that can afford it. This is for families that might never see a festival. There’s nothing like it.”

Playing an event like Coachella means more intricate lighting and pyrotechnics, but .PAAK HOUSE is personal. Anderson’s festival is about the people more than it is about the show.

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Anderson struts into the park among the eager attendees, his smile brightening up the gloomy sky as he flashed his signature “best teef in the game.” Behind him are the Los Angeles Parmelettes, a youth drumline whose rousing percussion set a fitting tone for the day’s events. Before migrating to his perch atop the stage, he takes pictures with fans and interacts with the kids, creating a personal connection with those who showed up bright and early to say hello to a musical hero.

The crowd involvement doesn’t end there. In past years, Anderson has invited audience members on stage to freestyle over the band’s instrumentals and set up dance battles for those looking to show their moves. There are families for whom the event is an annual tradition—the “.Paak House kids,” he lovingly calls them—and watching them grow up with the festival is something he never takes for granted. 

“I run into people on the streets all the time, and they tell me they look forward to this every year,” Anderson says.

By default, the very idea of .PAAK HOUSE relies on accessibility. The experience can’t truly resonate unless the artist is as present as the audience, which means it takes a particular type of artist to pull it off genuinely. While Anderson recognizes the challenges that come with that heightened accessibility, he draws life from these interactions and appreciates anyone who cares enough to support his mission.

“There’s a power in closing your energy off, but there’s a power in being open and receiving energy,” he reveals. “Not everybody is built for that, but I feel like I am. I know what it’s like to meet someone you’re crazy about and say something weird, I do it all the time. I have patience for a lot of people, and I end up meeting a lot of cool people. I take all the love I can get.”

When you consider Anderson’s position at the beginning of the previous decade, his reaction to the adoration is unsurprising—his caterpillar-to-butterfly transition from Breezy Lovejoy to Anderson .Paak has been well-documented, and as he says on the GRAMMY-winning “Bubblin’,” he’s been broke for way longer than he’s been rich.

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Admittedly, Anderson “hates” listening to his old music (Fun fact: he couldn’t stand the sound of his voice until about four years ago). Even still, he’s in near disbelief over the doors his songs have opened, and what they’ve meant for him and his family.

“I’m able to appreciate a lot because of what I’ve been through,” Anderson says. “I had nothing for a long time. To have a career that’s lasted over ten years... A lot of kids don’t even get to have hindsight. I’m able to treat people right [because] I know what it’s like to come from nothing.”

He continues: “I was running around trying to get my own piece for a while. It’s a blessing to be in the position I’m in now. It doesn’t take much to open up your platform and see if anyone wants to devote their time.”

Correction: In a previous version of this article, Anderson .Paak’s single “Bubblin‘” was referred to as “GRAMMY-nominated.” The song took home a GRAMMY.

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