Everyone loves consistency. We go to McDonald's because we know the cheeseburger with fries will taste the same way it tasted yesterday and last month and when we were 8-years-old begging our mom to take us after basketball practice. Consistency is also the reason we hit the same corner store to buy the same six-pack from the same guy behind the counter we've seen for years, and the reason we listen to a new Juicy J song, because Juicy J has and always will sound exactly like Juicy J. But the downside of consistency is the absence of discovery. Being given exactly what you wanted is great, but what's even better is being given something you didn't even know you wanted. For a true music lover, the biggest rush, the junkie-fix that keeps us listening to new artist after new artist, is that joy of discovery, of having an artist lead us to a promised land we couldn't even see on the horizon.
Anderson .Paak can see that promised land and he wants you to trust him enough to follow him there. The world almost discovered a very different artist though. Raised in Oxnard, a coastal Californian city skirted by strawberry and lima bean fields, Paak loved music from an early age. By middle school he was already DJing, rapping and working on his drum skills. By his senior year in high school he was being courted by some heavyweight industry names, including Bryan-Michael Cox, but the timing just wasn't right and for a while Paak had given up on music.
"Things [meetings with industry folks] fizzled out and I wasn't getting any call backs, and the people who were calling me, I was getting a lot of, 'Can you make music like this?' Lil Jon was popular at the time, so everyone wanted Lil Jon beats. I kind of got jaded and frustrated, and my parents were in prison on top of that, so it made it really hard to focus. So I just stopped music, got a 9-5 and did that thing. I was happy with just being a 9-5 kind of dude, I wanted that stability."
That could have easily been the end of the story. Paak could have folded himself into the full-time job matrix and disappeared, but a move to L.A. reinvigorated his love for music. By 2007 he was in culinary school with thoughts of pulling in a steady paycheck behind an oven; hey, at least it wasn't your normal 9-5 and maybe the hours would be flexible enough to let him flex his drum skills as a session musician playing on other artist's songs, let him keep at least one toe in the musical waters.
Of course, for any one with music truly in their bones like Paak, it's only a matter of time before that toe in the water becomes a head first dive. By linking up with like-minded L.A. musicians like Dumbfoundead (now PARKER), Wax and Watsky, Paak once again grew determined to make music his entire life, but this time he was going to do it on his own terms. And what are his terms?
"I have a clear vision for what I want. What I'm doing is displaying range. A lot of people that I meet are afraid of an artist with range. They say you can't do this, and if you do, you can't do that. What I want to do is really represent this DIY generation of artists that areren't afraid of their range. Why not put out a trap song? Why not put out R&B? I'm the artist that speaks to that fan who listens to Donald Bird and Young Thug. I want to take people on a listening experience and get people to trust that they're going to hear something incredible."
Those words are more than just empty talk. After a switch from his previous artist name Breezy Lovejoy - he didn't want to be confined to the rapper role so many primarily associated with the name Breezy - a reborn Paak put out a Cover Art project that showcased his broad range of musical influences and skills by putting completely new flips on songs across a wide range of genres.
That's a beautiful song, right? It's the kind of cover that could establish a young artist as an atmospheric singer with a future in R&B and pop. So how did he follow it up? With a trap-infused banger about the hollowness of relationships forged on illegal narcotics, of course.
I wanted to place those two videos so close to each other on this page so you could watch them back to back, let the videos serve as the proof of Paak's range more than a thousand of my words could. There's no way you could have watched "Such Great Heights" and seen "Drugs" coming, and if you think "Drugs" is any real indication of what Paak's releases after have sounded like, you clearly haven't been paying attention. Did you see a more R&B/funk-driven cut like "Miss Right" coming after "Drugs"? Rhetorical question - you did not.
Or maybe you did, and if you did, Paak's won your trust. He's convinced you to follow him into uncharted territory. Although staying on more familiar, more consistent, shores might be comforting - who knows, maybe there really are dragons at the edge of the world - that's not the life we want. Even if we have become that 9-5 dude, especially if we've become that 9-5 dude, we still need that thrill of discovery, that joy of turning a corner and encountering something unexpected, to feel alive. And that's why Paak's a DJBooth TopProspect, because I trust his vision. I trust that he sees something I can't yet, and I trust that he'll make that vision clear to the world when the time's right.
Of course, if you want to see that vision for yourself you could always catch him on tour, or put his upcoming Venice album (due out next week) in your headphones the moment it drops. Or you could just keep eating the same cheeseburgers, buying the same six-pack from the same corner store, living the same Thursday as every other Thursday before it, until you die. Either/or. Your choice.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]