Unpacked: Anderson .Paak, Malibu

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On “Celebrate,” the second last song on Malibu, Anderson .Paak sings “time never cares if you’re there or not there.” Time’s infinite indifference to our finite human experience elicits reverence, not concern or fear, from .Paak, who reasons at the end of the verse, “let’s celebrate while we still can.” From growing up in Oxnard, California, to his pursuit of love and building a meaningful career as a musician, it’s made abundantly clear throughout Malibu, that .Paak’s life experiences have informed the perspective that his brief time on earth is an opportunity that cannot go to waste. This awareness arrives as a lyrical theme, but the songs themselves move with a life and freedom that suggest he’s motivated by his biggest limitation of all, time, not burdened or rushed by it.

Part of what makes the record so compelling is .Paak’s use of place in conjunction with the theme of time. Parallels can be drawn to Kendrick Lamar’s relationship to his hometown, Compton, on To Pimp A Butterfly, which Lamar uses as a kind of measure for the ways success has changed him. There’s a dissonance within Lamar between the Kendrick that grew up in his hometown seeing his city’s place within hip hop history, longing to start a career of his own, and the Kendrick that now returns as a major star. For .Paak, Malibu is an aspirational place, and having finally made it there, much of the record is about him wanting to make the best of things while he’s still can, feeling as though he’s on the cusp of greatness. This philosophy is represented in his thoughts on his career and creativity, but also finds its way onto the dancefloor and into the bedroom.

For someone so bound to the idea of “living in the moment,” .Paak’s music moves effortlessly through time via style, channeling vintage soul, funk, disco and boom-bap as needed, uniting these sounds with his mix of sung and rapped vocals. Also helping to make Malibu’s omnivorousness sound seamless is a sizeable cast of contributors, from his tried and true backing band, The Free Nationals, to more seasoned players like jazz pianist Robert Glasper and bassist Pino Palladino. Beats provided by luminaries like 9th Wonder, fellow Oxnardian Madlib, and DJ Khalil fluidly intertwine with more modern productions courtesy of Montreal-based DJs Pomo and Kaytranada. Paak trades verses with contemporaries like Rapsody, BJ The Chicago Kid and Schoolboy Q, while also getting nods from The Game and Talib Kweli. Though such an impressive lineup could overwhelm the record, each guest contribution has been deployed thoughtfully, playing to their strengths as well as .Paak’s.

This playlist takes a close look at the supporting cast of musicians, producers and samples on Malibu, finding a throughline between their work and .Paak’s own in both sound and theme.