Historically, R&B pays less attention to lyrics than rap music. If a singer has a great voice, that’s enough to earn him or her kudos as an R&B artist. Many R&B singers don’t even write their own lyrics. The emphasis just isn’t there.
Anderson .Paak’s new album ‘Malibu’ challenges those R&B norms. Although R&B singers have wrote their own lyrics before (yeah yeah yeah, we’re all waiting for Frank Ocean’s new album), ‘Malibu’ is an experiment in R&B, rap, lyricism, and harmony that comes together as a wonderfully original project. The album is as comprehensive as it is unique; it’s a mix of .Paak singing and rapping, features some of the most talented artists in the industry, and includes creative production that holds the entire project together. It’s something new, to say the least.
‘Malibu’ comes at a time when .Paak is beginning to be recognized as an interesting, original artist. He garnered attention last year as one half of NxWorries, a collaborative project between .Paak and hip-hop producer Knxwledge, but has had a committed fanbase since his 2014 album ‘Venice.’ Him and Knxledge toured with Earl Sweatshirt last year, which enabled them to expand their fanbase to Earl’s lyrical hip-hop head fans.
Reaching Earl’s lyric-loving listeners was probably a smart move. ‘Malibu’ is as lyrically rich as it is original. On “The Season | Carry Me,” .Paak paints a mesmerizing picture of what’s going on in low income areas in America. He raps: “A few more rounds before the feds come and get you / Is you gonna smile when your date gets issued / You know them feds taking pictures.” His socially conscious lyrics are reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece ‘To Pimp A Butterfly.’ .Paak’s flow is similar as well; many tracks on ‘Malibu’ sound like derivatives of songs such as “You Ain’t Gotta Lie,” which also includes live instruments and straightforward lyrics.
However, .Paak is not limited to socially conscious bars. On the first song of the album, he sings: “My mama caught the gambling bug / We came up in a lonely castle / My papa was behind them bars / We never had to want for nothing / Said all we ever need is love.” These lyrics echo many of the themes on ‘Malibu.’ .Paak reflects on love, his upbringing, acceptance, and success on his genre-fusing album. Listening to him pour his ideas and feelings into this soulful project is like listening to what I imagine a K. Dot and Chance the Rapper collab would sound like: hopeful, brutal, uplifting, and honest.
‘Malibu’ isn’t meant to be listened to just once. The album’s intricate construction makes you want to play it again, and again, and again. The more you listen, the more you uncover, much like Kendrick’s ‘TPAB.’
If Frank Ocean (finally) drops an album this year, he’s got some serious competition.