As Jay-Z memorably once said of Kanye West, Anderson .Paak is a soulful dude. On his new album, Ventura, every track is dripping with smooth chords, funk-influenced rhythms and a retro quality to the production, and is all the better for it.
Opening track Come Home has a Motown feel, featuring .Paak serenading an estranged partner with the wry lyric “I’m begging you, I’m begging you / please come home, no one even begs anymore,” before Andre 3000 barrels through with a verse that reminds us of what we had. Meanwhile Make It Better goes so far as to enlist Smokey Robinson on the harmonies of its velvety hook, itself a brilliant showcase of .Paak’s singing chops. The other most high profile collaboration is with Nate Dogg, who died in 2011. The conclusion of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly has lent a degree of credibility to posthumous appearances, and while What Can We Do? remains just on the right side of good taste it still feels a little redundant.
Winners Circle is an instant highlight, with an infectiously syncopated bassline and scatting hook about an encounter that breaks .Paak out of his routine, and so is Yada Yada’s Dilla-esque bump, accompanied by the jazzy piano licks of Kiefer Shackelford. As a way of tracing the lineage of neo-soul down to him it is very effective, and throughout the record one gets the sense of an artist who 17 years ago would be collaborating with ?uestlove and Erykah Badu.
The production credits are varied, the most notable names being The Alchemist and Pharrell, but .Paak makes all of these songs his own, and Ventura is a slam dunk by an artist who has already proved himself essential to modern R&B.