Anderson .Paak’s ‘Ventura’ is a return to form
Anderson .Paak’s soul side is back. It never actually left, but it did go on an extended vacation. After the release of his acclaimed album Malibu and a collaborative album with Knxwledge in 2016, .Paak took some time away from recording and went on tour as the opening act for Bruno Mars. Last fall, he dropped his highly-anticipated album Oxnard, which, in an interview with Consequence of Sound, he claimed he “dreamed of making in high school, when I was listening to (Jay-Z’s) The Blueprint, The Game’s The Documentary and (Kanye West’s) The College Dropout.” With the star-studded Oxnard, the crooning, smiling .Paak was gone, replaced by a slick-talking, rapping .Paak, and the album suffered greatly for it. .Paak’s voice and delivery are his bread and butter, and by reshaping his sound to rap, his best attributes were lost.
With the release of Ventura, however, the Anderson .Paak we all know and love has returned with a slightly altered version of signature sound. Where Oxnard was braggadocious and highly manufactured, Ventura is nurturing and organic. Every song on the album is there because it is the song that fits most naturally and not because it’s the one that will get the most streams. Ventura stands in such stark contrast to Oxnard that it’s almost surprising the same man created both of them.
Ventura starts off with a strong one-two punch consisting of “Come Home” featuring the elusive André 3000 and “Make It Better” featuring none other than the great Smokey Robinson. If that doesn’t capture your attention, nothing will. Both songs are absolutely sensational. “Come Home” is .Paak’s take on soul à la Motown. It’s warm, it’s inviting and it sounds beautiful — not to mention André 3000’s hard-hitting, loved-up verse. “Make It Better” keeps the ball rolling, highlighted by boom-bap drums, funk inflected guitar and bass and a sparkling string section. This combination lays the groundwork for .Paak to work his magic as he sweetly pleads with his partner to work out their issues. Smokey Robinson, though used sparsely, makes his status as a legend clear as he assists .Paak on the final chorus. Unlike on Oxnard, Anderson .Paak utilizes his features sparingly on Ventura, and it pays off. The features don’t take over each song. Rather, they act complimentary to .Paak, and the results are wonderful.
As the album moves forward, more and more funk sounds are introduced. Lead single “King James” features an expressive bass line that harkens back to Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White. The song itself is an ode to Lebron James and his willingness to spark change despite his high profile. The song “Jet Black” is exactly what new age funk is supposed to sound like; it stays true to the spirit of funk while using modern production techniques. It’s familiar, but at the same time, it’s still fresh. This can be said for the entire album. It’s comforting and warm, but it’s unlike anything else out at this time. Ventura bridges the past with the future in a way that everyone can enjoy.
“What Can We Do?” provides the album with a smooth, easy-going closer. Anderson .Paak brings his A-game as he goes line for line with a previously unreleased verse from the late Nate Dogg. The two men float all over the track’s prominent twangy guitar sample. .Paak perfectly incorporated Nate Dogg’s verse. It feels like the two were in the studio together when this song was recorded. In a way, it feels like a passing of the torch. Anderson .Paak occupies a lane similar to the one Nate Dogg did before his untimely death: Both men are singers that carry themselves like rappers, so it acts as a perfect close to an album that leans so heavily on its influences.
In all, Ventura does exactly what it is supposed to do. It shows that Anderson .Paak is more than capable of making cohesive, enjoyable albums that bridge the gap between old-school soul and new-school R&B. Ventura stands as .Paak’s tribute to the sounds that have influenced him so much. It is a wholly enjoyable album in which Anderson .Paak displays his full range of talents.