It isn’t often that Dr. Dre handpicks an artist to mentor, coach, and mold into his next superstar. After NWA, he did it with Snoop Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg; then Eminem and 50 Cent. The format seems to be that when he finds his new generation of talent, he releases a solo album with the help of those artists and then supports them as they build their own discography. When Dr. Dre put out Compton three years ago and Anderson .Paak was the most featured artist on it, a lot of people took note. We sure did. .Paak’s next album Malibu was the first project we reviewed on The What and we’ve kept a close eye on him ever since.
Finally after two years, the raspy triple threat is back with his first solo album under the Aftermath label and fully under the wing of Dr. Dre, who produced a few tracks, mixed the entire album, and served as executive producer for the entire project. It isn’t uncommon, even today, for Dr. Dre to produce for artists or even take an executive producer role, but it is not easy to get Dre to mix your album. Dre gets a lot of credit as one of the greatest producers or beatmakers of all time, but his true genius and legacy lies in his mixes and arrangements. With the combination of Dr. Dre’s co-sign and partnership along with the strength of .Paak’s last two projects, expectations for Oxnard couldn’t be any higher.
01 The Chase (featuring Kadhja Bonet)
Produced by Jhair Lazo & Anderson .Paak
This song really feels more like an intro/interlude than a standalone song. The lusciously arranged flutes and strings give the song a cinematic gravitas. Not a bad way to set the album off sonically, but I doubt I’ll be revisiting this outside of the project’s context.
02 Headlow (featuring Norelle)
Produced by Jose Rios, King Michael Coy & Ron Avant
The album really doesn’t start out with its best stuff. After a somewhat lackluster opening, the second song commits one of the few deal-breakers I have with recorded music: sex skits. I really don’t need any of it, and while it serves the subject matter and isn’t out of character for .Paak’s raunchy self, interludes like this ensure that I will always have the skip button within reach when this album is playing.
The song before the skit at the end isn’t terrible, but it is one of the weaker musical moments on the album, and without the entertaining story of .Paak engaging in some debauchery on a southern Californian highway, I don’t think it would be memorable. This is definitely a song where the song music suffers in order to tell a story that isn’t dynamic enough to make me want to re-listen to it.
03 Tints (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
Om’Mas Keith & Anderson .Paak
I love how a song about .Paak getting top on the highway is followed by a track with “I need tints” for a hook. Nice sequencing.
When “Tints” dropped as the first single off Oxnard, the Kendrick/.Paak collaboration looked like an album highlight on paper, but it just didn’t come together as well as it could have. The beat is passable, but feels vanilla considering the talent brought to the table. I’ve always loved Om’Mas Keith’s work with Frank Ocean, but I would have much rather had something else going on for .Paak and Kendrick to work with. That might have inspired a better hook and more inspired performances from the duo to make this song the classic it deserved to be.
04 Who R U?
Produced by Dr. Dre & Mell
Dr. Dre’s fingerprints are all over this one. The bouncy layered drums, bubbly synths, glossy production value, and sprinkled adlibs give it the breezy west coast vibe that he does best. .Paak is well suited for this kind of immaculate funk and switches up his default cadences and melodic direction to match Dre’s production. For how smooth this song is, it doesn’t quite rise to the level of their previous collaborations (see “Animals” or “All in a Day’s work). I’m thrilled to have this song, but I wish they would have produced something that stands out more from the rest of this album.
05 6 Summers
Produced by Anderson .Paak & Mell
This is where the album takes off in a big way. Up until this point the subject matter has been fairly surface level and light, but on this track .Paak comes off top with “Trump’s got a love child and I hope that bitch is buck-wild”. It’s tough to find a new way to attack America’s most ridiculed and criticized American President in recent memory, but .Paak pulled it off. Not only does he go off on Trump’s infidelity and weak character, but the direction he’s taking the country in with a lack of gun reform or foreign policy competence.
While .Paak’s dissection of the woes of the American political climate take the spotlight in “6 Summers”, the music he created with Mell to back it up can’t be overlooked. I love the spooky, funky intro that gives a bounce to the track without overshadowing .Paak’s message, but the song really rises to a new level when they change the key at the two-minute mark. The funk is replaced with a strong bass-line and smooth electric piano, allowing .Paak to introduce new cadences and melodies to his message, drawing his audience in for the second and finally the blockbuster third verse, where he predicts Trump’s downfall due to mounting evidence is introduced into the court system. From the message to the music, this song is an absolute high point on an album that got off to a slow start and desperately needed a peak.
06 Saviers Road
Produced by 9th Wonder
9th Wonder’s contribution to .Paak’s last solo album was hands down the best beat on that project. He’s done it again on this one. There isn’t a jaw-dropping beat switch like the one on “The Season/Carry Me”, but the way the the bass line slides in after the chanting in the intro is one of the best musical moments on the album. There isn’t anything overly technical going on, but the marriage of the kicks, snares, and samples is just perfect. .Paak isn’t saying anything as potent as he was on “6 Summers”, but his flow is as in the pocket as the beat is. An absolutely incredible track.
07 Smile / Petty
Produced by Callum and Kiefer & King Michael Coy
I can get down with this track. It’s got a smooth Thundercat-esque first half where .Paak uses a seductive R&B backdrop to tell the story of a breakup between someone who is openly non-monogamous and someone who only claims to be okay with being in an open relationship. It’s a messy situation. And then the song hits a beat switch in the middle, losing all the contemplative syrupy R&B in favor of a frantic funky mania. This track is a lot of fun.
08 Mansa Musa (featuring Dr. Dre & Cocoa Sarai)
Produced by Mell, Dr. Dre, Focus… & Andre Brissett
This song is bad. Pretendo Reggae from Dr. Dre has got to be a low-light for his career. Yikes. This should have definitely been left on the cutting room floor and prevented from being a bonus track let alone an album cut. Skip.
09 Brother’s Keeper (featuring Pusha T)
Produced by Anderson .Paak, Jairus “J.Mo” Mozee & Dem Jointz
To be honest, Pusha T saved this song. From the instrumental that feels like it takes forever to really get going–and it really doesn’t hit a nice groove until the outro–to the middle of the road first verse from .Paak, this song needed the feature. Fortunately, Pusha has been flawless on his features this year. He highlights the importance of family and relationships over business, respecting his brother, No Malice’s, wishes when he turned down a lucrative reunion of their group, Clipse. Pusha sounds great over everything and he is the sole reason why this song made it into rotation.
10 Anywhere (featuring Snoop Dogg & The Last Artful, Dodgr)
Produced by Jason Pounds
It’s tough to get great stuff from Snoop Dogg at this period in his career. Kendrick did it on “Institutionalized” and .Paak did it here. To illicit the charisma of Snoop’s throwback cadence “Anywhere” comes with a mid-tempo, bassline-driven groove and the way Snoop kicks it off is just as smooth as you’d want it to be. To be honest, I didn’t love this song until I heard .Paak’s performance on The Daily Show, but now it’s one of my favorites.
11 Trippy (featuring J. Cole)
Produced by Chris “Daddy” Dave
People need to quit sleeping on Chris Dave. This drummer from the school of J-Dilla is batting 1000 on his collaborations with .Paak (see “Clear View” & “Black Hole“). His mix of drunk-style drums with thick Jazz instrumentation is like the organic version of what Knwxledge. is doing right now. It’s no wonder that both of them work so well with .Paak. While this might be one of the more repetitive beats on the project, it doesn’t get old or mundane. There is a crisp freshness to the percussive layers that works so well with the meditative backdrop. Oh, and J. Cole killed his feature.·
12 Cheers (featuring Q-Tip)
Produced by Focus…, Q-Tip, Dr. Dre & Andre Brissett
Dre and .Paak saved the most poignant track for last. “Cheers” is two generations paying homage to their dead: .Paak for Mac Miller, and Q-Tip for Phife Dawg. .Paak had some really great lines: “How can you tell a nigga to slow it down when you livin’ just as fast as ’em” and “Carry you out the bottom, the weight of the world, I got it / Sprouted witchu on my shoulder, the greatest honor to know ya”. He knows he can’t blame anyone for what happened to Mac, and all he can do is grieve.
That sentiment is echoed in Q-Tip’s verse. He says, “I don’t know what to do but reminisce and face the pain”, and that he’s “sick of sending flowers to all of my brother’s mommas”. It’s the shared experience of losing a collaborator that makes Q-Tip’s feature perfect for this track.
Although .Paak and Q-Tip explore the pain of losing a close friend, the song is really a celebration of their legacy and a grateful needs for time spent together. It is a reminder that it’s difficult to recognize the good times until their over and it’s important to take any chance you get to salute the enriching parts of our lives.
All in all, Oxnard suffers most from what could be called follow-up syndrome–a failure to live up to the expectations set by a project as great as the last one. It’s a solid album with a few missteps, but without the autobiographical focus and underdog appeal .Paak had on Malibu, Oxnard has a much higher bar, and in some ways less to work with. That being said, .Paak and friends still handily deliver enough of the goods here to keep us happy, heads bobbing, the feeling of watching him win infectious as the man’s own smile.
Micah Roehlkepartain & Henry Whittier-Ferguson