Building off his easygoing 2016 breakout record Malibu, Anderson .Paak has already established himself as one of the more versatile artists in contemporary R&B. While retaining the charisma and groove of Malibu, .Paak introduces more vocal and instrumental variety on his third studio album, 2018’s Oxnard.
Given .Paak’s newfound visibility in the popular music sphere, Oxnard comes as a prime opportunity to draw attention toward .Paak’s tasteful, euphoric melding of rap, pop and neo-soul. In large part, the Californian singer-songwriter and producer seeks to pay homage on his latest project. The album name itself is a nod to .Paak’s hometown, while the record at large is a refreshing rebirth of Los Angeles-style ‘90s G-funk. Aside from occasionally detrimental over-ambition and lyrical lapses, such refined tributes do full justice to the eccentricity and versatility of .Paak’s musical mind.
Oxnard unfolds at a particularly unhurried pace, generally favoring slow-burning, languid storytelling instead of bustling instrumental passages. Although funk is at the forefront, instrumentals are typically channeled through a comforting rap filter with their silky-smooth bass and mellow timbres. Alongside executive producer, Dr. Dre said elements are combined beautifully with more authentic instrumentation, including flutes, chimes and drums, such as on opening track “The Chase.” Busier moments like the song “Tints” call back to more blissful moments on Malibu, radiating summertime aesthetics. The split track “Smile/Petty” offers a soothing rendition of synth-R&B which lulls the listener into satisfaction.
Never lacking in lavishness or attention to detail, the sonic palette across the tracklisting underlies .Paak’s raspy cultural commentary and nostalgic balladry. The track “6 Summers” teeters on being political but opts for tongue-in-cheek jabs at President Donald Trump rather than engaging discourse. The LA theme bleeds into the more tender, reminiscent moments on the album, such as Snoop Dogg’s recollection of his adolescence in Long Beach on “Anywhere” and Q-Tip’s survey of past relationships on “Cheers.” Endearing moments, however, are bogged down by .Paak’s nearly toxic sexual overtones and distasteful displays of masculinity laced throughout several songs. The self-aggrandizing nature of such lyrics is certainly a popular motif of hip-hop, but in this instance, it hampers the overall experience.
In keeping with Californian funk sentiments, .Paak promptly assembles a feature list which enumerates some of Southern California’s most significant figures in hip-hop, from veterans such as Snoop Dogg and Dre to modern figureheads like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. To some extent, .Paak’s occasional lyrical blunders on the record are mediated by quality guest appearances. The aforementioned “Tints,” aside from its fantastic synth-funk basslines, features a great deal of exuberance and charisma from Lamar. J. Cole’s presence on “Trippy” is formidable, boasting quality wordplay to coincide with an uncanny tale of redemption.
Generally, .Paak’s latest installment is thoroughly compelling — thematically, instrumentally and aesthetically. In the realm of contemporary R&B and soul, it’s rare to find an artist grounding their taste for old-school musical modes within present-day production cues and trends. .Paak is not only experimenting with such an artistic approach, but he is also reinventing the style and redefining the boundaries for an entire genre of popular music. Oxnard is not perfect, its lyrical shortcomings cannot be ignored, and .Paak occasionally stretches himself too thin. Nevertheless, Anderson .Paak continues to show he’s a force to be reckoned with as an artistic visionary.