12 April 2019
Aftermath / 12 Tone Music
Album Rating: 4/5
Live Potential: 5/5
Diversity in Songs: 3/5
Favourite Songs: Come Home feat. André 300 (track 1), Make It Better feat. Smokey Robinson (track 2), Jet Black feat. Brandy (track 9).
And like that, Anderson Paak’s back. Having only released Oxnard in November 2018, Paak has impressively released his latest outing Ventura less than 5 months later. With Ventura, the GRAMMY-winning artist continues his theme of records named after the Californian coastline (Venice, Malibu, Oxnard), and is the second album executive produced by hip-hop producing legend Dr. Dre. Although some might have expected a drop in quality by creating and releasing two records so closely together, Paak silences his critics with a reprise of his signature soulful sound.
Ventura showcases Paak’s array of famous friends and colleagues including André 3000, Smokey Robinson, Lalah Hathaway, Jazmine Sullivan, Sonyae Elise, Brandy and vocals from the late Nate Dogg. Ventura is an introspective canvas which reveals Anderson Paak’s inner thoughts, feelings and past experiences. The listener seamlessly drifts between tasteful ballads, shuffles, funky grooves and bops under the direction of Paak’s distinctive vocals and jazzy beats. The production of the album is refined and impressive, with some particularly finessed instrumental writing which helps set the scene. The instrumental lines alternate between driving horn stabs to 70s styled bass walks, mean guitar riffs to fine flute flicks and sliding strings. The combination of these elements helps to create a cool and romantic vibe throughout.
The album opens with ‘Come Home’ (track 1), beginning with a grand crescendo of a sliding bass assisted by ethereal angelic voices, articulated flutes and Paak’s rolling drums before he announces “Darlin’, I have to be moved from afar / The truth is the only thing worth holdin’ onto anymore”, the track drives on before an outburst from Outkast’s André 3000 who raps a commanding, fast flowing verse. The listener then glides into the dreamy ballad 'Make It Better' (track 2) where Paak calls upon the help of Motown legend Smokey Robinson who provides soulful backing vocals. Another highlight is “Jet Black” (track 9), where Paak harnesses the bouncing bass line to provide the rhythmic core verses with Brandy’s powerful vocals added an extra dimension. The record is rounded off with a contemplative duet between Paak and the posthumous vocals of Nate Dogg on 'What Can We Do?' (track 11), which is respectfully made to create a fitting tribute to the artist known for his contribution to West Coast hip hop.
Although it’s lazy to analyse a record under a comparative lens, it’s hard not to notice the sharp contrast between Ventura and Oxnard. Discussing the album with HipHopDX, Paak recalls how he pitched the two records to Dr Dre, “One will be gritty [Oxnard], one will be pretty [Ventura]. I gotta tell both sides again from by upbringing”. Listening to the albums you certainly feel this. Ventura is not as dark as Oxnard, relying instead on Paak’s expressive vocals rather than his more aggressive raspy side. Where Oxnard feels faster and shadier, Ventura is slower but brighter. Although Oxnard received far too much criticism for feeling lost, Ventura is a lot closer stylistically to Malibu something which his traditional fan base will applaud.
Ventura is a very strong outing from Paak and is a soulful stroll on the shores of traditional R&B that visits the realms of hip hop and funk. With Ventura, Paak’s energy, passion and ability to create his unique sound is unquestionable. Although Paak’s previous album was not well received by some, the juxtaposition between Oxnard and Ventura shows that Paak is a versatile and imaginative musician whose fame rightfully rises each day. Ventura’s nostalgic vibe is wonderfully crafted and leaves the listener satisfied but also desperate to see what Paak is able create in the future.
Check out Ventura here: https://open.spotify.com/album/0YF8PfcGbsKg5IaFyPnlyY?si=ZucOEDMJQ1eB77_wsiqmEA