Aftermath Entertainment
Aftermath Entertainment

The funk remains entrenched, the virtuoso talent remains intact, but the budget, ambition and guest list have all swollen in the third installment of Anderson .Paak’s “beach series” (following Venice and Malibu) and first solo release with the Aftermath thrust. The 32-year-old singer/producer/MC/drummer’s slow boil toward stardom allowed him to sharpen his pen, wow festival crowds of 40,000 plus and arrive overripe for his major-label debut, Oxnard.

“And I’m puttin’ on some weight/Niggas feelin’ overpaid,” the artist formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy admits early in the affair. Anderson struggles with—but doesn’t quite bemoan—fame on lead single “Tints.” He mashes a weird, quasi-political fantasy of Trump’s lovechild with modified M.O.P. lyrics and anti-gun messaging on the beat-switching, mood-altering “6 Summers.”

Oxnard, christened in honor of .Paak’s SoCal hometown, is a lot of things: wild, cool, aggressive, sexy, conscious, misogynist (and better suited to a summertime release date, perhaps?). What it’s not is boring or predictable. Dr. Dre’s qualifications as a talent scout remain bona fide.

After establishing himself as a unique threat on 2016’s Malibu, .Paak recently told Rolling Stone of this much-hyped follow-up: “This is the album I 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.”

Yes, there are grand aspirations of a California classic here, with Dre executive-producing a squad of knob-twisters 20 deep, vocal bites from KRS-One and Rodney Dangerfield, and sparkling, era-spanning cameos from Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, J. Cole, Q-Tip, Pusha T and Dre himself. You know it’s an event if the brolic Doctor stops bench-pressing his Apple investment reports to pick up the mic.

“If my name is on this muthafucka, best believe the stock’s up,” Dre hurls on “Mansa Musa,” Oxnard’s monstrous centerpiece named after the 14th-century African emperor, considered the richest person in history. Big goals, indeed.

.Paak has the ear, the charisma, and the distinct voice—think: Raphael Saadiq after huffing a humidor of Cubans—to pull all these sounds and contributors into cohesion, excelling when he allows his elastic range to follow wherever the music takes him. “Who R U?” is quick, looping thrill. “Saviers Road,” produced by 9th Wonder, is an autobiographical peek into a younger .Paak’s pain and perseverance. And “Anywhere”—built for a droptop cruise down Highway 1—harkens back to Dove Shack in the best way possible.

Especially in its second act, there are spates over Oxnard’s 14-course spread of soul, rap, rock, throwback R&B, and funk (G, P, and otherwise) where the genre-bending Casanova .Paak appears to be conceding too much spotlight. But at least he’s conceding the shine to all-stars.

J. Cole and Q-Tip threaten to overtake their host on “Trippy” and “Cheers,” respectively. On “Brother’s Keeper,” a focused Pusha-T builds on his incredible 2018 with another wicked cameo by addressing older sibling (No) Malice’s reluctance to reunite Clipse and explaining why he’s still scribbling drug rhymes: “It’s hard to leave your foundation/This spaceship took me to Pluto.” .Paak, as he often does, flips from gleeful womanizing to deeper thought: “If Jesus would’ve had a better lawyer, would he have to see the cross?”

It may not be quite the full-marks classic he’d hoped, but Oxnard is an intriguing next step for the 2016 XXL Freshman that demands repeat listening and hints that he may have a Blueprint in him yet. —Luke Fox

See Behind-the-Scenes With Anderson .Paak at 2016 XXL Freshman Class Cover Shoot

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