By: Tommy Rodriguez
Anderson .Paak might just be the most likable person in music right now. Not only does he have a personality as bubbly as boiling water and teeth as shiny as a star, but he makes some of the most joyful music that this age of generally moody rap and R&B has to offer. He’s akin to a rising sun after a gloomy night, bringing warmth and life to every track he touches. Anderson .Paak is a man that simply loves his life, and summons this love through his various albums in his every expanding discography. Ventura, the latest album from the California native, is no small feat for the Dr. Dre protege; its meant to follow up his polarizing Oxnard album, and bring about the sweet soul sound of the 70s all at once.
To put it bluntly, Ventura more than succeeds: it is an embodiment of simple living in both love and music, channeled through one of the genre’s most charismatic men.
Everything about Ventura, in comparison to Paak’s last record, Oxnard, sounds homegrown and organic. Instead of taking us on a date to a trendy beachside burger joint, Paak opts to take us to a hole in the wall soul food restaurant, full of delicious instrumental and vocal dishes that fill you up and warm you like a fireplace. Ventura is a much more nostalgic display of Paak’s abilities; rather than using it as a crutch, however, he employs these sounds in a way that’s completely in line with his West Coast trajectory. “Make It Better” is a gorgeous ode to rocky relationships with a 70s soul touch, complete with crisp drums, woozy strings, and a wonderfully earnest performance from Paak that blends the old tune with modern language in an intoxicating way. The track makes you want to curl up next to a fine lady or gentleman, and lay next to them under a thick blanket for an intimate evening.
The soul-infused heritage of the album refuses to age on Ventura, as several of its tracks feature some amazing instrumental changes, particularly on “Reachin’ 2 Much”, where Paak’s coy delivery and hilariously rejective lyrics are matched by some sexy vocal tracking and bass. “Chosen One” starts off as a slow drive through the neighborhood with its G-funk synths and reverberated percussion, only to blast off into the highway with a great rap verse over an energetic piano line. The effortless transition between the two halves of these tracks sound completely natural, almost as if they were made off the cuff. Maybe it’s Paak’s excellent stage presence that sells it, or the casual nature of his music in general, but it’s altogether vitalizing. It’s Paak having fun on the beat for the sake of music, and it pumps positivity directly into your body.
The wholistic enjoyment of the album, ironically, is personified in some of its weaker moments. “Twilight” might have the honor of having the album’s worst instrumental, what with its obnoxious kickdrums and horns; despite this, Paak sounds like he’s having a hell of a time producing some of the most catchy refrains on the album. “Good Heels” is borderline pointless in the whole of the album, but serves as a great character moment for Paak as he yells at his sidechick to leave before his girlfriend gets home; the duality of pimping and cheekiness in Paak’s music is perfectly balanced on Ventura, as all things should be.
One of the best parts of Ventura, outside of its youthful energy and great soul aesthetic are the individual decisions made on some of these tracks; “Jet Black” employs a shimmering synth beat and a beautiful Brandy feature to make for a perfect summer drive with the windows down. “Winners Circle” is a nice curveball in the album, using old fashioned accapella to set the groundwork for one of Paak’s best rap verses on the album. Each track features a great vocal and lyrical performance from Paak, each as effortless as breathing is for the other 99.999% of the world’s human population.
The greatness of music making isn’t just expressed in Paak himself; some of the greatest moments on Ventura dare to put the spotlight on others. “King James” celebrates the courage and importance of some the most successful sports stars with a funky beat and incredibly sticky hook. Meanwhile, Andre 3000 absolutely murders his verse (as usual) on the soaring opener “Come Home”. The cooperation between Paak and his associates, either in lyrics or actual feature credits, all further emphasizes the light hearted nature of the album; everyone here is working together, playing the mic in a light spirited jam session or acknowledging the titans of the past and present.
IF you wish to have the Ventura experience but aren’t fully aware of what the album as a whole embraces, listen to the closer, “What Can We Do”. A nostalgic trip through Paak’s musical upbringing in West Coast Funk, it features earnest lyrics with a buttery smooth performance from Paak alongside his inspiration, the late Nate Dogg. It’s a beautiful little duet, charming in its melancholy yet fun loving tone, and celebrates the featured artist through a simple conversation between Paak and Dogg’s studio recordings. Perhaps it is sad to remember the death of such a legendary artist, but Paak puts a brighter spin on it, celebrating the music and the man behind it. Ventura is magnetic in its high-spirited essence; it leaves you warm in your heart, and reminds you that sometimes an injection of liveliness and good music is all we need from time to time.
Rating: A Great Big Smile with Some Shiny Teeth
Tracks to Save: “Come Home”, “Make It Better”, “Reachiń 2 Much”, “King James”, “Chosen One”, “Jet Black”, “What Can We Do?”
Tracks to Skip: “Twilight”, “Good Heels” (debatably)