Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly arguably opened a lot of doors for a number of experimental hip-hop albums. Some of the artists who worked on that album have gone on to release masterpieces of their own, such as Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington, with his three-hour experimental jazz album The Epic. Out of nowhere, it seems, comes Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, a soulful, jazzy, and beautifully breezy hip-hop record that at times sounds like Lamar’s TPAB, and at other times like something else entirely. Fusing hip-hop, jazz, rap, R&B, and soul, Malibu is a shining example of everything a hip-hop album can be in 2016.
It opens with “The Bird,” a jazzy,
head-bobbing intro that seems to channel D’Angelo’s soulful vocal style. “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” further shows off .Paak’s vocal chops, and culminates in a spinning electronic bridge with a rapped-over hook. Then, on “The Waters (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid),” .Paak really gets started. The spoken word transitions and jazzy interludes on this album give it another connection to TPAB: this is a concept album, in the only real sense of that term in that its an album that asks to be digested in one sitting, the tracks coming where they do for a reason. .Paak, much like Lamar, is playing with form.
“The Season | Carry Me” exemplifies this playfulness, and even includes a shout-out to Lamar in the line “‘Bout the year Drizzy and Cole dropped / Before K.Dot had it locked.” .Paak even begins to sound like Lamar in places where he’s straight rapping, but has a remarkable vocal range (the kind that made Lamar himself so versatile) and changes his style on almost every song. “Am I Wrong (feat. SchoolBoy Q)” is an early stand-out, and a celebration, with funky horns and a catchy chorus. This is an album to throw on for your next party: you can groove to it on a first listen, and it demands attention even when there’s a lot else going on.
And there’s a lot going on on this album. The middle-section has everything it needs to slip into the background, in the best possible way, because unlike the incredibly dense middle-section of To Pimp A Butterfly, this is easy listening, and yet at the same time it sounds like an amalgamation of all the best alt-hip hop albums to come out in the last year, from D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, to Miguel’s Wildheart, to Thundercat and Lamar. Of course, .Paak didn’t completely come out of nowhere: he was heavily featured on Dr. Dre’s Compton last year, as well as albums by The Game (featured here on “Room in Here“), and fellow California artist TOKiMONSTA.
.Paak is from Oxnard, not exactly straight outta Compton, but is another powerful voice that can speak to a particular kind of West Coast lifestyle. Malibu nods to the surf-skate culture .Paak grew up with; at the end of album highlight “Come Down,” the announcer-type spoken word outro says, “Before Vietnam, when boards were long and hair was short, the centre of the surfing world was a place called Malibu.” On “Come Down,” .Paak manages to sound both most like Lamar and most like himself: a King Kunta of sorts and a contentious player in the resurging world of West Coast hip hop.