Soulful R&B singer/rapper/drummer extraordinaire Anderson .Paak has been on fire lately. After dropping the Dr. Dre produced Oxnard in November last year, .Paak revealed that during recording he’d been working on another album at the same time - which brings us to his latest release, Ventura.
Oxnard and Ventura split .Paak’s signature blend of soul and hip-hop down the middle - while Oxnard was focussed more on the rap aspect of his sound, Ventura is more of a soul/R&B album. At 11 songs and 39 minutes, it’s .Paak’s shortest album to date, and probably the cleanest in terms of production - while Dre’s influence on Oxnard gave it a noticeably more crisp sound than Anderson’s previous albums, it stands out even more on Ventura, particularly through the production of the drums. Anderson tends to produce his drums in a way that pushes them somewhat to the background despite his remarkable proficiency on the instrument, but on Ventura, they are front and centre and sounding tight.
Opening track Come Home is an immediate standout, with .Paak’s sublime vocals soaring over a steady bass groove and tasteful accompaniment from piano, flutes and horns. It also sports a characteristically remarkable verse from OutKast MC Andre 3000, popping up to effortlessly remind us that he is indeed still cooler than being cool. Much like Oxnard, Ventura takes advantage of .Paak’s new heights of success to boast an impressive list of guest artists, including Nate Dogg, Lalah Hathaway, and Smokey Robinson. The latter features on the album’s second single, Make It Better, a divine laidback soul track with luscious romantic summer vibes. Hathaway weaves her voice together with .Paak’s on Reachin’ 2 Much, culminating in an impressive vocal outro.
The basslines on the album really stand out, particularly the stuttering slap bass of Winner’s Circle that rests underneath a rap verse and percussive drums from .Paak delivering a triple hit of rhythmic heat. The instrumentation, in general, is superb, really lending itself to the unfiltered sounds of .Paak’s consistently solid band The Free Nationals. The more natural tone contrasts .Paak’s previous albums that blend the instruments more with produced sounds, which usually serves to make the live versions of the songs ramp up more energy and spectacle than their studio counterparts. Juxtapositional lead single King James details frustrations with racism in the US but feels like a summertime beach party with its delightful soul groove.
The recognisably Pharrell Williams produced Twilight has an electronic beat pulsing through it that differs from the rest of the album stylistically, but the soulful vocals manage to stop it from completely derailing the album’s sound. What Can We Do? is a lovely, laid back closer to Ventura, featuring unreleased vocals from Nate Dogg, that encapsulates the summery spirit of the album and serves as a touching tribute to the late rapper.
All in all, Ventura is an excellent piece of joyous soulful funk that serves as a remarkable follow up to Oxnard in its contrast to its hip-hop heavy predecessor. While it doesn’t quite soar to the same heights as his excellent 2016 sophomore Malibu, Ventura showcases the distinct talent and versatility that makes Anderson .Paak one of the most exciting recording and performing artists right now.
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Released: 12 Apr 2019