Exclusive Interview: Anderson .Paak – “It took a lot of balls to just trust in my art.”
We caught up with the breakout star of Dr. Dre's 'Compton' album to talk his past, present and future...
For four months this year, Anderson .Paak was a ticking time-bomb of excitement, holding in the biggest secret of his career thus far. He was living a double life; known for his soulful vocals on the L.A. underground scene, the Oxnard native was hard at work with Dr. Dre in top secret studio sessions to work on the legendary producer’s third album Compton. The record would eventually spring up out of nowhere a week before the release of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton biopic in August, but until then any talk of the project was strictly prohibited. Although he admits he wanted to tell “everybody”, .Paak managed to contain himself for the sake of the music. “It was more important to me just to be able to make the album and I didn’t want to mess that up in any way,” he explains. “So as hard it was I just had to be quiet. I was just appreciative to be in the room and work with him extensively.” Despite spending a third of his year crafting the record, he wasn’t quite sure to what extent he’d appear on the album until its official release on Apple Music and iTunes. In the tracklist revealed by Dre a week prior to impact, he’d appeared four times, but on the final version he made six songs. “So that it was that many tracks… man it was amazing,” he says, still in awe.
While Compton, to many listeners, was the introduction to a new star on the horizon – his collaboration with Dre is the product of over a decade honing his craft. Formerly operating as Breezy Lovejoy, .Paak decided to revert to his third and middle name (his full name is Brandon Anderson Paak) a couple of years ago during a transitional period. He was homeless and just starting a family, with his wife and newborn son, but knew that music was the only thing he could pursue. “People spend their whole lives building up somebody else’s dream or fitting into some system just because they were comfortable and afraid to reach out and do things that they really loved to do,” he says. “My mom did what she wanted to do, my pops did what he wanted to do, and those were the examples that I had. It was very hard and it took a lot of balls to just trust in my art and that I didn’t need anything else because this is what made me happy. It’s one thing to find that, and it’s another thing to go out on a limb and trust yourself to commit to it.” He was developing his work ethic at the time and wanted a clean slate, applying a new level of seriousness to his writing and vocal approach, “I wanted my sound to be unique to myself and I wanted a voice that nobody else had. I spent a lot of time developing that and when I came up out of it I wanted to drop the moniker Breezy Lovejoy and I just wanted to go with my real name.”
Anderson .Paak’s “coming out party”, as he puts it, was through last year’s Venice LP, which immediately demonstrates his diverse talent and pushes him further than he’d ever gone as Breezy, hopping between sounds from trap to R&B, hip-hop to house, but without ever sounding forced or disjointed. The album is a perfect set up for where he finds himself now, appearing on a Dr. Dre song one day and then recording a feature for Milo and Busdriver the next. Although he wouldn’t describe it as intentional, he believes he naturally structured the album this way. “I’m not signed or anything so there wasn’t a bunch of people telling me what to do, I just always naturally did what I wanted,” he explains. “But I think there’s always like a common thread within all the music, I don’t think it’s ever reaching. I don’t feel comfortable just staying in one spot and doing the same thing over and over again. I just get bored.” His come up so far has lead him from producing an album for slam poet George Watsky, to working with Nocando’s Hellfyre Club to release Venice’s lead single ‘Drugs’ to collaborating with Soulection’s Spacekid BMB and DJ Premier on a single for Red Bull. “I’ve always felt like there was something cool about the fact that I can go from one room to the other room and get respect in all these different rooms, and that’s really what I was going for,” he admits. “I wanted to have no ceilings and no boundaries to who I can collaborate with or what sounds I can dip into. As long as it was good music then I’m down for it.”
Undoubtedly the biggest song to impact Anderson’s career so far was ‘Suede’ a collaboration with beat maker Knxwledge under the group name NxWorries. After hooking up via Twitter and receiving a folder full of beats via email, .Paak began writing. “I remember riding around to all his beats and I [wrote ‘Suede’] while driving. I had written a few songs [to Knxwledge’s beats] and they were all kind of in that vibe to where it was this kind of Blaxploitation, 60’s, early 70’s, Curtis Mayfield vibe. That was what he was bringing out of me.” .Paak admits that he was initially nervous to even send Knx the track, as he felt like it might be too raw, but it seems that the raw sound that the pair created with ‘Suede’ was exactly what the music world was looking for, opening many doors for its creators, including catching the ears of Dr. Dre. “I think one thing that I’m very grateful for from working with Knxwledge is through [NxWorries] I’ve gotten the chance to really develop a tone that I’ve played with on different albums but never really zeroed in on. And I think it’s the same tone that you hear on Dre’s album. This voice over that kind of production, it was a void. Looking back on it now I can kind of see, but when we were doing it and before we put it out I didn’t know how it was going to be received – I wasn’t expecting it to be taken this well, but I’m very grateful that it has been.”
The story goes that Dre and his team had been bumping ‘Suede’ for weeks, and after receiving a bunch of beats that they thought Anderson would sound perfect on, the rest is history. “Dre was pretty early in a sense where I didn’t have a million followers or a huge huge hype around me, I was definitely working but he’s got people around him, he’s got his ear to the streets and once he heard what I could do he was all the way sold,” says Anderson appreciatively. “He didn’t really go back and listen to anything I had done, what I did in the studio was enough for him to start taking chances and throwing me on different things. So he took a chance.”
It hasn’t always been this way for .Paak though, and since receiving the blessings of such a world renowned producer, he’s watching people crawl out of the woodwork. “It’s just hard not to be a prick,” he admits. “I can see why people change and why people say ‘The game made me this way’ and different things like that. I can kinda see why people have this chip on their shoulder, because I’ve been putting out stuff for ten years now in L.A., just trying out different things and working, and developing, and once someone takes a chance that has a big name and co-signs then everybody comes running.” In an industry full of fakes and frauds, fiending for the next cash cow, it’s no wonder that .Paak, a musician in the purest sense, struggles to keep up appearances. Many of those reaching out, haven’t even bothered to familiarise themselves with his work: “It’s hard to sometimes look at these people and stare them in the eyes and really take them seriously and not be a complete asshole.”
Aside from playing snakes and ladders with the industry, the Dr. Dre effect has been overwhelmingly positive for .Paak and is one that continues to spill over into his own practice as he works towards his forthcoming solo release. “A lot of it is done but I’ve been getting a lot of new stuff that I really like. I’ve learned from Dre, to keep going until the final hour and then when it’s done, it’s done,” he says. “And I don’t have to turn it in just yet so I’ll be recording new music until then.” He was also taken by Dre’s attention to detail, which he cites as the main thing that he took away from his four months of studio sessions. “Things like putting 100% into every take,” he clarifies. “I think most important is the attention to detail, and that can go into the way you record, the way you produce, the mixing, the art, everything. Dre’s a real perfectionist and I just feel like theres a difference between when I work with him and when I’m just recording myself. So I think it’s just pushing for the best, the very best you can do.”
Anderson’s new video blog for Mass Appeal begins with a quote that states: “They say it’s hard to catch a wave, but when you do, make the most of it…” And we’re truly about to see him put that into full effect. After taking his listeners through his life in Venice, and visiting Compton as an outsider, assisting residents like Kendrick Lamar and The Game to deliver their vision of the city, his next destination is Malibu which he plans to release in November. Aside from that he just dropped an EP with Blended Babies and NxWorries is in the mixing stages with an EP release imminent. Add that to the constantly surfacing features and Anderson .Paak is about to flood the market. It all comes back to his work ethic and his come up. “I think content is king, and I don’t have a lot of content out, so I was into feeding the people as much good material as possible. And that’s what all the artists did that I was around, like Dumfoundead and Wax, Watsky, they all did that. So that’s what I learned from them and that’s what I plan to do with these EPs. Is just give people a large amount of material because everybody’s into different stuff and that’s how I am too, so I want them to be able to just pick and choose whatever they want. Some people will like everything and some people will just like certain things. I want to have something for everybody.” Between his diversity, dynamics and perhaps most importantly his authenticity, we truly have a new star on our hands. The secret of Anderson .Paak is out.
Words by Grant Brydon