Last year, Dr. Dre descended from Mount Beats and unleashed Compton, his first collection of original music since 1999. The prospect of a set of new Dre tracks was enticing enough, but hardcore heads were particularly invested in what new voices would emerge from his latest talent casting. Ever since his earliest days with N.W.A, Dre has had a remarkable nose for up-and-comers, nurturing the likes of Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent, and Kendrick Lamar.
While there was a heady mix of fresh performers on Compton, the dominant newcomer was a singer named Anderson .Paak. The unusually-punctuated Paak had been a knockaround guy for a few years, formerly going by the handle Breezy Lovejoy but settling on a variation of his given name. Clearly the septum-pierced Paak was just waiting in the weeds for something to rebel against, as Malibu, his second full-length, is a bracing wash of warm neo-soul that spits in the face of the chilly self-flagellation the Weeknd managed to spin into chart gold.
It’s no wonder why Dre was drawn to Paak’s vocal power, as he allows neither low-end boom-bap nor hard-nosed rhyming to eclipse his confident croon, and the extensions of his work on Compton come up most when paired with an MC like The Game (the cruise control-worthy roller “Room In Here”) or BJ the Chicago Kid (the thumping, minimalistic “The Waters”). But he owes as much to the mix-and-match earth tones of the Native Tongues movement and to D’Angelo’s transformative molten funk as he does the good Doctor. The Schoolboy Q-assisted “Am I Wrong” is the best OutKast song since that pair folded, and the one-two punch of the tinkling “Your Prime” and the insistent “Come Down” has a dusty quality that feels freshly dug from the crate.
Malibu defies categorization, which is a testament to Paak’s versatility and his willingness to take detours, not all of which work (the well-meaning but dopey celebration of boobs “Silicon Valley” is exhibit A). But even when his muse leads him astray, it’s easy to see why Dre got in on the Anderson .Paak business early and often. B+