Why Anderson .Paak Is One of the Most Daring Artists of 2017

Anderson .Paak
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Mastercard

Anderson .Paak performs at Best New Artist Grammy nominee Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals perform at the Masterpass #ThankTheFans House presented by Billboard and Mastercard on Feb. 10, 2017 in Los Angeles.

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The last five years have been a golden age for boundary-pushing R&B artists. The Weeknd is all over the pop charts. Frank Ocean is a household name. Miguel is seducing the masses. And then there’s Anderson .Paak, a charismatic singer, rapper, and drummer with a knack for writing deeply funky—and often deeply moving—songs.

“With the new generation of R&B, the influences are starting to change,” .Paak told Billboard. “I do soul music, but there are a lot of outside influences—indie rock, electro, dance.”

All of those sounds can be heard on .Paak’s stunning 2016 sophomore effort, Malibu, which earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album. .Paak was also nominated for Best New Artist, and while he lost in both categories, the 2017 Grammys weren’t a total bust. He got to play drums behind A Tribe Called Quest, whose 2016 swan song he guested on, and besides, winning wasn’t really the point.

"The fact that our album was even considered just means a lot and a lot of respect," .Paak told Billboard. "It's huge for us regardless."

The success of Malibu in 2016 gave the native of Oxnard, California, his second massive year in a row. In 2015, after years of struggling to make music while supporting his wife and young son, .Paak got the chance to work on Dr. Dre’s hotly tipped third album, Compton. Appearing on six tracks, .Paak emerged as the album’s MVP and earned a deal on Dre’s Aftermath imprint.

By the time .Paak signed with Dre in late January 2016, Malibu had already dropped and started garnering rave reviews. In addition to the album’s infectious mix of sounds—the rap-tinged neo-soul of "Heart Don’t Stand a Chance," the bouncy G-funk of "Am I Wrong," featuring ScHoolboy Q—Malibu was notable for the confessional nature of .Paak’s songwriting. The son of an abusive, drug addicted father who died behind bars and a half-black, half-Korean mother who served time for tax issues, .Paak has plenty of life experience to draw on.

“The reason why I think it had such an impact is because it was truthful, it was from the heart, it was personal,” .Paak said of Malibu. “It was a lot of people that were doing the same thing, and this kind of stuck out because it was so different from the rest of the things that were out there. It was my story, it was my band’s story.”

The next chapter of that story is still being written. Outside of some one-off collaborations (Aussie producer Moonbase, singer-songwriter SiR, North Carolina rhymer Rapsody) and a remixed version of Yes Lawd!, the 2016 debut album by his neo-soul side project NxWorries, .Paak didn’t offer much new music in 2017. But he’s said to have recorded with Flying Lotus, Chance The Rapper, and ScHoolboy Q. And in April, he was spotted at Abbey Road Studios in London with Bruno Mars, Nigel Rodgers, and one of the dudes from Disclosure.

Regardless of whether these folks show up on the Malibu follow-up, .Paak is poised for another really big year.

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