Anderson .Paak is multitasking. He and his collaborators are spread across several rooms in Hollywood Sound Studio. A drummer and a keyboard player are improvising somewhere, and .Paak is hunting for rolling papers. The bustle inside the studio is not so different from how .Paak’s career comes across: bright, busy, varied. In the last 18 months, he has been featured (heavily) on Dr. Dre’s Compton; released a second album, Malibu, under his own name; and put out the first full-length from NxWorries, his project with producer Knxwledge.
It was Compton that brought the Oxnard, Calif., native into wider public consciousness, but .Paak managed to pull the focus back to his work. Malibu was nominated for best urban contemporary album, and .Paak is nominated for best new artist. No overnight success is anything like overnight; .Paak has appeared on recordings under various names since 2009. Since then, he has paid the bills by doing everything from harvesting weed to touring as American Idol contestant Haley Rhinehart’s drummer.
With his own band, The Free Nationals, .Paak takes multitasking to its logical extreme, drumming, rapping, singing and bouncing around the stage. “With the new generation of R&B, the influences are starting to change,” says .Paak. “I do soul music, but there are a lot of outside influences — indie rock, electro, dance.” His vision of R&B is less quiet storm, more rainbow tornado. “This generation truly benefits from a talent as diverse as his,” says Tip “T.I.” Harris, who rapped on .Paak’s song “Come Down.” “I wish him the best of luck, though I don’t think he’ll need it much.”
A few weeks from turning 30, .Paak can easily present as one of several people. Though he’s wiry and boyish, he’s a veteran. He and his wife, Hey Oun, have been together for 10 years, six of them married. They have a 6-year-old son named Soul, who is fond of Wiz Khalifa’s 2011 hit “Black and Yellow” (and some of his dad’s music).
When .Paak returns from his journey around the studio, papers in hand, he exclaims, “Thank you, Lord!,” settles into his chair and starts rolling. His manager, Adrian Miller, pops his head in to ask if the drumming is too loud. .Paak smiles and shakes his head. “No, no. It’s a good vibe.”
How does it feel to be nominated?
It means a lot to me, especially because Malibu didn’t blow up on radio or become some huge commercial smash. I’m new to the Grammys in a few ways. I didn’t know until a couple of years ago who was doing the voting — other artists and producers and people making records. When those people neglect their duty to vote, that’s when things go haywire. We need to make sure the right people are being nominated. But whether they got it wrong or right, I’m just happy to be in the building. It’s not going to be the end of the world if I don’t win.
What will you do if you do win?
The whole family will be in the building. I think I’ll just get blackout drunk.
What has the past year been like for you and your family?
Even though it was the biggest year of my career, we took a vacation, all of us. We went to the Disney resort in Hawaii for a whole week. I don’t know if we’d ever had that much concentrated time together. I was always doing sessions, never sitting still. It was awesome to just be with each other, nothing interrupting us.
How did it feel to break through in 2016? It was a fairly intense year, to put it mildly.
It’s crazy, man. One of my best years was one of the worst years for the country. And, to be clear, it’s not like the last eight years was daisies for everyone. People were getting killed by cops; all kinds of things happened. I am optimistic, but I am affected by my surroundings, and the music is going to show that. I make songs to dance to, to make people feel good, but I need to reflect the times and keep my ear to the street. We need to help everyone get over the hump. It’s an obligation.
The artists who seem to be pushing pop music now are coming out of R&B: Frank Ocean, Beyoncé, FKA Twigs. How do you see this whole lineage?
Frank is like punk rock. He’s a brave artist. In R&B, we came up under people like Destiny’s Child, R. Kelly, Usher, Jodeci, Teddy Riley. When you have someone coming up under that gospel-blues base who also has influences like Radiohead and Beck, that’s when you start to get this real creative burst in R&B.
Where do you see yourself fitting in?
I’m a singer-songwriter. I’m not some artist that was signed when he was 9 years old, so I had to make pop records or stay to some protocol. All I’ve ever had to do is just f—ing do whatever I want. And now it’s gotten all the attention.
What else are you excited by?
I really f—ed with Solange’s album. And the thing about Adele and Beyoncé that I like is that they are two women making music that isn’t demeaning to them: “We do what we do, and we’re not here selling some bullshit.” That makes me excited about the industry, still. Major props to Adele. There’s no flutes or whistles on . It’s her voice and a f—ing piano.
What is next for you?
We’re touring now with Bruno Mars. He’s one of the last entertainers; he’s got the whole nine. And Q-Tip is one of my favorites. I’m about to take a red-eye tonight just to work with him.
Who’s won the most Grammys? What are Grammy awards made of? Watch Kelsea Ballerini, Anderson .Paak and Lukas Graham play Grammy Trivia with Billboard below.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of Billboard.