Over time, Anderson .Paak grew to become the kind of artist who can stack his albums with cameos from the likes of Smokey Robinson, Brandy, and a posthumous Nate Dogg — actually, that’s all on his 2019 LP Ventura, and we didn’t even mention the André 3000 verse that tears up the set’s astral-funk opener, “Come Home.” The kid from Oxnard, California, earned his clout. Becoming Dr. Dre’s pet prodigy surely helped, but .Paak paid it forward as a hugely prolific and effective guest MC and hook slinger for years.
This playlist culls the man’s best features from a list that stretches into the 70s. .Paak is a shape-shifter, sliding between melodic rhymes and swaggerful singing with the same ease that allows him to coast through an alt-R&B dreamscape (“Realla”) one minute and lead a rip-roaring Afrobeat band the next (“Black Hole”). Even after becoming a star, .Paak popped up on others’ cuts, and always with the mood to match. There he is, playing a starry-eyed philosopher over FlyLo’s far-out electronica. With Freddie Gibbs, he’s a soulful-but-cold gangsta documentarian. For T.I. in grown-ass-man mode, .Paak’s a world-weary lover.
That versatility doesn’t mean these songs don’t stick together. .Paak’s unmistakable voice is a powerful binding agent, of course — he tends to steal the show — but so is his penchant for appearing on tracks that feel outré and in-the-pocket, old school yet future-leaning, easy to get on the first listen but packed with enough style and substance that repeat plays are a must. .Paak knows how to pick a good collaborator, but considering the broad range of folks he’s worked with, we’d like to think that in addition to bringing his own magic to the studio, he’s pulling something special out of damn near everyone he meets.
Photo credit: Israel Ramos