In the last year, Anderson .Paak has grown into one of the biggest names in contemporary music. The charismatic artist, named to XXL Magazine’s 2016 Freshmen Class, has rapidly gained international acclaim and widespread fame across the country. Despite Paak’s explosive popularity, his success was an arduous 13 years in the making, on the heels of a tumultuous childhood.
Paak was born to a South Korean mother and African-American father in Oxnard, California. Paak’s father had a successful career until he was discharged from the military for marijuana use, then turned to drugs and alcohol to keep his sorrows at bay. This led to domestic abuse by the time Paak was 7, which landed his father in prison for 14 years, where he died behind bars before Paak had a chance to see him.
Despite his father’s unfortunate fate, Paak’s mother and stepfather found prosperity after buying and renovating a strawberry farm. The lavish lifestyle that soon followed allowed Paak to explore music, and by the age of 12 he was a talented drummer. He began playing for the band at his god-sister’s church, where he “fell in love with the energy”; the same energy that initially inspired him radiates from his tracks today.The artist discovered his knack for rapping in high school, catching the attention of hip-hop executives. Paak made several trips to Atlanta to discuss career options, but his scouters didn’t share his artistic vision, and Paak was unwilling to compromise.
By the time the west coast had suffered repeated ravaging by El Niños, the strawberry business began to fail and the six-bedroom mansion was lost to foreclosure. Paak’s mother and stepfather briefly sustained the family in Las Vegas with their gambling skills, before being arrested for their inappropriate means of income. Paak didn’t have a choice: he was forced to give up music for several years in order to keep himself afloat. Seeking stability in life, Paak married his first girlfriend at the age of 21. She coaxed him back into working on his music, where he played for the group Block Cheddar under the pseudonym Breezy Lovejoy, but the gig was neither successful nor fulfilling, so Paak quit.
By the end of 2012, the artist had two albums under his belt: O.B.E. (out of body experience) Vol. 1 and Lovejoy. He also met his soon-to-be second wife at the Musician’s Institute, and after she became pregnant, he realized it was time to seriously consider career options. That’s when Paak met the first member of what would become The Free Nationals, guitarist Jose Rios. The acquaintances grew into friends, and moved to a Santa Barbara pot farm to trim, tend to, and guard the inventory through the night. Although Paak made up to $5,000 a week, he failed to invest his income and found himself and his family homeless and penniless when his job unexpectedly ended.
Shafiq Husayn of hip-hop group Sa-Ra helped Paak back to his feet by employing him as an assistant, videographer, editor, writer, and producer. It was Paak’s connections in LA’s close-knit hip-hop family that recognized his value early on and nurtured him to the successful artist we know today. Paak began frequenting LA music club Little Temple, where his band became regulars on the stage. He found a profitable career drumming for American Idol star Hailey Reinhardt, but when the tour ended he found himself restless once again.
Seeking change and a fresh page, the artist dropped Breezy Lovejoy for the striking yet classic moniker we recognize today: Anderson .Paak. “The dot stands for detail”, Paak tells NPR, continuing to note that people will only take you as seriously as you take yourself. In 2013, Paak was connected to manager Brian Lee, whom he met after Hailey Reinhardt’s tour, during his time drumming for Dumbfounded. Lee helped the artist get nearly eight months of studio time – considered Paak’s incubation period. The artist cultivated an impressive range of music, a fitting resume for the high demand that would follow his appearance on Dr. Dre’s surprise album, Compton.
With his new identity, Paak set out with a new artistic vision. One of his first focuses as an artist was to reverse the 1950s movement of white artists covering traditionally black music, by ‘flipping’ songs by artists like Neil Young, The Beatles, and White Stripes, on his 2013 EP, Cover Art. The artist was soon under new management, by Adrian Miller, the man to whom Paak attributes much of his recent success. In 2014, Paak released a 16 track LP, Venice, a synth-heavy album recorded with collaborator Callum Connor. Although Paak’s current style is much evolved, the same motifs we hear today are evident on Venice: emotive storytelling, groovy beats, and the husky yet soothing voice that leaves listeners entranced and ravenous for more.
Paak was encouraged to continue in the vein he established in Venice, but he wanted to diversify his musical portfolio, exploring new styles and collaborating with different artists. In 2015, Paak began working with Knxwledge on an EP, Link Up & Suede, which produced “Suede”, the single that first caught Dr. Dre’s attention. Paak and Knxwledge have continued to collaborate under the title NxWorries, recently releasing Yes Lawd!, a beat tape touching a variety of creative corners. Malibu, Paak’s soon-to-come second album, was well into production when he was rocked by attention after Dr. Dre’s album drop. He collaborated with producer 9th Wonder, as well as artists Madlib and BJ the Chicago Kid, for several tracks on the album.
Although Malibu is supported by four singles, each track is unique and exquisite; Paak’s ability to integrate hard times and high times while flawlessly incorporating a variety of styles leaves listeners in awe. In his lyric "I bring you greetings from the first church of boom bap-tists”, Paak announces his revival of the '90s hip-hop subgenre whose key feature is the clean crunch of prominent drums, a style left untouched in the last decade. 9th wonder believes Paak is filling a current void in the R&B/Hip Hop industry, with what NPR describes as the artist’s kaleidoscopic mix of '60s funk, '70s soul, hip-hop, R&B, electronic music, and rock 'n' roll.
Although 2016 gained its reputation among millennials for the worst year yet, Paak has been our glimmer of golden joy amidst the tragedies that have graced our world. In addition to Paak’s mind-blowing solo projects, he’s had many successful guest appearances with artists like ScHoolboy Q, Kaytranada, and A Tribe Called Quest. The artist continues to spread his infectious tunes, recently teasing a new song on Snapchat with Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment, as well as announcing a collaborative EP with renowned experimental artist Flying Lotus.
In addition to joining Bruno Mars for his 24K Magic World Tour this coming spring, Paak and his band, the Free Nationals, will also be releasing an LP. Although it’s their debut album, the band dates back to Paak’s pot-farming days with guitarist Rios. The band also includes bassist Kelsey Gonzalez, whose vocals are featured on nearly ten tracks between Venice and Malibu, and drummed Callum Connor (a.k.a. Lo_Def), the artist that helped Paak with the majority of Venice. The Free Nationals channel a similar energy to Paak’s vocal music, described by Rios as “soul music with some funk”.
Paak’s journey has been long and trying, but his talent is at last rewarded with the critical acclaim it deserves. His integrity as an artist shines through his roller coaster journey to success, never allowing his sound or vision to be compromised. Paak attributes his versatility as an artist to his turbulent history, translating the pains of his past into beautiful music. His songs remind us that we can overcome anything. Aren’t we lucky he is creating new music to carry us through 2017?