Review: ‘Ventura’ by Anderson .Paak

Anderson .Paak follows up his "gritty" 2018 album with a more soulful, "pretty" work of art

Since 2015, Anderson .Paak has been riding high. His various features on Dr. Dre’s finale Comptom, followed by the success and acclaim he achieved for his 2016 albums Malibu and Yes Lawd! (with producer Knxwledge as the duo NxWorries) has launched the California musician into the stratosphere — and knowing the hard work he put in and the struggles he faced in the years leading up to his work with Dr. Dre, this success he’s experienced over the past few years seems well-deserved.

If you remember, just five months ago, Anderson followed up his lauded 2016 projects with his 4th studio album Oxnard; it was a generally well-received work, and even landed on our list of the best albums of 2018. Yet the growing consensus amongst fans was that the rap-heavy, “gritty” side of Anderson – as the artist describes it – was not the Anderson they were looking.

That was never to say that he isn’t great as a rapper, because he’s exceptional; he’s proven on multiple occasions across his entire discography – Venice, Malibu, Yes Lawd!, Oxnard, his 2018 banger “Bubblin,” and even moments on his latest album – that his skill as a rapper/lyricist might actually be on par with his skill as a singer/songwriter.

But what’s undoubtable up to this point is that Anderson .Paak has almost always sounded at his most comfortable when he’s riding a wave of feel-good, throwback soul vibes while either crafting a personal/social/political message or exploring the numerous complex dimensions of romantic relationships. And feel-good, throwback soul vibes is precisely what he brings on his latest album, Ventura.

Before its release, Anderson revealed that Ventura was created in tandem with Oxnard and scheduled for inclusion as a 2nd disc of a double album, but was, thankfully and wisely, slated for a later release date.

If Oxnard was the “gritty” side of Anderson, Ventura is his “pretty” side; he adheres to tributary soul for nearly the album’s entire runtime. Anderson also taps an absolutely star-studded roster of rap/soul legends to aide him; the elusive OutKast frontman André 3000, R&B hall-of-famer Brandy, and modern R&B phenom Jasmine Sullivan, as well as Motown icon Smokey Robinson and the late G-funk pioneer Nate Dogg — among others — elevate the trackless with their vocal and lyrical contributions.

While Anderson’s latest effort isn’t quite as absorbing or well-written as what he delivered on, say, his breakout album Malibu, Ventura still contains moments of songwriting brilliance — two of the premier examples being “Make It Better” and “King James.” On the former, Anderson, with assistance from the aforementioned Motown legend Smokey Robinson, croons about falling out of love (“How do you mend when you’re worlds apart?”) and attempting to repair a broken relationship (“And it’s easier to walk away / Than to look for what would make you stay”).

On the latter, Anderson goes the political route as he did on the song “6 Summers” from Oxnard — except this time, he sounds much more in his bag and delivers one of the year’s biggest musical highlights. Here, he offers a tribute to Black resilience while paying his respects to Black icons like Colin Kaepernick and the titular “King” Lebron James — people who have used their resources to better the community.

Anderson .Paak proves once again on Ventura that he is a modern master of soul, and, as opposed to his previous album, this album will surely be referenced a lot more come the end of the year.

Enjoy Ventura below.

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