Anderson .Paak’s latest album, “Oxnard,” is the musical equivalent of an HBO television series: It’s beautifully produced, overloaded with the best talent out there and the last thing you want to put on at a family function. The rap album is also cinematic, as the songs are interwoven with miniature sketches and sound effects. Similar to an HBO series, however, the narrative sometimes gets lost in unnecessary sexual imagery, and the storyline is sacrificed for shock factor. Nevertheless –– just like “Westworld,” “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood” –– “Oxnard” is hard not to love.
The California native’s first release under the moniker Anderson .Paak, born Brandon Paak Anderson, formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy, was his 2014 album, “Venice.” He entered the scene, however, with his features on Dr. Dre’s 2015 album, “Compton.” .Paak followed his features with “Malibu,” which received overwhelming critical acclaim, marked by a Grammy nomination. .Paak’s quick ascent to stardom led to “Oxnard” being one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year. It’s difficult to live up to that hype — or even create another album as distinctive and hip as “Malibu.”
In some ways, .Paak delivered. He brought his signature high-pitched, raspy charm and solidified his place as one of the most versatile rappers. With the help of executive producer Dr. Dre, “Oxnard” is danceable at points, hypnotic at others and polished throughout. While .Paak harkens back to old grooves and pays tribute to those who came before him, he repackages these old styles in a way that’s entirely his own and more accessible to a modern audience. For instance, the flute riffs, string arrangement and Kadhja Bonet’s supporting vocals on “The Chase” sound like they came straight from Curtis Mayfield’s 1972 album “Superfly,” while the drum groove and .Paak’s distinct rap style contribute to its contemporary feel.
The album also features a laundry list of the top names in hip-hop, including Kendrick Lamar on “Tints,” J. Cole on “Trippy,” Snoop Dogg on “Anywhere” and others. The best verse on the album comes from the main producer of the rap collective A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip. On “Cheers,” the Queens native offers a moving tribute to his former bandmate Phife Dawg, who died in 2016. As Q-Tip delivers the line, “So sick of sendin’ flowers to all of my brother’s mommas,” his voice cracks subtly. It’s a powerful nod to his old friend and longtime collaborator.
Despite its heady grooves, star-studded features and top-class production, “Oxnard” does not fulfill all the expectations stacked up for .Paak’s third album. To begin with, the album lacks the clear narrative that would have allowed its cinematic quality to achieve its full potential. “Anywhere” is a G-funk-inspired groove where Snoop Dogg reminisces about the good old days, while .Paak’s hook asks a romantic interest to meet him in a hotel room. “6 Summers” calls for gun reform but begins with the wishful scenario that Trump has a love child who kisses “señoritas and black gals.” “Tints,” the first single from the album, is a hook-oriented, poolside jam that should have been released in June, instead of October. Individually, the songs lack focus; collectively, the album is messy.
The worst parts of the album are some of .Paak’s excessive descriptions of sexual conquests, making the listener feel uncomfortable. On “Headlow,” he describes crashing his car on the I-9 because he was receiving oral sex. The song’s conclusion leaves little to the imagination.
Admittedly, “Oxnard” is no “Malibu.” In .Paak’s defense, he is now held to the standard of his previous releases, a burden he did not face in the past. Nonetheless, there are some legitimate critiques of “Oxnard.” Its lyrics are deeply flawed and, at times, lazy. The word “b—h” is used a total of 49 times. .Paak is also overly ambitious and jumps around styles and sounds that, instead of providing welcomed variation, breed a sense of inconsistency and incongruence. In attempting to do it all, .Paak achieves less. The most genuine moments on the album are hard to take seriously because of .Paak’s boastful, overly sexualized and shamelessly misogynistic persona, while the most provocative moments get old after a few listens. Despite these factors, it’s hard not to love some of the tracks on this album, namely, “Cheers,” “Sweet Chick” and “6 Summers.” Although it attracts some warranted criticism, “Oxnard” is a solid major-label debut for .Paak.