Ventura review: Anderson .Paak returns to his old, funkier style with this ode to sunny coastal California
Anderson.Paak released his fourth studio album Ventura, just months after Oxnard.
Grammy winning rapper-singer-producer Anderson.Paak released his fourth studio album Ventura, another ode to the sunny coastal California, just months after Oxnard. Though recorded around the same time with Dr Dre as executive producer on both projects, they are stylistically different. Oxnard was in-your-face, leaning heavily on hiphop (a factor that did not go down well with most fans) with big names like Snoop Dogg, J Cole and Kendrick Lamar onboard, but Ventura is more of a warm hug. In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Paak had explained that the former was “made to be gritty” while the latter “was made to be pretty.” Romance is the overarching theme of the easy-going, soul-tinged new album.
Ventura also has some star-studded cameos but they never overpower Paak's presence. The album begins with him begging and pleading for a lover to ‘Come Home’ alongside Outkast’s Andre 3000, who without missing a beat drops a comedic albeit clever verse. “I will show up on a lil' moped/ With a lil' puppy, it'll be fluffy.” ‘Make it Better’ has Smokey Robinson join Paak in the chorus. Paak sings about how with the passage of time he and his significant other have become “strangers in the night/Awkward and uptight”. He wishes to rekindle their relationship and hopes they also want the same. The track gives Robinson’s soulful Motown sound a new touch along with the intimate, cheesy lyrics.
Lalah Hathaway’s smoky voice harmonises with Paak’s rasp on ‘Reachin’ 2 Much’. The beat changes mid-song, giving it a smoother feel as it progresses. Over a colourful medley of brass and string, Paak doubts his lover’s intentions, and in a reference to Erykah Badu’s ‘Next Lifetime’, bids them goodbye. The sexually-charged ‘Winners Circle’ includes a sample of Chazz Palminteri’s dialogue from Robert De Niro’s crime drama A Bronx Tale, “You’re only allowed three great women in your lifetime. They come along like the great fighters, every ten years. Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis.” Paak effortlessly switches from rapping to singing and even drops a snide remark about Trump, along the way (When I get the gushy, I go dumb like the President). His tendency to play with genres is evidenced with the lush, jazzy scat vocals making an appearance in the track.
Without a minute of rest, the end of ‘Winners Circle’ blends into the pure R&B number ‘Good Heels’. It is naughty and conversational as Jazmine Sullivan and Paak talk about covering up their tracks after a night of sneaking around. ‘Yada Yada’, the sixth track, will test your patience with the slow instrumental build-up to Paak humbly rapping about his struggles and finally being at the top of his game. Listen closely and you can feel the smile in his voice, the pride of overcoming roadblocks and finally ending up where he truly belongs.
Usually when an album is nearing the end, it tends to lose its spark, but not with Paak. The energetic ‘King James’, Ventura's first single, is a tribute to LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick, who besides being sports icons are also important role models in the African-American community. Mac DeMarco is sampled in ‘Chosen One’, which could be about finding someone who sticks with him through thick and thin. The amplified hand claps and piano give it a fun spin. The aughties make a comeback in his collaboration with Brandy. The song demands you to crank up the volume and have an impromptu dance party.
Pharell Williams brings an element of playfulness in ‘Twilight’, with the horns playing throughout. For a song that is over three minutes long, it’s disappointing when it comes to an end. Paak, being the heart-eyed mushy individual that he clearly is, thanks his other half here for being the guiding light in moments of darkness. Finally, Ventura closes with ‘What Can We Do?’, featuring the late Nate Dogg.
Ventura exudes a happy, sunny aura just like the musician’s home state. You can feel the emotion in every word and note Paak delivers in the songs. Rap not being his strongest point, he still manages to fold it effortlessly into his singing. Ventura is closer to his older, funkier style and sees him utilise his creative freedom to the maximum. Paak had admitted that Dre let him "have a lot of leeway" on the new record. "I spread my wings on the production and on the writing and on these collaborations," he had told Esquire in March. Ventura is certainly one of his finer works and makes up for where Oxnard faltered, but definitely not at par with Malibu.
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