Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Oxnard, the flawed but interesting new album from Anderson .Paak.
An underappreciated rap-adjacent narrative: reaching one’s breakthrough upon exiting your 20s, ascending into the discourse far past the assumed time limit for most artists to do so. Youthfulness, ironically, functions similarly as a presumed default for success; an unending fixation on the now and the future, almost always at the expense of older and elder voices, save for cosigns or last gasps at relevancy. Anderson .Paak’s moment began as he approached 30: his appeal savors the sweet yesteryears, embodying the animation and emotional depth of the soul and G-funk before him with refreshing steps into the now. He’s done the dance of timely and timeless many a time now, striking gold in many disciplines and becoming one of the top showmen in the industry. Now with Dr. Dre behind the controls and the budget in tow, .Paak’s tinted lineage of slick visions come to a head in Oxnard: a Big Album that may not age as fine as the yak in his glass.
Concerning the tinted lineage, .Paak’s tailored a myriad of ways for listeners to adore him in all his hues: heartthrob, scumbag, freakazoid. The weight of his wildness is always underscored by the depth of his vulnerability, his rasped tones gliding over any snare and 808 to fight for every inch of our attention. Where it’s made for captivating moments in Malibu and Yes Lawd! alike, it feels more like the nagging glitch gone unfixed in Oxnard: something’s missing in all this good. .Paak’s everyman quality registers more subdued than it should, his dirty charms stretched a bit too thin to woo us to his wishes. If .Paak isn’t the one under par, it’s the lightweight production: the drums don’t slap like they used to, the melodies aren’t as memorable, and the album’s first half drags the funk along to borderline-boring territory. Thematically, the devil’s gettin’ road head somewhere in the details. (See: “Headlow,” an odd record to follow such a good intro.) While the brief skits and textures insinuate an immersive experience to come, it never really comes. “Saviers Road” is a fantastic first-person chronicle of .Paak’s perils before tasting this success, but it’s not met by much else of its ilk. Not to mention the awkwardness of “6 Summers” forecasting the edgy sexual future of a Trump child born out of wedlock, only to pivot into a much better song halfway through?
To its credit, the second half of Oxnard picks up many fragments left in the first while being loaded with features ranging from adequate to fantastic. Kendrick’s lax performance on “Tints” does what’s expected, but sadly not much else. The awkward Dre appearance on “Mansa Musa” meets a similar expectation, though Cocoa Sarai maneuvers her cool on the clunky weirdness. Meanwhile, Uncle Big Snoop Dogg still waxes poetic about his heyday on “Anywhere” with an impeccable suave that enhances the .Paak we love: gentle and breezy as his former moniker. The album closer “Cheers” is a bittersweet delight — R.I.P. Mac — bookended by the reflective Q-Tip’s nasally quality embedded deep into a warm groove, weaving through the pain en route to the good times. Two bonuses aside, there’s a tale of two albums in Oxnard, neither part really adding up to expand the Californian universe .Paak’s taken years to build for us.
Anderson .Paak’s far from worn off or worn out, but there’s a pivotal moment that’s yet to arrive where he seizes the spotlight completely. The dabblings are fun to watch, even if some are kept farther at bay, but the urgency that’s made his prior works so engrossing feels faded into the trimmings that come with this stature. He’s long proven he can do everything, and can ration his everything out to the appropriate areas, yet there’s a dryness lingering in the core of Oxnard that swerves the journey off course. Again, it’s not bad music, but… without a single signature “Yes Lawd!” in earshot, which Anderson have we met and where are we headed from here?
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.