There’s a lot to be said for resilience, especially when working in a field that can be as punishing as the music industry. And though his soulful, unexpected mix of hip-hop, R&B, blues, and funk was always going to get him far — on sheer talent alone — it’s the way Anderson .Paak has continually pushed himself onward and upward, no matter the circumstance, that makes watching him on this latest, triumphant tour feel so inspiring.
Practically every single release .Paak has put into the world has been an homage to the little corner of Southern California where he’s from — from 2014’s Venice and his 2016 breakout, Malibu, to his latest pair of releases, last year’s Oxnard and this year’s quick follow-up, Ventura — and all salute communities in and around Los Angeles that rarely get their due as hotbeds for innovative music, culture, or style that impact the world at large.
Through Anderson’s specific naming of these communities, he is directly giving back to the places that helped shape his sound, and eventual ascent to headlining arenas on his latest tour. Furthermore, though most of the openers for his tour rotated based on region, another Angeleno was on every date — Thundercat has been playing arenas right alongside .Paak, giving his innovative jazz-funk the much larger national platform that it rightfully deserves.
Beach communities like Ventura and Oxnard, and hell, even Venice up until the recent tech-bro-infusion, have been the home to creatives living on the outskirts of Los Angeles for decades, and through Anderson’s telling the story of a local boy from Oxnard made good, he’s giving those forgotten corners of the city some front and center representation. Los Angeles, in turn, came out to support .Paak (and Thundercat) as the already well-praised Best Teef In The Game tour hit home turf.
Though Oxnard didn’t have the year-defining power in 2018 that .Paak and his camp perhaps hoped it would, that disappointment had no bearing on the packed crowd in the confines of The Forum last Saturday night, where he performed with both Thundercat and Earl Sweatshirt as support. Arriving just before the end of Earl Sweatshirt’s set, the high rise seats looked a little empty to me, but by the time the curtain went up on .Paak himself, triumphantly drumming behind his kit at the top of a multi-level stage set up, the rest of the crowd had trickled in to bask in the unflagging, wildly energetic golden funk that the Free Nationals create on the regular.
Though a few Malibu cuts were sprinkled in here and there, including opener “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance,” the majority of the setlist was given over to Oxnard, and its sister album, Ventura, as the two projects feel like halves of a whole come together on this tour. “6 Summers” and “Tints” have their rightful place at the top of the set, as unrelenting bangers with deeply political messaging that might not have gotten their radio due. But regardless of their performance on the charts, the tunes soar in a live setting with a crowded arena eager to sing along.
But it didn’t really matter which body of work .Paak pulled from — a collaboration with Kaytranda made the cut, so did a song from his NxWorries project, along with all the aforementioned albums — each selected track revealed a musician who knows his sound and his audience well, and who has tasked himself with keeping California’s funk-rap tradition alive, on the grand scale it deserves to be appreciated on. And the fact that he does all this from behind a drum kit half the time only adds to his legendary status. I think we can safely call him the greatest drumming rapper in the game, right?
Luminaries as diverse as Smokey Robinson and Andre 3000 showed up on Ventura (though sadly, neither showed up at The Forum), and underrated female R&B forces like Brandy and Jazmine Sullivan appeared on the album as well, yet none of these features eclipse or drown out .Paak, that’s how powerful his musical force is. And if it’s impactful on record, imagine that ten-fold and you’ve got his live show.
Now with four solo albums under his belt, a collaboration record with Knxwledge (NxWorries), and a slew of mixtapes, EPs, and features — including a couple on Dr. Dre’s Compton from 2015 — .Paak’s energetic, joyful representation of Southern California remains the biggest aesthetic through-line in his career. For those who don’t live here, it’s surely still a wonderful thing to behold, but for those who do, it feels like coming home.