Anderson .Paak, “Ventura”
Anderson .Paak’s new album opens with a plea for an ex-lover to come back, an appeal to return to the comfort of their past (“No one even begs anymore,” he laments). Interestingly, Ventura positions itself to be its own sort of olive branch, angling to win back fans unsure if the Anderson of Malibu (his revered 2016 breakthrough) has lost his touch.
Last year’s Oxnard fizzled on arrival, eschewing Paak’s R&B strengths to embrace the contours of a traditional hip-hop album. Whether its quick follow-up represents an organic burst of creativity or a sense of obligation after Oxnard’s muted reception is not immediately clear. It lands somewhere between the extremes of his discography, unable to recreate the inspiration of his early releases but sprinkled throughout with ample reminders that Paak remains a compelling talent.
Much like its predecessor, Ventura deploys some imposing guests—Paak recruits Brandy, R&B legend Smokey Robinson, a rapidfire André 3000 verse, and even a posthumous appearance from Nate Dogg. Yet big name cameos aside, Ventura is not as transparently eager to please as Oxnard was, mostly just allowing for Paak to be himself. This means employing his gleeful, unique rasp in service of silky R&B (like the Robinson-assisted “Make It Better”) and loose, sweat-soaked ’70s funk (“Reachin’ 2 Much”).
That sounds, in theory, like an unambiguously good thing; few would dispute that this is the lane where Paak feels most comfortable. Indeed, Ventura is an undemanding, breezy listen likely to satisfy Paak’s most fervent fans—at least in the short term. But this record also feels less like the product of originality and more like exceedingly reverent, workmanlike pastiche. Paak isn’t making bad songs, but his adherence to formula is beginning to define him; his personality disappears slightly from focus with each successive release.