It would come as absolutely no surprise if Anderson .Paak turned out to be a time-traveling soul singer from the 20th century.
His latest album, “Ventura”, dropped earlier this month on Friday, April 12, and features several soul, R&B and hip-hop moguls like Smokey Robinson, Andre 3000 and Brandy. The wavy rhythms are perfect for night drives or evenings with a lover, and are heavy on funky guitar sonics and background vocals. The album features only 11 tracks, centering on topics like falling in and out of love, sex, women, adultery, his rise to fame, racism and xenophobia, giving back to the community and .Paak’s own wife.
.Paak has been making waves in the soul and R&B scenes as an impressively versatile artist, drawing inspiration from the Motown era and 1970s soul and funk music. The artist regularly switches between vocalization, rap and ad libs, but always stays true to his soul-inspired roots, making him adored by old and young music lovers alike.
The first track, “Come Home”, is what really establishes the album as an ode to soul music. Featuring Andre 3000, the song uses the most reputable topic of all ‘70s soul tracks: begging a lover to come back. With lyrics like “I’m begging you please, come home/No one even begs anymore,” .Paak comments on the way love songs have changed over time. This reference to changing times is also felt during Andre 3000’s verse, as he talks about his lover getting older and embracing her body’s changes.
“Make It Better”, released a week before the album dropped, features one of soul music’s greatest icons, Smokey Robinson. Between Robinson and .Paak, there’s a large emphasis on how soul has kept its reputation as romantic and heartbreaking vehicle for expression throughout the decades, especially for black artists. “Make It Better” centers on lovers who become strangers over time, and the process of trying to fall back in love with one another. It also references other ‘70s icons like the Bee Gees, Al Green and the Sugarhill Gang.
This song is in direct opposition to the last track on the album, “What Can We Do?”, which is about falling out of love with someone and feeling like there’s nothing left to hang on to. “What Can We Do?” features late rapper Nate Dogg, who passed in 2011 after complications from multiple strokes. At the end of the track, a conversation between .Paak and Dogg is heard, in which .Paak reassures Dogg’s insecurities over his singing voice. One other song, “Reachin’ 2 Much”, is a two-part track featuring Lalah Hathaway, and also explores the falling-out-of-love theme and finding a lover’s quirks unbearable.
Other tracks like “Winners Circle”, “Chosen One”, “Jet Black” and “Twilight” fixate on sex and relationships. “Winners Circle” samples a scene from the film “A Bronx Tale”, when one of the characters explains there are three important women a man will meet in his lifetime. This song centers on one of those women, who makes .Paak work harder for her attention than other women normally do. “Chosen One” and “Twilight” both reference .Paak’s wife, Jae Lin, who stayed with him during dark periods in the artist’s life, like being homeless toward the beginning of his career.
“Good Heels”, the shortest track on the album, is about nearly getting caught in an affair. R&B singer Jasmine Sullivan plays .Paaks lover, and the song acts as a conversation between the two when Sullivan accidentally leaves all her belongings at .Paaks place. With his girlfriend nearly about to be home, .Paak tells Sullivan to climb in through the window, get her things and leave before they get caught.
While most of the songs on “Ventura” are about sex, love and adultery, others focus on success and giving back to the community. “Yada Yada” explores .Paaks journey as an artist, and “King James” pays homage to rich black folk giving back to their communities. In the track, .Paak comments on racism, xenophobia and gentrification, and gives props to athletes Lebron James and Colin Kaepernick, for standing up for disenfranchised black folk by donating money.
While the album is incredibly well produced and collated, many of the repeating themes make it easy to favor a few select tracks and ignore the others. Overall, this album deserves 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Carla Suggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.