Over the span of 56 beautifully complex minutes, Aftermath Entertainment's newest messiah paints a mural with endless sounds, styles, flows, melodies and messages. Incorporating elements of Jazz, Blues, Rap/Hip-Hop and Funk, Anderson .Paak revisits the town in which he hails from, finding wonderful sanctuary in seemingly impossible musical combinations. There's no way it should all work, but Brandon Paak Anderson and Dr. Dre work together in incredible harmony from start to finish. The product, Oxnard, may be the best project from a subgroup of Aftermath Records since Kendrick Lamar's Damn.
I've been writing for Burbs since early September of this year. During my time here with this ever-growing media outlet, I've rated numerous songs and wrote several opinion pieces.
While I love these facets of my job, I believe my greatest journalistic asset is my ability to analyze and review albums on Saturdays, following their release the day prior.
That being said, I consider myself to be quite harsh in my critiquing of new releases - to this point, I haven't given an album higher than a 7.5 out of 10. Much like Dave Portnoy of "Barstool Pizza Reviews", I believe that, like figure skating, a high score must earn it's warrant (let's say I give an album a perfect 10 out of 10, that would mean that no other album can pass that project - it's simply the best in every way possible).
Does Oxnard deserve a perfect score? No, but I can say without confidence that, in my three months with Burbs, it is by far and away the best new album I've heard in that time.
So, what makes Oxnard so special? Let me present the analogy that I enjoy using when rating projects upon release.
In my eyes, full length LP's are a lot like sandwiches.
I know, I know, bear with me here.
Tha Carter V is a poorly made Italian sub - beloved and highly requested at any sandwich shop, but underwhelming and forgettable upon tasting.
iridescence is a vegan black bean burger - new and unorthodox, but enjoyable if one can shake the new styles and flavors that are presented.
White Bronco is a pastrami sandwich - while it may not be for everybody, it's true to the city it hails from (NYC), unapolagetic, bold and bursting with flavor.
That brings me to the subject of today's review, Oxnard.
Oxnard is the JJ Gargantuan of R&B albums - a mountain of meats and vegetables, all packed together by a loaf of their trademark french bread.
Oxnard's 14 tracks are the meats and toppings, and the bread that holds the monster together is Anderson .Paak.
In just under an hour, the Oxnard native packs an endless catalog of genres, instruments, features and melodic techniques into a shockingly cohesive third installment in the young artists career - the first under 12 Tone Music Group, a sub-label of the legendary pioneer of rap music, Aftermath Entertainment.
Drawing a stark comparison to the intro on Vince Staples FM!, Anderson .Paak opens Oxnard with a car starting and a radio flipping through channels, finally landing on a channel that introduces the first track, "The Chase".
Kadhja Bonet, the songs credited feature, opens the song by singing "I need you more than you could know". What follows is nothing short of amazing: a bass line that would make Pink Floyd's Roger Water smile, and a chaotic drum riff, shaking the listener in his seat. Accompanying the drum riff is a Peruvian pan flute - this is the first example we see of the instrumentally diverse challenge Anderson .Paak tackles head on throughout Oxnard. Anderson's first verse on this song is rap in it's purest form, and while rap isn't his primary strength, this may be his greatest set of bars on the album. In this segment, Anderson raps:
Hard to get up from this like Sonny Liston
Feel like it's Ed and Laimbeer with the Pistons
Bad Boys, but no Will Smith and, only real friction
Got to the fork in the road, a split decision
I could eat or split everything, my own decisions
That would take a little more time and more wisdom
That would take a little more grind and more vision
I don't care if Anderson .Paak isn't a rapper "first", any time someone flows together the 89-91 Pistons and Will Smith in the movie "Bad Boys", it's a win in my book.
One of Anderson's greatest strengths is his uncanny ability to switch from his signature melodic voice to a set of hard hitting rhymes effortlessly, a trend seen on nearly every song on Oxnard.
The albums third track is "Tints", a pre-release single with Kendrick Lamar that I praised highly in one of my editions of "The Good, The Average & The Ugly". Why am I talking about it here, you ask? Highlighting the tracks positives would be repetitive at this point, but that not why I'm mentioning it. In the weeks leading up to Oxnard's release, I was curious to see how Anderson .Paak would format his highly anticipated third full-length. "Tints" is a great song, but I didn't see where it would fit in if Anderson .Paak decided to take on the idea of a concept album.
The result was more than I could've asked for.
A day or two ago, I saw a tweet that nailed this album on the head better than anything i've seen to this point. The tweet read:
"Oxnard is like a funkadelic version of Good Kid, MAAD City".
While Oxnard doesn't hold the same influential weight or brilliance as Kendrick's massive second studio album, the outlines of both projects are relatively similar. Both artists tell a story tracing back to their roots in SoCal. Stylistically, Oxnard is more similar to To Pimp A Butterfly, as both experiment heavily with brass and percussion, but as far as a message and influence goes, Oxnard truly is the funky, vocally driven version of GKMC.
So, back to "Tints". In order to fully comprehend the story being told, you have to listen to the beginnings and ends of each track. As I previously mentioned, "The Chase" opens with a someone, presumably the man himself, starting a car and turning the radio on. The next track is titled "Headlow", a track about an intimate love encounter. At the end of this track, Anderson .Paak presents somewhat of a "skit", as he's getting a blowjob from a woman, presumably the one mentioned in the track, when a car crashes into them. Understandably flustered, Anderson .Paak yells at the cars to go around him while simultaneously pleading his mistress to "keep going".
Think about it. Anderson is getting head on a busy street, but isn't concerned about getting caught, as he knows that people won't be able to see him through his... wait for it... TINTED WINDOWS - tints is the song that follows.
Hilarious, uncomfortable, genius.
All in all, Oxnard loosely follows a day in the life of the artist, floating between his days before and after his musical success.
Continuing with the trend of GKMC, Anderson .Paak exhibits a mid-track beat pivot on "Smile/Petty". The first half (Smile) is based around the lyric "What is it about my smile that makes you lie to my face?" While the first part of the track is nothing more than a solid R&B song, the theme of "Smile" transitions from confused to genuinely angry. On "Petty", Anderson .Paak showcases his ability to make a catchy hook, creating what I believe is one of the best moments on Oxnard with the chorus of the latter half. Aligning his voice into perfect synchronization with a double bass, Anderson sings:
You petty, petty bitch, (Huh, petty) Calculate (All of it) Trackin' (All of it) All of this (Bullshit) Worthless shit, you packaged up Don't stop my shit, (All of it, all of it, all) Bitch, now you know that was totally out of pocket
Go and give this portion a listen when you get a chance, his decision to sing each phrase in segmented steps makes for an addicting moment.
My two favorite songs on Oxnard come back-to-back, with "Mansa Musa" and "Brother's Keeper".
"Mansa Musa" is the LP's hardest hitting track by far - this can be attributed to the production from Dr. Dre. Anderson and Dre incorporate a spectrum of different bass lines, snares and kicks, and in surprising fashion, Dre manages to blend Anderson .Paak's raspy, high voice with the darker, 808 driven instrumental seamlessly.
On "Brother's Keeper", Anderson and Pusha T team up to tell a story of kinship and respect for their siblings. Both artists deliver undoubtably some of the most powerful verses on Oxnard - both MC's have lines I want to highlight. First, Anderson .Paak says:
If Jesus would've had a better lawyer would he have to see the cross I hope your niggas is true, I hope they don't do you like Judas I pray to God
That first line... wow. Take it how you want it, but that is an incredibly bold question in any circumstance.
Secondly, let's look at Pusha-T, whose verse holds clearer and more evident meaning as a whole. He starts his part by rapping:
9 A.M. LA time
My brother just turned down a half a million dollars For being one half of one of the greatest duos in hip-hop history (Am I my brother's keeper) I couldn't love him more
For those of you who don't know, Pusha-T began his career as one half of Clipse, a rap duo that he and his older brother, No Malice, broke onto the scene with. Whether Clipse truly is one of the greatest duos in hip-hop history is left for debate, but the story behind King Push's bar is interesting nonetheless. According to Genius annotators, No Malice became a "born-again", devout Christian, effectively turning down a half-a-million dollar tour deal and disbanding Clipse as a result. Pusha-T follows this line by saying, "I couldn't love him more".
That's the whole idea of being "my brother's keeper". In the story of Cain and Abel in the bible, Jesus asks Cain where his brother was. Unlike Cain, Pusha-T and Anderson .Paak are there for their brothers, biologically or metaphorically. This powerful testament is what makes "Brother's Keeper" one of my favorite tracks on Oxnard.
When it'll all be said and done come 2019, I don't think there will be a album that's as deeply-layered as Oxnard. Sure, we've had other releases that exhibit multiple genres to an extent, but no project has encapsulated the vibes of Jazz, Blues, Funk, Soul and Rap quite like Anderson .Paak on his newest release.
If you don't have the attention span to handle an album with this kind of complexity, Oxnard may not be for you, but honestly, that's more to your fault than the album... just grow up and give it a listen.
In the year leading up to the eventual release of Oxnard, I allowed myself to give Malibu and Venice multiple listens (Anderson .Paak's two previous projects). Both LP's have their high points, but Oxnard is a leap from relative success to musical perfection. Occupying a sub-group that shares the same overarching label as Kendrick Lamar's Top Dawg Entertainment, I quite frankly didn't see Anderson making a splash to this magnitude.
But he did. He made a tsunami.
The 14 track, 56 minute grand compilation that is Oxnard will go down in my eyes as one of the best albums of the entire year, and for good reason.
Anytime I'm listening to a new body of work and can't draw a single comparison sonically, I consider that a win for the artist.
Sure, Oxnard shares conceptual similarities with GKMC, but that's from personal speculation.
What I'm trying to end on is that, from front to back, Oxnard is nothing short of an original masterpiece, coming from an artist that has more talent than most others in the industry dream of having. The ease in which his clashes sounds from the nooks and crannies of every genre under the sun is unbelievable, and I don't see Anderson .Paak going anywhere but up.
So, with that being said, hop in your car, queue up your AUX cord, and blast this thing from front to back, it's truly an amazing spectacle.
Take it from Anderson .Paak though, I wouldn't try getting road head, especially on a busy street.
Seriously, it's a safety hazard.
Unless... you have tints?