An L.A. soul-rap visionary who wowed Dr. Dre
A little more than a decade ago, Anderson Paak was a high school kid in Ventura, California, playing drums in his Baptist church and setting chopped-up samples to homemade beats. A demo tape sparked deal meetings, and his dreams seemed to be taking solid form. "I thought I was going to be Kanye," he says. "The producer that can rap too."
But what came next was a nightmare. His mom – a South Korean-born woman who'd been in the produce business – and his stepdad were sent to prison for tax-related issues during his senior year. Paak stopped making music and started bagging groceries. "Just working and trying to get some stability," he says.
By the time he was 21, Paak was back in the studio with a new perspective. "I started making these weird little songs," he says. "I wanted it to be anything but hip-hop." He was listening to Radiohead and "finding all these different alternative types of music and punk-rock stuff. I didn't want to go back to making music like other people."
He didn't – but he took a while to find his voice. Paak played drums on the L.A. session scene, trimmed weed on a Santa Barbara pot farm, had a one-month marriage (annulled), a second marriage that has lasted (his baby boy is now five) and released two albums of atmospheric funk under the name Breezy Lovejoy. About four years ago, he decided it was time to focus and went into hibernation, studying the work of Otis Redding, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie and the Beatles. When he re-emerged in 2014, he'd crafted the first Anderson Paak album, the hedonistic Venice.
Paak caught the attention of Dr. Dre, who tapped him for six cuts on Compton – including "Animals," a confrontational track about police brutality and the most politically pointed song Dre has made since "Fuck tha Police." Paak's work on Compton helped him recruit top-shelf producers, who brought classic West Coast hip-hop sounds to the dreamy R&B he'd worked on for his breakthrough LP, Malibu. "The visionary in the vintage Chevy," he calls himself in "The Waters." "I bring you greetings from the first church of Boom Baptists."
Paak, now 30, signed to Dre's label Aftermath after Malibu's release. He's already planning his next move. "This will be the first project where I have a fucking budget," he says. "So this is going to be exciting times." J.L.