“You know, it wasn’t overnight.”
From the outside, it might seem like Anderson .Paak arrived, fully-formed, out of nowhere. But that’s not really true. Most of us met him in 2015 as one of the key voices on Dr. Dre’s Compton — a gig he got after stumbling into a meeting with the legendarily fastidious producer and impressing him with a freestyle that made the album’s final cut. Not long after, Anderson turned even more heads with his Grammy-nominated album Malibu. Now, he’s signed to Dre’s Aftermath, with all the attendant perks (and favors to call in), and he doesn’t want to waste the opportunity.
“You’re trying to be the same person, but in a new car,” the 32-year-old rapper, singer and drummer tells Rolling Stone on a phone call from Italy, where he’s touring. “Everything we made for Malibu we made from the dirt. We had the bare minimum.” Fast forward two years: “Now, it’s trying to keep that same mentality, but when you have everything. When you’ve been eating calamari and lobster, when you’ve been going to festivals and playing for 40,000 people. You finally have a tour bus. You have two kids now, and a wife to support. You’re trying to keep the same principles you had when you just had a couch.”
To stay grounded, Anderson turned his gaze back home for his next project, Oxnard, named after the Southern California city where he grew up (and due out later this year). “When you go everywhere, you just hold on to the things that made you,” he says.
With its sprawling psychedelic grooves and confident verses, the album is his tribute to a bygone era of major-label rap — a time when beats from the best producers in the game were on back-to-back songs, where artists went big or went home. “I feel like ambition is missing from today’s music,” he says. “This is the album I dreamed of making in high school, when I was listening to [Jay-Z]’s The Blueprint, The Game’s The Documentary, and [Kanye West’s] The College Dropout.”
Getting signed by Dr. Dre helps make that sort of vision happen. “Dre, that was the pinnacle,” Anderson says. “So to be able to have him now as a mentor, it’s just surreal.” Dre’s more than a mentor in this case — he’s executive producing Oxnard, a co-sign (and level of involvement) that doesn’t come around often these days. Anderson, true to form, is attempting to stay even-keeled.
“You just have to stay steady and trust that what you’re doing is going to work,” he says. “And I’ve learned you have to drink a lot of water to stay healthy.”
How has your live show adapted in the past two years?
For one, the crowd has gotten bigger. [Laughs.] When we go out with these big groups, like with Bruno Mars, J. Cole, even opening for Beyoncé, these were big learning experiences for us. I learned that to be onstage, confidence is everything.
What else have you learned in the two years since Malibu came out?
I learned that patience is a virtue. I’ve been very grateful to be able to see things happen at a slow pace, and things get better every year. Some things for a lot of young artists happen very fast, and they don’t know who to trust. It can be very difficult to maintain when everything is going very fast around you, but it’s been a slow bubble for us.
You’re touring the globe, but naming the next project after your hometown, is that correct?
I feel like I have to bring it back home, you know? When you go everywhere, you just hold on to the things that made you, you. And honestly, it’s the last phase of this beach series. You know, we went to Venice, we went to Malibu, so it’s only right that we take it to the next place, up the coast, up to the next beach.
What’s it like working with Dr. Dre? If you were coming up in 2001, that must be a surreal experience.
Dr. Dre started the whole DNA. I remember for show-and-tell, people would bring in in a teddy bear or a favorite toy or some shit, but I was learning “Dre Day” and “Nuthin but a G Thang” and I would go in and rap that, just for show-and-tell. Teachers didn’t understand what was going on. His music was everything to me. It molded me. Hip-hop is the biggest genre now, but it’s always been the biggest genre to me. Working for Dr. Dre, I couldn’t even fathom it. It seemed so out of reach.
How does it feel to be able to pick Dr. Dre beats? I feel like that’s every rapper’s dream.
Feels great, man. It’s awesome. It’s just special. He’s not gonna just be up there with an MPC making it from scratch. He’s gonna get this person in the room, he’s gonna get that person in the room, and he’s gonna guide the whole session. And then once it leaves his hands, when he puts his name on it, it’s not gonna be like anything else. Every little thing is gonna be perfect.
I heard that Madlib is also involved in the project, is that true?
Yup. Madlib was great. I’ve still never met him in person.
Nope. The way I get all my Madlib beats is through another rapper from Oxnard, and he’s kind of, like, my liaison. He sent me this one, the one that I’ve got on the album, it didn’t even sound… Like, I could tell it was Madlib from the jump, but it sounded different from what I was used to. And Madlib, he’ll send the beat, right? And usually, if you get the beat, that’s it. You’re not gonna get the different stems, so you don’t have the opportunity to switch around their sound or whatever. So, that was one of the instances where we just had the beat, and then when it came time to mix, Dre was like, “Yo we need the stems.” Cause Dre’s mixing the whole album. And I was like, “Fuck, man, we couldn’t get the stems from Madlib.” We told him we would have to re-do the whole track. The next day, we got the stems.
As a rap fan, having Madlib and Dre working on the same song automatically makes it super interesting.
I’m truly grateful to be able to have something like that on the album, to have something where Dre and Madlib were working simultaneously on something. The epitome, man.
A lot of your fans talk about this album as your superstar moment, and I was wondering if that’s something you ever think about?
I just think it’s gonna be the next album, you know? If you’re only as good as your last album. I put everything into this man. My wife fucking hates me, I’m not even getting to see my kids all the time because I’m in the studio all the time. This is it. This is everything I have.