Ventura (released April 13, 2019)
Y’all can never question Anderson .Paak’s work ethic.
Less than six months ago, Paak dropped his highly touted third album Oxnard, his first under Dr. Dre’s Aftermath banner. And while I thought the album was pretty solid, it was not without its flaws – drifting away from the saturated soul of his breakout record Malibu for a more diverse sounds produced mixed results. In essence, it tried to do a little too much, an almost heavy-handed attempt at reaching that coveted classic status.
Paak heard our complaints. And this time he’s going back to basics.
Ventura, Paak’s fourth LP, sidesteps the shortcomings of Oxnard – chopping the album’s runtime nearly in half, steering away from its overly hip-hop influence and running back to the sweet embrace of Paak’s funky roots.
Ventura definitely feels like a make-good for Malibu fans.
The opening track is no accident. “Come Home” is truly a homecoming, featuring the keys, the horns and the percussions that make Paak such a musical phenomenon. And it’s all capped off with a blistering verse from the elusive icon Andre 3000, who once again proves to be one of the best to grace a booth:
Harriet Tubman, I don’t give up
And if your gut tells you to strut, then strut
Then I’ll hail you a car, but what man won’t beg?
You know I’m nutmeg
I will show up on a lil’ moped
With a lil’ puppy, it’ll be fluffy
You will un-toughen, we can discuss it
You know I’m sufferin’, I do miss my friend
I don’t like my fin bent up, Tilikum, well, that’s ill-informed
Sweet stuff, Willa Wonk’, we stuck, billabong
‘Least at minimum we gon’ get along
Anyone who can work Tilikum the Sea World whale into their bars without flinching is worthy of praise.
Speaking of guests, Ventura is truly an all-star affair. Smokey Robinson and Sonyae Elise bless the gentle grooves of “Make It Better” and “Chosen One,” respectively. Brandy assists on “Jet Black,” which feels like it was made for nighttime summer soirees. Make sure it’s on your playlist at your next function.
“Reachin 2 Much” links Paak with Lalah Hathaway for a near six-minute jam session. The evolving production makes for a very organic listening experience. It’s Paak at his best – constantly pushing the conventions of R&B to new levels while still remaining true to its foundations.
Though Ventura seems like an extension of the beloved Malibu record, it also plays to some of Oxnard’s strengths. The mighty “King James” revisits the political themes of the previous LP, with Paak boldly proclaiming “If they build a wall, let’s jump the fence, I’m over this … What we built here is godly/They can’t gentrify the heart of kings.” “Good Heels” also revisits Oxnard’s over-the-top storytelling, with Jazmine Sullivan playing the side chick locked out of Paak’s apartment. It’s a crime this one barely runs 2 minutes – it’s begging to be a full song.
Ventura might be a tighter package than its predecessor but it’s still not bulletproof. The Pharrell-produced “Twilight” feels strangely out of place while “Yada Yada,” despite fun production, also gets lost in the shuffle. Neither are as memorable as the show-stealing closer “What Can We Do,” a surprising duet with the greatest hook man in hip-hop history, Nate Dogg. It’s a huge dose of nostalgia and a bittersweet reminder of what hip-hop lost when Nate left us.
Overall, Ventura proves what I’ve been preaching in these reviews for years now – Less. Is. More.
I still believe Oxnard was a pretty good record that just got slightly too ambitious. But this time, Paak gives the people exactly what they wanted. And the customer is always right.
Best tracks: “Reachin 2 Much,” “Come Home,” “Make It Better”
4 stars out of 5