Music Reviews

Anderson .Paak Ventura

(Aftermath Entertainment) Rating - 9/10

Traveling up the coast from Venice to the celebratory last stop of Ventura, the fourth studio album from Anderson .Paak closes a chapter of his acclaimed beach city saga and is the missing piece in a rightful homecoming. Only months apart from the waves of his last full-length, Oxnard—which was written and recorded simultaneously—Paak’s sheen dealt with success but relied too much on production. Noted by the artist as a celebration of life, and also as a “love letter” to Paak’s wife, Ventura sees the rise, fall, love, heartache, and unconditional aroma of not going through the journey alone, picking up from where Malibu left us three years ago. 

Upon the grace of the last album, the bigger picture wasn’t seen. Just like the dot that acquires the attention and worth of the artist, nothing less could be expected from Paak than detail. Capturing different aesthetics and mindsets of the beach cities, Paak’s timing is perfect and smooths over any mixed feelings from his last release, immediately felt by the singles King James and Make It Better. Consequently, Ventura not only fits in Paak’s collection, but stands alone for its memorable and timeless feeling. Oxnard also now makes sense.

A golden and classic nod emerges on the perfect opener Come Home, which not only oversees the longing of a past romance but asserts Paak’s position on the album after multiple tour stints. Soulfully arranged, noting a sample of NxWorrie’s Best One and dripping with the hurtful cadence, the track is an immediate burner. Tight drumming clinches the groove towards a mind-boggling ending by André 3000. The Outkast's verse is a classic spit of double-entendres and comedic musings, playing with each syllable and modernizing the rush of a turbulent love. Playing with different organizations to the heartache of Tilikum the orca whale—who had many health issues in captivity—André stacks blazes with lyrical manipulation that beg for numerous listens.

Stirring the pot and straying away from the gush of love, “Reachin’ 2 Much” starts as an upbeat flare that bursts with moments of robust disco productions. Mirroring the penned lines of skepticism (“I see you reachin’, baby, what are you reachin’ for?”) with an assertive horn by Marcus Paul, the first half of the track leaves unsettled thoughts at bay. By the track’s tempo switch and second part, faintly familiar to the likes of Malibu’s Lite Weight, the track walks the lines of unrequited love with the help of R&B vocalist Lalah Hathaway. Referencing Erykah Badu’s Next Lifetime ("I see you next lifetime, baby, what did Badu say?") and following like the one that got away, Reachin’ 2 Much and its emotional flip is a clever awakening. 

Winners Circle dives into the concept of the one, imagery that has been used since the early days of Venice. Sampling A Bronx Tale’s “door test” and De Niro’s speech of how many great women enter a man’s life, the free-form jazzy offering bleeds perfectly into the shorter track Good Heels. What could be a reference of someone in the winner's circle, or a spectator waiting, lines showcase giving into temptation as Jazmine Sullivan croons: “You gon’ get me killed, I’ma catch a fade / She’ll be home soon, yeah, she’ll be on the way.” 

Down to the last reference, Paak’s recollection and retrospection of success is prevalent on the album. “Yada Yada” goes through the motions of the open mics, label problems and personal darker days. He rhetorically asks (“Does somebody got some shit to say?”) as he reaffirms his worth (“If they forget the dot, I’m chargin’ double for the purchase”). Callum and Kiefer’s production is sliced with funk and caressed with Paak’s saucy drumming.

Keeping in mind Paak’s comments from an interview on Esquire that state he didn’t want to “over-produce,” the album’s aesthetics and production are still cut with a sharp finesse. The obvious personal connection seemed to allow for a better flow, weighing each track as more than interludes or fillers. Not to say that Paak’s past bangers such as Bubblin and Tints aren’t worthy or enjoyable, he comes alive when simply crafting from what he feels. Even with the passionate and sexual lines on Chosen One, Paak’s sincere delivery and vocal assist of Sonya Elise throws into the pile another smooth cut.

Continuing with many notable features on the album, Jet Black brings Brandy back into the scene. Vivid lines trace early days of love, focusing on her jet black hair and playful hands. Brandy’s angelic vocals meld beautifully on the chorus for a classic summer anthem. Looming with a slight distance factor, Paak seems to be scrolling through his wife’s Instagram feed, longing to return. In the same vein, “Twilight” leads as an open love letter to his wife. Nodding at another NxWorries track, Starlite, which also scribbles a heartfelt plea, the Pharrell produced track transmutes the similar sentiment into a lively, uptempo portrayal. Terrace Martin and Marcus Paul return with spirited horns, nearing the end of the album with an optimistic demeanor. 

The celebration continues with the final track “What Can We Do?” Armed with Paak as the “rap singer” and Nate Dogg as the “hook master,” the track’s easygoing cadence and breezy production are a match made in heaven. Utilizing Nate Dogg’s unreleased vocals, Paak harmonizes as he questions the next step. Rolling in a comedic outro with Paak and Nate Dogg—the ethereal fade out of the latter crooning “living gone”—he pains at his departure, but once again, leaves an open-ended thread of hope on the album. Coming across as a familiar yet fresh sound, like a reconciliation of a past lover, Ventura’s soulful presence was crafted by time. Memorable and intimate from the start, Ventura completes Oxnard, as Malibu did to Venice; tying up all loose ends and graciously ready for the next chapter.