Fun and funky R&B star Anderson .Paak brings his "Teef" to Cleveland
As a legit “Old,” at least in relation to pop music, I find much of radio-ready, contemporary R&B boring.
Hip-hop’s influence has reduced the sexy, syncopated, bouncy bass lines and in-the-pocket drums of my youth into static, half-assed, overly quantized grooves (digitally ensuring that each drumbeat and any other musical note is metronomically perfect). Then, the singer frequently sing-raps (melody, where art thou?) over a sample of an old-school R&B or hip-hop tune.
There’s also the recent rise in popularity of ingenues such as H.E.R. and the red-hot SZA, with fluttery voices floating ethereally over sparse, semi-ambient, digital grooves.
So, when contemporary R&B artists use live instrumentation, they immediately grab my ears' attention.
Singer, songwriter, drummer and emcee Anderson .Paak is one such artist, and he is bringing his “Best Teef in the Game” tour to Cleveland on Monday night at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica (with bassist/singer Thundercat and L.A. emcee Earl Sweatshirt opening).
The Oxnard, Calif., native hit the national scene in 2014 with his debut album “Venice,” after a few years of earning his bones working with several L.A. artists including producer/artist Shafiq Husayn of psychedelic R&B collective Sa-Ra.
Eventually, Paak found his way into Dr. Dre’s circle of talent, appearing on Dre’s album “Compton” and Dre associate The Game’s “The Document.” Paak’s mix of old-school, new-school and '90s “neo” R&B, pop and hip-hop, along with his raspy, church-influenced tenor voice and confident but not-too-self-serious rap bravado, quickly elevated him to critical darling and made him a favorite of folks who like actual R and a dash of B in their R&B.
He’s had several tunes used in ads including the slick groove of “Come Down” from his second album “Malibu,” which became a staple of NBA commercial breaks and montages. And in 2018, he had the electro-soul pop tune “Til It’s Over” used in an Apple ad. Paak’s on tour behind his fourth album, “Ventura,” which debuted in the Billboard 200 top 5, a first for him.
The album, released a scant five months after his third album “Oxnard,” and recorded during the same sessions as its predecessor, finds Paak reaching deeper into his soul and funk bag.
The album has plenty of throwback R&B and funk strains, such as the slinky (analog) bass line and strings of the opening track “Come Home,” featuring Outkast’s Andre 3000, and the laid-back single “Make It Better,” featuring background vocals from the great Smokey Robinson. There's also the '70s-inspired cosmopolitan R&B of “Reachin’ 2 Much,” featuring a scat solo from Lalah Hathaway.
Paak raps less than on his previous albums, yet it’s still a very contemporary record. Lyrically, Paak talks less about his own bad self and the struggle he and his family experienced (he and wife Jay and son Soul were homeless for a while), and more about affairs of the heart. The short, 11-track, 40-minute record is his fourth bona fide banger in a row and he’s known as an energetic, crowd-controlling performer with his versatile band the Free Nationals.
Likewise, opener Thundercat (nee Stephen Bruner), has carved out a unique space in the current R&B pantheon.
The Grammy-winning bassist-singer, who was once a member of classic punk/thrash band Suicidal Tendencies, has become a much sought after session player. His unique six-string bass sound can be heard on lauded albums by Kendrick Lamar (the platinum-selling, chart-topping beloved “To Pimp a Butterfly"), spiritual jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, electronic producer/composer Flying Lotus, Childish Gambino, rapper Travis Scott and more.
As a solo artist, Thundercat’s frankly a weird dude. He sings in a friendly falsetto often doubling the vocal melody on his bass on which he also fully shreds, often laying down complex chords and arpeggios.
His 2017 album “Drunk” epitomizes his approach. It features complex but still soulful rhythms, dashes of complex jazz changes, and odd lyrics: “I want to be a cat, meow, meow, meow,” he sings on “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II).”
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.