"I spent a lot of time watching from the sidelines and honing my craft..."

Anderson .Paak wants everyone to sip on his sweet juice. The Oxnard, California-bred musician is posted up in Los Angeles’ Sun Café with some of his closest friends eating vegan food and passing his drink around for his mates to try. Among the collection of faces at the café are Kelsey Gonzalez and Jose Rios of his band The Free Nationals, producer Vicky Nguyen, and a dog named Churro. A few days ago .Paak was urged to take some time off from the studio due to exhaustion, so for the final day of his hiatus, he’s corralled his friends for lunch “like we used to back in the day.”

For the last several months, .Paak’s been grinding it out at the studio recording his third album. While this is far from his first rodeo, he’s still approaching it as brand new. “Until you really pop, it’s always your debut,” he says. The process has been admittedly gruelling, yet rewarding. “I’ve been in the same hoodie since January,” .Paak laughs. His studio time typically happens from 11pm until 7am. He takes his son, Soul Rasheed, to school, then sleeps all day. He picks Soul up, takes him to the park, then for some sushi, before heading back to the studio at night. “It’s twisted,” he says with a sigh, and a process he thought he’d be done with by now.

A few months following the release of his 2016 Grammy- nominated second studio album, ‘Malibu’, .Paak went back into the studio to record his next work. He recorded out of a studio in Hollywood, in between a rigorous two-year tour schedule. Trading in his old DIY formula with his own personal engineer (he’d self-engineered the majority of his previous work), better studio equipment, a bigger budget and “better weed,” .Paak began piecing together his Aftermath opus.

- - -

- - -

By 2018, .Paak felt the project was done, yet when he played it for Dr. Dre, his mentor wasn’t sold. “He was like, ‘Okay you’re like 80% done. I wanna get my hands on it too,’” .Paak recalls of their conversation. “I thought I was really done. I guess I was a little frustrated for a second like, ‘Aw man, I gotta go back in?’” He and Dre worked into the wee hours of the morning, making that last 20% count. “[Dre] will work on something with me and then he’ll have to go because he’s busy, so then I’ll work on the rest and the next morning I’ll play it for him,” .Paak explains of the process.

Aftermath producers were also in the mix, including Mel Beats and J Pounds, who helped .Paak put the finishing touches on a track titled ‘Face Tat’ that .Paak is confident is a banger. “After that we did like ten more joints,” he says. “I was like, ‘This is great! I’m so glad we did this.’ They took the project to the next level.”

It was exactly ten years ago when .Paak was living cheque to cheque, couch surfing across his beloved Cali - with his buddies as part of the collective Cheddar Block - hitting open mics in Leimert Park and taking trains to Ventura to perform at dive bars. Then known as Breezy Lovejoy (a childhood nickname), his prime residence was an apartment off Wilson Street in Downtown L.A., packed with producers and other artists.

- - -

I’ve got responsibilities now,...

- - -

A drumming teaching assistant at the Musicians Institute, .Paak performed in cover bands with aforementioned Free Nationals member Jose Rios and fellow member Ron Tnava Avant. They released a project called ‘ColdTapes!’, a collection of Coldplay tributes. The sometimes-homeless vagabond lifestyle was desirable to him back then (“That shit was fun! Everyday was different!”), as he could stretch $150 to keep him fed with Subway sandwiches and cheap weed.

He met his second wife at the Musicians Institute, and shit got real in 2011, when he was fired from his gig at a marijuana farm in Santa Barbara and was forced back into homelessness - this time with a baby son in tow. “Then I was like, ‘Okay I gotta figure shit out,’” he admits. As the product of tumultuous parents, .Paak’s abusive father would fade in and out of his life as a child until his father almost killed his mother right in front of him. Then he left for good. His vow to never inherit those bad habits became his impetus for success. “I’ve got responsibilities now,” he remembers. “I’m not gonna be a deadbeat dad. I’m not gonna be a piece of shit husband.”

- - -

- - -

.Paak took inventory of his life, a moment of clarity that he credits to self-awareness. A year later he released ‘O.B.E. Vol. 1’ thanks to a financial push from friend and mentor Shafiq Husayn of Sa-Ra. Working as a creative assistant to Husayn while also drumming for other artists, .Paak churned out one more release, 2013’s ‘Cover Art’ (an EP that saw him reworking songs by The Beatles, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The White Stripes, Toto and Neil Young) before his debut album ‘Venice’ arrived in 2014.

His local buzz continued to brew, and by 2015 he was working alongside Dr. Dre on the ‘Compton’ album - with his six show-stealing appearances attracting global attention - as well as Game’s ‘Documentary 2’. At the top of 2016, he delivered the critically- acclaimed ‘Malibu’ and announced he signed to Dre’s Aftermath that same month. ‘Malibu’ went on to be nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards, along with a nomination for .Paak for Best New Artist. He was also named one of XXL’s Freshman in 2016, an irony that has kept him grounded.

- - -

All that time put in made me ready to execute when it was time to execute...

- - -

“That’s one of the biggest things that I’m happy about,” he says of his delayed fame. “All that time put in made me ready to execute when it was time to execute. It also made me really appreciative and really humble. I didn’t get it right away. I spent a lot of time watching from the sidelines and honing my craft.” He can’t say the same for his theoretical peers.

“A lot of kids get on really early and they’re not really appreciative of what’s going on around them,” continues the 32-year-old artist. “They have no time. They make millions when they’re 18 or 19 years old. They don’t even get a chance to appreciate what’s going on around them. Then people start switching up. It’s like they can’t trust nobody. They start lashing out, but they’re really young. You can’t really blame them at the end of the day. But that wasn’t my story.” With a social circle comprised of old friends and new ones (he notes artists like Q-Tip and Thundercat for putting him onto new music), .Paak is still adjusting to his new life, but pleased with the fit.

- - -

- - -

Since aligning with Dr. Dre, the cast of characters has especially changed when it comes to studio visits. Everyone from Snoop Dogg to André 3000, Smokey Robinson, and “two different Macs” (Mac Miller and Canadian singer Mac DeMarco) have all come to bear witness to the upward trajectory of his ten-year overnight success. “One time we were working in the studio, Busta [Rhymes] came through and started co- writing on the joint with me,” .Paak says proudly. “Dre was there too. We just all started vibing like crazy. It was so much fun.” In the past, the presence of his idols was a trip, but now there’s a mutual respect. “It wasn’t like back in the day when I would come in all awkward because I wasn’t comfortable with myself,” he expresses. “That would set the tone for the whole session. These are the homies now, and we’re just making music.”

With his past two projects, California has been the muse and the focal point of his aptly titled works, but touring the world and meeting new people has given .Paak a broader perspective for his new work. Still, his love of home bleeds through. “I just miss [Los Angeles] and appreciate it a lot more. I’m away from it now more than I used to be,” he says. “I used to be there all the time, walking the streets. I used to hang out a lot and appreciate the whole L.A. vibe.” Sonically, a shift is happening. His upcoming album’s first two releases, ’Til It’s Over’ and ‘Bubblin’, both demonstrate an elevated .Paak - an artist who came out of the gate showing his diversity as a rapper, singer, and musician. That skillset, he adds, allows him to move in whatever direction he pleases. With Dre by his side, he’s unstoppable.

- - -

I just miss [Los Angeles] and appreciate it a lot more...

- - -

“He’s the Head Chef; I’m the Sous Chef,” .Paak explains, before whirling into a whole fictional dialogue between him and Dr. Dre that details their relationship perfectly using culinary metaphors:

“You can cook up whatever you want; I trust what you’re doing. You’ve been cooking for years. But when I come here and it don’t smell good, I’m gonna tell you it don’t smell good. And I’m gonna tell you that you should add some more pepper on this or salt on that. Or don’t even put that dish out. Throw that dish away. You can take it or leave it, honestly. I wanna be a part of this meal that you’re making. Do I have to be? No. I’m rich. I’m chillin’, bro. But it would be wise for you to let me be a part of this.”

When he looks toward the future, it seems as though he’s taking a page from his mentor’s playbook. With his own OBE (Out Of Body Experience) imprint, he’s already signed The Free Nationals and plans to expand that brand into helping newer artists as he gets older. “I don’t want to be the artist in the booth 30 years from now still thinkin’ he’s got the hot shit,” he jokes. “You should just fall back and help other people who’ve got the hot shit.” There’s also a potential foray into film. “Dre told me I should get into acting after ‘Bubblin’ came out. So hopefully he’ll put me in one of those movies he’s producing and I can get a little role in something and finesse this acting shit. Then I could be really awesome. Some Will Smith type shit.” He even has a videographer filming his whole story as it unfolds, so film is within a real reach.

It’s forward-thinking from a nearly-established luminary, but Anderson .Paak’s continued self-awareness makes him even more cognisant that fame is finite. But for now, it’s one hell of a ride. “This life comes with ups and downs,” he humbly advises. “I’m gonna have fun while I’ve got it. This is the time of our lives right now.”

- - -

- - -

Words: Kathy Iandoli
Photography: Dean Podmore
Fashion: Ashley Guerzon
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers

Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

Buy Clash Magazine

-

Follow Clash: