A soulful Californian attitude
On Ventura, Anderson .Paak focuses on the soulful textures and funky grooves that were central to his rise to hip-hop funk stardom. Coming less than a year after his last album, Oxnard, Anderson .Paak’s Ventura feels like a collection of the more soulful leftovers from the Oxnard recording sessions. While Ventura may come off as more of an afterthought to Oxnard, Paak does a remarkable job of creating a cohesive, dynamic and passionate collection with many of the same themes as his last three projects. Ventura, the fourth, and supposedly final, installment of Paak’s California-town inspired albums, pays tribute to the brand of California living that Paak so proudly represents. His larger than life persona, like in many of his projects, is an integral piece of Ventura. His joyous self-assuredness, fashionable, sophisticated and undeniably Californian attitude is further cemented in Ventura.
While the production on Ventura is full of lively, groovy beats, the drums often become repetitive. It is not uncommon for the same four-bar drum loop to continue throughout entire songs with minimal breaks. The Pharrell Williams produced song “Twilight,” for example, features a thumping kick and snare pattern that rarely deviates from the fourths structure it begins with.
The opening track, “Come Home,” featuring a smug, rapid-fire verse from Andre 3000 serves as the perfect opener to the album. The cinematic fabrics that frame Paak’s vocals feel massive and dynamic, with grooving basslines, chords and background vocals to accompany the funk-inflected beats. “King James” blends Paak’s knack for soulful, joyous vocals with a renewed sense of social responsibility and activism. Paak casually references racism and modern politics while recognizing Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem and LeBron James through the namesake of the track for his efforts to create equal opportunities. While the track is undoubtedly impressive sonically with its funk/hip-hop production and vocals, Paak’s attempt at social commentary feels stunted and not thoroughly thought out. The social justice theme to the track feels more like an afterthought on a loved-up soul album rather than a central piece to the song.
The 8th track on Ventura, “Chosen One,” is a messy conglomeration of sounds with sporadic beat changes and an overdone, chaotic structure. Paak pulls through vocally, however, with a unique rap verse and vintage vocals that pair beautifully with Sonyae’s feature on the song. The concluding track, “What Can We Do?” features unreleased vocals from Nate Dogg, now deceased, who was the face of soul music within the G-funk genre. Paak’s admiration for and sonic chemistry with Nate Dogg is evident in this track, mainly through the faux studio interaction that happens at the end of the song. Paak creates a conversation between the two by combining his speaking with a few Nate Dogg studio vocals. The track is a lovely ode to Nate Dogg and a joyful ending to the album.
Ventura is a funky return to the glossy grooves that defined Paak’s music before Oxnard. While there are undoubtedly questionable moments production-wise as well as a fair share of dull and awkward moments vocally, Paak delivers yet another compelling, lively album that has undoubted appeal across multiple genres.