Just six months ago, Anderson .Paak was a little-known singer, songwriter and session musician from California. The 29-year-old had spent the preceding decade playing drums in church and in various cover bands. Both his parents and his stepfather had been to prison, he had drifted in and out of homelessness and he even worked on a marijuana farm with his pregnant wife to make ends meet.
Then, in August last year, came the unexpected release of rap royalty Dr Dre’s ‘Compton’ – which featured .Paak’s heart-scrunching, soul-scorching vocals on six show-stealing tracks.
.Paak seized his moment, releasing his second album ‘Malibu’ in January to ever-growing critical acclaim. Replete with grooves the late James Brown would be proud of, a humble lyrical honesty that Frank Ocean fans will instantly fall for, plus the occasional Phil Collins-esque drum fill, ‘Malibu’ glows with rare warmth in a world of digitally produced, synth-heavy soundscapes and egocentric wordplay.
We grabbed time with him ahead of his breakout headline show at XOYO this week to talk hard times, Dre and finally making it big.
‘I think I always knew I’d get here one day’
The last six months must have been crazy for you. How does it feel to get so much attention?
‘It feels so good, man. It’s just amazing to see things change around and to watch people gravitate to what I do. It’s what I always wanted. I’ve been doing this for years now, but I think I always knew I’d get here one day. I didn’t know when or how, but I trusted it would happen. A lot of people believed in me.’
You’re 30 this month – that’s quite late to be breaking through as a new artist.
‘There’s quite a few artists that didn’t pop off until they were a little older – Rick James being one. I don’t think I would have been ready five or six years ago, so it feels like perfect timing.’
It’s well documented that you were made homeless in 2011. Has that experience affected your music?
‘It’s all part of the journey. It’s tough to stay afloat in the big city, trying to make things work to take care of yourself, your family. But you can’t be afraid of being out on the street; if you really want something, it’s always a gamble. As an artist, you’re taking your experiences and placing them into your art. So the more experiences you have, the richer your art and more people can relate to it.’
How did you end up working with Dre on ‘Compton’? Have you known him long?
‘I’ve known him for less than a year. We started working on the project just a few months before he put it out. I was introduced to Dre through his team and ended up in his studio playing him my track “Suede”. He went crazy when he heard it, cranked it loud, played it three times. After the third time, he gave me work. He drew on the beat for “All in a Day’s Work” and started talking about ideas. I asked if I could get on the mic and try something. So I closed my eyes and freestyled. When I opened my eyes the whole room was going nuts. It took a couple of weeks to finish the track – I was putting so much emotion in, I kept losing my voice, but Dre wanted that pain and feeling. I think it ended up as one of my best vocal performances.’
So all those years of struggle paid off in the end?
‘Yeah, they really did. I don’t know many artists who’ve come out of Beverly Hills, y’know? You need that struggle.’