MUSiC/MEDiA: Anderson .Paak

Paak doin’ his thang: drumming and singing.

This guy has been around a while. But he’s only just snuck up on me recently. I think it’s about a year since I first encountered him, via the NPR Tiny Desk video on YouTube (below).

That video has racked up over 80 million views (and counting!). And I can see why. It’s truly and sublimely joyful. And off the back of it, I’m checking him out more.

This is the video that taught me to love AP.

As I type this I’m watching (for the first time) another NPR Paak performance with The Free Nationals. I’m not a massive fan of the modern hip-hop and rap scene, esp’ as far it’s such a big and obvious part of the contemporary dumbing down and ultra-capitalist commodification of music.

But, as Paak is coming at it from being a drummer, it might really change things. And if the whole hip-hop chip shop flip flop allows him and others – he’s now done the whole Silk Sonic thang with Bruno Mars (which I’m looking into as well) – to smuggle ‘real’ live organic music back in to the mainstream. So be Obi Wan Ben Kenobi it!

It’s interesting that Paak seems to be such a charismatic force of nature and culture in happy synthesis/balance, that he carries all before him, on a toothy pearly white tidal wave of sonic positivity. And drums – oh, and singing, rapping, dancing, music, producing (one could go on!) – are his ‘happy place’! How cool is that!?

Karen Carpenter, another fabulous singing drummer.

If only ‘the biz’ had let Karen Carpenter stay behind the drums. Perhaps she’d still be wowing us, alongside her goofy bro’? The biz is a cruel capitalist monster machine. A robot of death, selling the appearance of life, a thin mask over the rotting corpse of consumer culture.

But I digress. So… Anderson Paak? Hmmm… there’s the undeniable authenticity of a colourful and troubled back story. But alongside this there are aspects of modern pop trash culture – and I’ve got to be careful here, as I might be going ‘full Partridge’ – the cuss-words, the whole ‘money, niggaz, bitches’ thing, that do trouble me.

I kind of want to say that none of that really touches a deep nerve. But that’d be disingenuous. Of course it does. However much it annoys me in how it connects Paak to a lot of pop culture I really loathe, the ‘other side of the coin’, if you will, is not the hipster vibin’ with us, but the wounded little boy, channelling his damage and pain into a joyful affirmation of life through music.

And not just any music, either. But music that flows from the same deep wells of Afro-American (we’ll get back to this vexed issue later) soul, funk and R’n’B. And here I am, whitey in The Fens. It’s strange, and I’m not entirely sure why – or am I? Isn’t it just ‘the truth’? Authenticity? – but this tradition has always been one of several that just connects with my ‘soul’, like a dentist hitting an un-anaesthetised nerve.

Just ordered this off Amazon…

So, having touched very superficially and tanned-genitally on the musical river that flows from front porches of the Deep South via N’Awleanz dives to the litter-strewn city hoodz, where Caddy fins bespoke the Jaws of crime, to Herbie at Carnegie, or even Beyoncé and Bruno Mars… (again I digress!), where does Paak fit in?

In that last verbal flight, where history and myth meet collide-oscopically, in that matrix, embedded in all that, one can’t deny the ‘black America’ angle. But I want to counter that with the spirit of The Free Nationals; like Santana’s band, breaking out so joyfully at Woodstock… there’s a nice multi-culti angle.

And if the jazz tradition can happily embrace the angry yet all encompassing Miles, or the studiously geeky Mr Magoo Kung-fu mastery of Joe Morello… well. ‘Nuff said!

Do big shades…
… maketh the music or the man?

Anyway, this post goes around the houses just to talk about both Paak, the musical and other cultures that he emerges from, and my own troubled relation with all this, basically because I’m very happy to have found the man and his music.

Like everyone from Louis Cole and Vulfpeck, to, I dunno, King Gizzard and co, or Glasper, and ultra musos like Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave, the mere existence, never mind success, of Paak helps maintain my fragile belief in hope for humanity.

At this juncture Paak and The Free Nationals and co are tearing up the stage, doing a concert for the Grammy awards (I’m still groovin’ on YouTube). And the joyful energy is great. Starting the set with slick, sleek hyper-produced pop product style rap, contemporary pop karaoke style, the music builds to a Dionysian climax of gospel chops, and explodes out of the restrictive context of head nodding laptop wielding MCs and producers, into a world of real organic live music.

Paak behind his kit. His happy place. ‘Don’t I make it look easy. Don’t I make it look good.’, he sings on Come Down, one of the best tracks on Malibu (which I’ve just ordered!). ‘What could be more special than Andy behind the kit?’ beams Bruno Mars in their Silk Sonic promo interview. That interview (below) is worth watching, for its bizarre but compelling mixture of hipster gloss and truthful authenticity. What strange times we live in!

Ebro Darden interviews Paak and Mars, on their Silk Sonic collab’.

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