When Anderson .Paak sat down with his team earlier this year following the lockdown, it was supposed to be a “year off,” where they could take a break and work on the new album. Paak had other plans, and found himself reflecting on the protests, putting words to the “revolution,” and other fragments of songs in the works that needed a release.
“I was already in that mode,” says Paak. “It’s just part of my natural state. I like cope and deal with everything by staying in a creative space and working on something. Part of me doesn’t feel comfortable if I’m not working on something.”
Paak hasn’t stopped moving. Recently collaborating with Busta Rhymes on “YUUUU,” the three-time Grammy Award winning singer, songwriter, and producer also picked up two Grammy nominations for more politically charged “Lockdown,” inspired by Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles where protestors were being shot with rubber bullets by the pmolice.
Unexpectedly, Paak also found more inspiration at home with his son Soul. As the two pulled together TikTok dance videos for fun, Paak also utilized the platform, along with Instagram Live, to gauge new singles, including his recent “Jewelz.” Co-produced by Timbaland, the more dance-y track was something Paak wanted to get out, because it was a moment in time with his son. After the two uploaded a video dancing to the song, people immediately started asking when it was coming out and it reached one million likes.
“I really appreciate the time, the isolation and getting to focus on these things,” says Paak. “In diverting more of my energy towards my son, that ended up inspiring me to direct my own videos and get more into film stuff.”
Still, slowing down is not an easy feat for Paak, who says he got his work ethic from his mother who was constantly on the move, and always working. In isolation, he’s shifted how he approaches music by taking his time with each track, treating each more like an album with accompanying visuals. For the “Jewelz,” Paak directed the video along with animator Ali Graham and Ape Shit Productions.
“For me, it’s always been easier to just bury myself in my work,” says Paak. “Now it’s about sitting with your son and teaching him his timetables or going out with your wife as opposed to just burying yourself in your work. I’m trying to work on being present when I’m not working, and present with my family.”
Typically, Paak would make an album, then go right back and start working on new material for the next. Following his fourth release, 2019’s Ventura, Paak still had more songs in him, which he had more time to sit with once everything went into lockdown.
“I just try to just record until I can’t record anymore and pick the best music out of that,” says Paak, who says it’s usually a one- to two-year process. “In that process, I get to see which songs cause the same reaction over time, what mood I want to be in, and what am I trying to say.”
This year, as everything shifted there was no rush to put out another album, and while Paak couldn’t start recording, he was still making music. In June, everything fell into place around “Lockdown,” a song Paak wrote while watching the protests on the news. He wanted to be involved but admits he was initially afraid of getting Covid. “I was thinking I’m going miss out on the revolution because I’m scared of coronavirus,” says Paak, “so I had to make a song.”
Pulling from people’s experiences at the protest and what he was hearing on the news, once Paak protested in LA himself he ended up rewriting some of its parts. Directed by Dave Meyers, the video was filmed quickly—and socially distanced—featuring SIR, Jay Rock, Syd, Andra Day, Dominic Fike, and Dumbfoundead.
“I was kind of collecting the song,” shares Paak. I feel like there’s some songs that have a sense of urgency to them. This was one of them.”
Making music around what was happening with BLM or any social issues, .Paak doesn’t understand the backlash some artists receive when they create a politically charged song.
“That’s bullshit,” he says. “The music that I was into from the ’60s and ’70s was based around protest, around the revolution that was happening, and around social issues. There was a time when that was what artists were supposed to do. I think now everyone is ultra sensitive to where you’re going to be ridiculed.”
Social media is a big factor this reactionary element, he says, since today artists are stuck in a much closer space with fans. “It could be 100 fans saying something, and it feels like the whole world is against you,” says Paak. “If some dude says something in a comment and five people agree with it, the artist can see that or feel some type of way like, and that can affect the way they make their art, which is never how it was supposed to be.”
That’s never the way it was supposed to be, because artists are supposed to say what people might not be able to say at the time. For “Lockdown,” Paak wanted a protest song that people could dance to but still delivered its message.
“For me, there’s always been a part of me that touches on that—even from my first mixtapes,” says Paak. “And it wasn’t always politics. It’s whatever I’m around or whatever I’m influenced by at the time—social issues or relationships. When I started making money I was making songs like ‘Bubblin.’ It’s about the artist going through that journey and trying to make a piece of music that reflects that.”
Paak adds, “You’re supposed to have a feeling when you see someone get killed in broad daylight in the streets for no reason, and it’s happening all the time. So when artists speak on it and make these songs, it causes a reaction, and people look at it and feel something. You shouldn’t be silent to this. You shouldn’t be cool with seeing somebody die in the streets, then have such an opinion about looting.”
Artists just have to stay true to the music that they want to do, says Paak. “Even though we’re at a place where we can interact with fans, just be conscious of getting out your artistic needs too.”
From “Lockdown” and “Jewelz,” there was no timetable, no deadline, and music has just been flowing naturally. “Sometimes, when I’m making five to 10 songs, they might not be all finished, and some are just like a vibe, but there’s always some where I know I’m going be working on for at least a year,” says Paak. “That’s when I work on getting the right mix, production, and structure for it.”
Moving into 2021, Paak is reconnecting with Knowledge on their project NXWorries, and a follow to their 2017 release Yes Lawd! “That’s one of my closest friends,” says Paak of Knowledge. “We’ve gone through a lot just from a band point of view and from a friendship point of view. When we started making music, I didn’t have a deal, and we started making an album and then Dr. Dre came in, and things kind of took off from there.”
Paak says the lockdown is giving him more time to focus on the music with Knowledge. “I never had time to nurture that group and that friendship, because I was always gone working on my stuff,” says Paak. “Then once quarantine happened, I got to tap back in and get back with my friend again and now we’re making so much incredible music and getting ready for the next album.”
Another project dear to his heart is expanding Paak House, the non-profit he founded to help underprivileged families. Throughout the year, he’s been holding food drives and is also working on something with his son for Christmas 2021 and planning for the next annual .Paak House in the Park in MacArthur Park, which was cancelled this year due to the pandemic.
The biggest goal for Paak is opening a new facility, like a Boys and Girls Club offering summer programs, educational classes, a boxing ring, studio for music, and more in his hometown of Oxnard, CA.
Never stopping, Paak is still working on new music and wants to keep listeners on their toes. “I like that people have a hard time boxing me in,” he says. “They don’t really know what to expect. I still want something that can be digested for everyone, but I want it to be something that’s kind of like, ‘Whoa, play it again. That was weird. I don’t even know how to describe it.’”
He adds, “I want people to trust that we’re going to take them somewhere new and they can trust us to take them there, and we’ll show them something different without completely abandoning.”