“I STILL FEEL LIKE AN UNDERDOG AND IT MAKES ME WANT TO WORK HARDER. IT’S ALL FOR THE GREATER GOOD AND THERE ARE NO MISTAKES.”
Hardship is not what makes or breaks us, but what we do with those experiences. There are artists that dig deep to deal with pain and suffering and are able to share it with the world. Anderson .Paak is one of those artists, spilling his experiences through his music, sharing his life through meaningful lyrics, a soulful voice and a clash of funk and modern beats. We chat with Anderson about his experiences growing up, what influences his music and what it’s like to work with the legendary Dr. Dre.
Tell us about your childhood?
I’m the only boy of three siblings, and I have two older sisters and a younger sister. My mother was a workaholic, and I grew up listening to what she listened to. It was all 60’s and 70’s soul music. My sisters were all into New Edition, Janet Jackson, Farside, A Tribe Called Quest. My father was out of the picture from when I was seven. He was caught up in drugs and alcohol and went to prison.
A year or so after that I had a stepdad. I remember being sort of messed up and looking for a father figure. He came in the picture, and I really dug him. He facilitated that role until I was in High School. The crazy part is he ended up being addicted to drugs and alcohol too. By the time I was a senior in High School both my parents got locked up. It was just another chapter of having incarcerated parents.
Prior to all that I was already into music, and got into the drums at around 12 years old. My God sister told me I should go to church and play because that’s where all the best musicians were at. I went to church, loved it, and started playing there. I went from the third drummer to the second, and eventually become the main drummer. That’s where I got all my schooling from – by watching and paying attention, and working with the energy of the singer.
Do the hardships you faced growing up play a role in your music?
I never really had anyone to talk to about how I was feeling about a certain situation. Once I got into songwriting I just started to put it all in there. Even when I wasn’t talking about it directly, it was my outlet. I’ve seen people who never had an outlet get caught in other things, but I was obsessed with how to be a better drummer. When I started DJ’ing I wanted to be the best at that, and same for producing – I wanted to make the best beats.
How would you describe your sound?
I’d say it’s about range and dynamic. When you talk about the music I make it’s where hip-hop meets soul, funk, rock, and there are a few people that have successfully done that. People that I look up to like Andre 3000, Kanye West, Pharrell. They are people who are influenced by a lot of different things within hip-hop culture, but within their music, personally, it’s where an MC is sort of stretched and where they can evolve from these different influences. I’ve heard some say that I’m a gap artist and I didn’t realize what that was. It’s one of those rare instances where you like someone’s music, but your auntie does too. When I was growing Snoop [Dogg] was one of those rare artists I liked and my mother liked. She enjoyed his sort of old school vibe, and she couldn’t get with Eminem, but she dug Snoop. It’s pretty cool and rare that an artist can get that pull from two different generations.
Tell us about how you got signed to Dr. Dre.
It was amazing! One of my greatest musical accomplishments. I never thought that would happen, honestly. I thought it was so far fetched, when you talk about someone who is such a part of my musical DNA. When I didn’t have anything to bring for show-and-tell I would just rap parts of The Chronic. I was obsessed with learning every song! It’s amazing to be part of that musical lineage with Snoop, Em, Kendrick [Lamar], Game. I’m really excited to step into this next album.
When I got to work on Compton it was really quick. One minute I was in the studio then I was out and I had no idea what was going to make it onto the album. It was dope to be apart of that album and be so heavily featured, and he didn’t have to do that. It did a lot for me and my confidence.
What have you learned from working with Dre?
I learnt that you have to put music first, that Hendrick’s Gin is really good, that you should push for the best but know when you have the best whether it was the first or second take. [I learnt] not to be afraid to push and get that emotion out – he told me early on “I love that pain in your voice”. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a vocal producer that was as good as him. I can hear the difference when I work with him as he pushed me to my limits.
He told me that he sees me as someone that is beyond rap. Someone in the realm of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Prince, and that I didn’t need anyone’s help for me to do what I do, and to focus on my project.
He’s obsessive with details. I remember he wanted a wave sound effect for a song on Compton and he wanted me to drown on this track then bring me back to life. There were so many people in the studio and I really didn’t want to do it. So, I said fuck it and pretended to drown. I had a drink of water and I was gargling and he was like “it’s perfect”. He likes a lot of drama, suspense, and theater in what he does. It’s apart of his sound – very theatrical, and that hasn’t really been a part of what I do. I’m on the lighter and brighter side, but it’s a cool contrast. It was great to see what he can do and trust in the process of not knowing what it’s actually going to sound like in the end.
What do you feel you bring to music that’s currently missing?
I add another texture. When I was growing up in hip-hop it was a cardinal sin to be a biter and sound like somebody else. Now, that’s out of the window and there are a lot of people doing the same things, which is fine, but my purpose in the game now is to add a different texture. I want to add a sense of musicianship. I pride myself in being a bandleader and a musician first. I look up too people like Prince, D’Angelo, The Beetles – people who had their instruments and can really put on a show without a DJ. I bring that element from the past with a modern sound.
Is there anything you wish you could do differently?
I don’t think there are any mistakes, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Hitting the stage with Dre, Q-Tip, and Kendrick Lamar – a lot of my peers in the game that I’ve watched come up, when these dudes had their first hits, and I was on the sidelines trying to figure out how I was going to put food in my baby’s mouth. I think this time was great for me to add some character and add to my story. I think it helped to build that gratitude and appreciation for the people around me to help get to where I’m at. A big part that helped me was developing a work ethic. When I was 21 years-old I feel I was a bit lazy and thought everything would come to me and I could smoke weed and drink, and that if I had a nice smile everything would happen. Nothing came easy or overnight for me. Even with working with Dre I still have to do these shows and win a lot of these people over who really don’t know who the fuck I am. I still feel like an underdog and it makes me want to work harder. It’s all for the greater good and there are no mistakes.
Complete this sentence: Music makes me feel…
Free and vibrant, confident , sexy, cool. When I make music I want people to ride to it and feel cool when they’re in their car with someone they like. I want them to put my shit on.