When an artist is on a period of career ascension, moving fast on an upwards curve as steep as that of Anderson .Paak’s, few ever stop to peer back over the cliffside they have just traversed. Caught up in the dizzying heights of what they think lays ahead of them, taking the time to look back in pride might never cross their mind.
‘Yes Lawd!’ is the culmination of a long working relationship between .Paak and heralded producer Knxwledge, and for both of them, the album marks a career defining moment. It is a celebratory collage of soul sentiment, hip hop breaks and smokey jazz, that is pieced together perfectly by Knxwledge as the sole producer; to give .Paak the freedom to move as he pleases, properly taking time to appreciate his long climb. As they individually reach towards some kind of career pinnacle, this project gives them both time to get gospel with it, to face the skies, to raise their arms, shouting ‘Yes Lawd!’ at the top of their lungs.
Far from an overnight success, the artist formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy spent years sending mixtapes out to labels and his favourite producers, while working dead-end jobs and existing on the precipice of homelessness. As detailed last year in an interview with Joe Kay on the Soulection Podcast, Knxwledge was one of the first producers he linked up with through Twitter: this was way before the Oxnard native was out there grabbing features with Dr Dre and lending his unique vocal talents to some of the biggest names in hip hop.
On ‘Livvin’ .Paak sets up the whole project in two lines:
They say ‘How did you do it?’ Nothin’ but the ambition
Throughout hardship and struggle, and all the unpredictability that comes with trying to forge a career in music, ambition and faith in the sound that raised them brought them to this new eden of success and acclaim. Even the moniker the pair have adopted, NxWorries, hints at how music is not only a means of escape from all the bullshit, but a vehicle to reach a brighter future.
Knxwledge is one of the most highly-regarded producers working in the LA beat scene, and a staple of the enormously influential Stones Throw label. To his followers, he is god-level cool in the same vein as his label predecessors Madlib and J Dilla, but to those that are hearing his beats for the first time because of the .Paak link-up, his sprawling and eclectic sonic influences might seem disjointed and overly complex. This feeling though is sure to be expelled after a single listen. ‘Yes Lawd!’ has the Stones Throw signature of irregular metre and obscure samples, as well as at times sounding raw and under-produced; but this is all to the effect of constructing a vibe that shines through as organic and sincere.
Working with artists like Mac Miller and ScHoolboy Q could, by all means, lead to .Paak being boxed in with other serial ‘featured artists,’ but what sets Anderson apart is the way in which he seems to make every track his own, often outshining whoever he works with. ‘Yes Lawd!,’ remarkably considering that his is the only voice heard, seems nothing like a solo record, and nor does it feel like it’s missing the addition of any additional guest verses. So diverse are the beats, from the 80s TV theme tune sounding ‘Scared Money’ to the jaw-droppingly smooth ‘Lyk Dis’, that we as listeners can never get tired of the winning NxWorries combination, and are never lured into thinking that Anderson .Paak is taking the spotlight.
The majority of the 19 tracks are barely 2 and a half minutes long, and as a result, we’re left with a smoked-out tour of the pair’s working relationship. Just as .Paak channels his experiences in his lyricism, recounting failures in love in ‘What More Can I Say’ and testing times for that steadfast ambition in ‘Get Bigger’, we get a variation of breaks, chops and samples (including a Rick and Morty skit at the end of ‘Can’t Stop,’ that allows Knxwledge to do exactly the same).
At times, we get mystery and allure, and at others, like on the already established fan-favourites ‘Link Up’ and ‘Suede,’ we get head-nod inducing revitalisations of classic soul, crafted from sung raps and a sample pad. So intertwined is music with the past for the pair, that the whole project is dripping with proud nostalgia:
Don’t be fuckin’ with my tape deck, You gon’ listen to this Marvin You gon’ listen to this Bloodstone.
Just like the defiant bars of Suede, ‘Yes Lawd!’ in it’s entirety is an education in commitment to creativity and respect for the past. Shouting out Marvin Gay and Bloodstone, while also talking about working in a grocery store or including audio from an Adult Swim cartoon seems like an insane combination; but so talented are the NxWorries pair that it never feels anything but cohesive.
NxWorries, hard as it is to type repeatedly, is seductively easy to listen to, but it works on so many deeper levels: The whole project is about creating something new and innovative from the combination forgotten sounds and untold stories. It has been decades since we heard anything like this, so enjoy it, because there might not be anything similar for some time.
NxWorries, ‘Yes Lawd!’ is available to download and stream now.