Back when Anderson .Paak (yes, with a period before “Paak”) was better known as Breezy Lovejoy, we met at the Dr. Robbin restaurant, close to his Koreatown home. It was less than two years ago, and though the Oxnard-raised soul assassin possessed the style, charisma and singing chops of a star, he remained largely anonymous.
Things change quickly after a co-sign from Dr. Dre. This time, when Paak ambles into the same restaurant on a Friday in early October, the cashier proclaims his massive fandom. So it goes when the ultimate gatekeeper of West Coast hip-hop anoints you the star of one of the year’s most celebrated records, August’s Compton.
But collaborations mean nothing if you can’t deliver. When given the opportunity, .Paak proved why many have long regarded him as one of the most talented artists in L.A. His Compton performances operate as the album’s arteries — vital conduits connecting Dre’s nostalgia with modern police brutality and timeless creative anxieties.
The big-league call-up came six months ago, when .Paak was summoned to work with producer DJ Dahi on sessions that eventually became Compton. Auspiciously, the first people he met at the studio were Dre and The D.O.C.
“They were watching the NBA Playoffs and introduced themselves and told me to do my thing,” .Paak recalls. The first single from .Paak’s NxWorries collaboration with Knxwledge, “Suede,” had been in constant rotation among the team working on Compton.
“They were like, ‘Hold up, let’s play it for Dre,’” .Paak continues, occasionally picking at a calamari salad. His head is shaved, save for a low-slung blond mohawk. His nose is pierced, jeans ripped, and he’s wearing black plastic glasses. He could play Axl Rose in a very unorthodox biopic.
“They bring in Dre, who hadn’t heard it, and he cranks it up and plays it again and again. After the third time, he’s like, ‘Let’s work. Let’s do it.’”
At the time, .Paak’s profile crested off the strength of “Suede” and last year’s YouTube hit “Drugs.” He could not have foreseen what came next.
“I was tripping out. It was surreal. I took out my phone and texted Knxwledge, ‘Yo, I’m in the studio with Dre right now. He’s running “Suede” back!’” .Paak says. “I snuck a little video, just trying to let him know it’s real.”
It was a moment that would seem corny if you saw it in a movie. The reclusive legend asking the rookie what he’s got, throwing on a beat, letting him sink or sing. The beat in question was “All in a Day’s Work.” They set up a mic in the middle of the studio. No booth. You can hear the rest on record.
“I closed my eyes and started riffing,” .Paak says. “When I opened them, everyone was like, ‘Yeah! Whoo, that’s the shit!’ Dre loved it. After that, I was there nonstop.”
“Nonstop” has been the operative word for .Paak since Compton’s release. Earlier this month, he dropped an EP with L.A.-via-Chicago producers Blended Babies. He’s planning to put out an album before the year’s up and one from NxWorries early next year — all stuff backlogged from countless studio sessions over the past two years.
As for new material, he’s been working with Schoolboy Q and The Game. He’s hung out and talked music with Kendrick Lamar, and received label offers from every executive with a framed platinum plaque. But .Paak plans to keep working with Dre and his label Aftermath.
“It would feel like a smack in the face to sign with any label outside of Dre’s. He took a risk on me, and that means everything,” .Paak says. “I’m not afraid to deliver something different and raw. The best is yet to come.”
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.