Catching up with Anderson before he took the stage on Saturday, we spoke with the 32-year-old artist about the story that formed around Oxnard. “Once the [tracklist] started to form, I started realizing, ‘OK, this is the same man, new car.’” he says. “This is the good times and bad times—life after Malibu. Now we've changed our lives.”
Speaking about the album's lead character (who doubles as Anderson himself), he adds, “He's back home now, he's learned all these things from all over the world. He's working with one producer, one of the greatest producers, and his sound is very ambitious. The stakes are higher. The people that he's around are arena selling artists like J. Cole and Bruno Mars.”
He also reveals that he felt the presence of his late friend Mac Miller as he finished the project. “I feel like he is here with me,” Anderson notes. “I feel like he is on this album [...] I needed some support and I felt he was with me to help me round this out.”
Anderson .Paak's full interview with Complex News' Natasha Martinez is below.
Congratulations on Oxnard. You've been saying that this is your dream album, so I wanna take you back maybe 10 years ago or even high school Andy. Did you ever think that this dream would come true?
You know I was pretty ambitious in high school. I thought I was gonna get signed like right out of high school.
I was supposed to be like the youngest member of Roc-A-Fella. I had my own demo disk in high school and I was making my own beats and DJ'ing. So you know, I thought I was definitely going to get signed right out of high school, but I would've never imagined some of the things that have happened so far in my career. It's been just a steady incline and I'm really humbled to be able to be doing what I'm doing.
How did it feel to finally release Oxnard?
Feels good, we put so much work into it. It's like my little baby, you know? And our baby just belongs to the world. We can't dress it up and change and cut his hair and wipe his butt. He's all grown and off to college now.
They grow so fast.
You know, playing beer pong and off to the world.
Whoa, that went by really fast.
Yeah, he's grown.
Right when the album came out you tweeted thanks to all of your fans and I believe you said, “I'm gonna go cry now.”
That was later deleted, I don't cry. Naw, naw. [Laughs]
I never cry, no tears. But was this an emotional album for you?
It was tears of joy, you know? It's awesome man, even when I first signed to Dre, everybody was like, “Good luck, you'll never drop, you'll never come out,” and we put so much work into it and effort. Dre, too, and all his team and my team. We really cared about the music. It wasn't something we made last week and then dropped.
You took your time?
We put everything into this and regardless how you guys feel or anybody feels about it, I really feel proud about it. Just to see the reception, it's overwhelming, so I don't know how to express it sometimes other than tears of joy.
How has your relationship with Dre flourished since 2015 when you signed?
That's my big bro, like my big uncle. People say we look alike. You spend that much time with somebody, it's crazy. Besides the music, that's just the greatest mentor, someone I can just hit up. He don't got nothing to gain, he already set. So all the wisdom, all the jewels he passes down to me is because he really believes in me. He really fools with me, so I'm just really humbled that I get to be in the same space as him and it's not weird or anything. That's the big homie. It's the craziest things that you get used to in life. Like yeah, it's Dre now, but it's the big homie. It's invaluable the stuff that he tells me, the knowledge that he passes down, and the stuff that I watched him do with this album—watching him mix it and watching him produce. I'm seeing a lot of myself in him. Our birthdays are really close to each other.
That's right, you said you're both Aquarius?
Yeah, we're both Aquarius. He just the richer, older version of me. It's awesome, it's cool. I know he has a lot of trust in me, and I have a lot of trust in him. We're both learning from each other, which is the cool thing.
What's the craziest thing he has you do in the studio?
When we were recording "Compton," he had me drown.
He had you drown?
Yeah. It was this many people in the room and I had a bottle of water, I was like [gargling sound]. He was like, “When you do it, just be more panicked!” I was like, “Man, is he trying to tell me something? He doesn't want me on the album.” Like, you don't have to drown me, okay, you can just tell me. [Laughs]. He had me drowning on the track, that was crazy.
That's funny. How about the most amount of takes that he's ever made you do in the studio?
I don't do a lot of takes, that's everybody else's story.
Okay, one-take Andy!
I mean, we do a few here and there, but when me and Dre work, we work fast. We have a good [snaps fingers twice]. I know what he's getting at and he knows what I'm getting at—that's the reason why we work so well. A lot of people say, “He wants you to do it over and over and over and over again.” There are a couple songs where I had to do a verse and keep doing it, but it's rare. I've just seen it a lot of times. But with us? Especially now? We got a pocket.
So the kinks have been worked out?
Yeah, we're in a zone now. We got a pocket and we know what's happening when we work together. We know now if we gotta a bunch of stuff, it's almost like polishing a turd—it's not it. When we get onto something and it happens in 15 or 20 minutes, then we know, “Okay, this is the wave, it feels good.”
Wow, I love that. What was his reaction to hearing the final product?
“It's hard. It's gangsta.”
It's gangsta? I like it.
“Yo, call that, B.” That's his favorite thing to say, too. I think it sounds great Dre, let's do it. Gotta meet these deadlines.
Here we go, we got people waiting.
He was mixing the whole thing and then when he masters it—we master it and when it's done, he don't even talk about it anymore. It's on to the next.
But I was trying to get a hold of him last night, trying to hit him up about this and he wasn't picking up. Then he called me way later. He was like, “I was bumping that album, I'm sorry.”
They were partying in the back. I was like, “Aw dang that's cool.”
That must be so great to hear.
He feels good about it, it's cool.
Getting deeper into the album, you have so many superstar features. Of course Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Q-Tip. Which one was the most meaningful feature for you?
They're all really meaningful. I mean, everybody put everything into it. Nobody phoned their verses in, everyone was trying to make a good song. A lot of people now, they're like, “Oh he killed you on your own shit!” Or like, “He had a better verse.” But it wasn't like that. It was like everybody was trying to get together to make a great song. But one that stood out was when Q-Tip got involved. Seeing them both fan out, bringing out vinyls, it was so annoying seeing two grown men like, “No, you're the shit, you're the shit, you're the shit!” I was just like, “Okay guys back to my album, what's up?”
You're like, “Hello, what about me?”
It was cool. Man, they were going crazy. To see Q-Tip start chopping up samples and then Dre be like, “Yeah try this.” And then everybody start chiming in and beats start to come together. I was just writing right away, and it was just natural. The lyrics were coming out. Then to see Q-Tip come back to lay his verse... The craziest thing is that everybody's got plaques and awards and everybody's done tours and everybody has their respect and ego, but Q-Tip had no ego working with Dre and having him coach him. That was the coolest part. He was eager to work with a producer that can produce him.
Do you feel like that is important for any successful artist? To be kinda humbled? I know you said you even had to put your foot down sometimes when you took advice from Dre, but you also were like, "No this is my art."
Absolutely. That's another thing I learned from Dre: Just don't do anything that doesn't feel right. You speak up when you ain't feeling it. Speak up. When you got people that trust you and respect you saying, “Speak up,” and you say, "Naw, this aint it..." It’s hard to say it. It’s easier said than done with Dre, but it's important because this is your story. This is your art, so you have to say, "I'm not feeling this" or "I'm feeling that, let's stick to that" or "Let's move on."
That was something I had to learn. Once I got over that, it was really fun. Some people think that they got it, and they don't really need anybody to coach them. That's more power to them. They're selling millions of records and how do you tell somebody that they're doing it wrong? It's being humble and putting yourself in a humble position where I know what I can do. But I respect this person and I'm gonna have them coach me and I'm eager to learn something. I thought that was so cool.
You mentioned story. What was your story to tell on Oxnard?
My story to tell on Oxnard? Once the [tracklist] started to form, I started realizing, “Okay, this is the same man, new car.” This is the good times and bad times—life after Malibu. Now we've changed our lives. That was it. We were on tour over two years straight. We didn't have to stop touring. We just had to stop to make this album and I thank God that we did. This is totally that album. He's back home now, he's learned all these things from all over the world. He's working with one producer, one of the greatest producers, and his sound is very ambitious. The stakes are higher. The people that he's around are arena selling artists like J. Cole and Bruno Mars.
All these people are my peers, these are people that I'm neck and neck with—these are the biggest stars out. So okay, cool, what do I gotta say now? So that's this album. It's fully embracing that. We've done what we've done, now what haven't we done?
You mentioned J. Cole. He was talking with you on 'Paak Radio' and was like, “I feel it was a moment, like a higher power moment.” Do you agree with that, when you guys collab together?
Yeah, for sure, man. I mean that dude's so humble, man. So down to earth, so balanced. You're not gonna meet many people like that, who are as big as him. I know he's from a big family and that's probably a huge reason for it. Family keeping him balanced, keeping him aware of those signs. Again he don't do nothing that don't feel right, and he didn't have to do what he did. But he did it and it was great.
When he came to the studio, wherever he was at before—the dude that he was working with before—his studio was on Oxnard street. Then he came to my studio and made “Trippy.” We had the board up and I was like, “Yeah that's the name of my album.” He was like, “Are you kidding me?” He caught chills because he knew he was in the right place.
Were there any other higher power moments in your own life that you've recognized lately? Especially throughout this process with Oxnard?
Higher power moments? I just feel like the fact that no one was really trying to sign me before I got to Dre... No one was trying to take a risk on me, anything like that. I somehow ended up with one of the biggest influencers in the business, one of the biggest businessmen in the business. Not only that, but I got the whole team that he's around, with 12 Tone and Aftermath. I'm surrounded by people that really just are about the art. Not a single person has ever been like, “We need a single, we need a radio hit. We need this kid to lose some weight, make his teeth smaller.” Nobody's tripping on me. They're just like, “Go AP, go!” It's cool, man. I'm playing drums and singing and all this stuff that might be over people's heads, and I'm backed by a lot of people who are like, “Yes, we want that.”
That's keeping me in those situations. I could've easily been signed to some label and I'd have been 15th on the list of artists that they're working with. And trying to work with so and so to get this hot record and just selling my soul for just cheap little bubble gum. We don't do that, know what I'm sayin'? We don't do that, no. Shout to the higher power.
Yes! And all the special people around you... I know that one of those people was Mac Miller.
You were close with him and of course collaborated with him. Plus of course the tribute, “Cheers.” If he was here today would you have wanted him on this album?
I feel like he is here with me. I feel like he is on this album. I feel like he was really was a big help with helping me finish the album. When he passed I was really almost to the end of it. I remember the last time we got to hang out, I sat there at Conway and listened to his album and [I remember] how proud he was about that album. Jon Brion came through and he played me the whole album. He just had the biggest smile on his face, because he knew this was the one that he always wanted. This was creative bliss, this was his opus. I was just sitting there like, “What bro! Dang, can I get on a track?”
He was like, “Nah bro, I gotta get this off, you can do backgrounds.” I was like, “Ah!” So when he passed, it was devastating not only to me but it was such a blow to the artist community and to the fan community. He had such an impact on so many people and I was shook. I was stuck. I was going through a lot trying to finish this album—just mixing it and balancing with my family, with Dre, with my band. So I needed some support and I felt he was with me to help me round this out. “Cheers” was one of last songs we did. I had a song that I was going to end the album with, and as soon as we started writing it, I knew this was gonna be it. I looked at Dre and he looked at me and was like, “Yup. We need to replace—okay cool.” I didn't even have to finish my sentence, he knew.
He was like, “I totally agree, this has to be it.” Then Q-Tip came in, did his thing, then the words start coming. I knew he was over my shoulder like, “That's hard! Say this, yup!” So, thank you Mac.
Aw, yeah. That's beautiful. He's definitely with us today in this celebration here in Oxnard. What was your vision for this carnival you threw today?
I just wanted to throw a party for the town. I knew I had to come back to the town, play the album. It started off as, “Okay, I wanna have a listening party. Just me and my phone, plug up to the AUX.”
AUX cord party!
AUX cord party. Then it turned into, “Let's just have something for the kids, let's just have an all-day thing.” My team started brainstorming—shout out to Beats, they just made it happen. It just turned into, “Let's have a fun day for them, for the family.” And the fires started happening and all these different things started happening ,so we needed something to help remedy of what's going on.
Absolutely. What does that mean to you that you were able to bring some joy into the community after these past couple weeks that we've been having here in California?
Aw, man, it's just dope. I'm just humbled. Whether I do a party or not, me making music from the heart that's honest—I feel like I'm doing something to make the world better. That's my little contribution.
Now it's like, I got some people that are helping, you know? My team. I got some cool backing, so it's like, “We can do what?” All right, cool let's do it. I immediately wanna do something for this city. A lot of people leave the city and they rep other cities. I totally get it, there's not much over here. And when I was growing up here I wanted to immediately get out. But I had to get older and realize you are who you are because you grew up here. So let's bring it back.
What was a day in the life of living here in Oxnard for you? Back in the day before music took off?
Man, before music took off it was just trying to find a job, stay out of trouble. Honestly, there is nothing to do here.You will get into trouble, you will get into gang life activity, or get into drugs. Or maybe you'll go clubbing every night, then eventually you'll—
Are there clubs in Oxnard?
There are some clubs. You have your Bombays. There used to be a couple clubs. I don't know what the clubs are now, but honestly, you have kids, you get a job... So if you don't have a passion or something that takes you out of the town, you're going to be here... You surf, you skate, it's all good. But I was into music and it took me all over the world. Before that, I was working jobs. I was trying to get a job at Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Ralph's. I couldn't buy a job. Eventually I did get a little job helping mentally disabled people and stuff. That was probably my longest gig. But eventually I was like, “I gotta do music, I gotta get out of here.” So a day in the life was just Topper's Pizza, Taco de Mexico... That's like the highlights. Cruising down Saviers Rd or Oxnard Boulevard, going to movies. Going skating.
What was it about the community made you wanna have this homecoming?
The community is very proud of their own and they don't get to claim their own always. They don't even know sometimes who's coming out of the city because they don't rep the city. The community is—there's a big Latino community here. Not only Latinos of this community, but a big part of America in general. So it's just dope to see them ,and they love their own too.
They do. We are proud, we are proud.
Yeah, yeah super proud. I just feel like, “Damn, I hope I'm an honorary Latino now after this.”
I think you are, I've heard you sprinkle in some Spanish words in your interview
So, horchata on ice!
Ay! Let's go! Vamos!
I love it. What can the crowd expect from your performance today?
Aw man, its gonna be dope. I'm gonna turn up for my hometown. We gonna play some of the new, some of the old, and in between. I got some new surprises. I'm developing as an artist, so I'm taking it there. I don't ever wanna do the same thing, so we're taking it there with the new show. You know this is the start of the new show, honestly. We haven't played any of these songs before, so we're just starting it off and working out the kinks. But I'm glad we get to do it in our hometown where they're just happy. I'm glad we doing PACC, I never played here so it's gonna be a sexy show.
Do you have a feeling of what your favorite song to play live is from Oxnard?
I don't know if I have one favorite but we've been doing “Who R U?” and it goes crazy.
It goes off.
And also “6 Summers.”
Oh, love that track. Now lastly, how many “Yes, Lawds” do you think you're gonna say on stage tonight?
You know what? I think it might be an infinite amount. I might just be one good one.
One good one? Okay.
Aw yeah. Wherever the spirit leads me.
Wherever the spirit—well, I'll keep practicing on mine.
Thank you so much Anderson.
Thank you. Appreciate it,
Congratulations on everything. Whew!