The Gaucho Gazette

Review: “Ventura” Epitomizes Artistic Redemption, Imbues Optimism

“Ventura,” the latest release from California-based hip-hop artist, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist Anderson .Paak stands as the fourth project in a series of city-based compositions, coming less than a year removed from the polarizing 2018 release of “Oxnard." .Paak’s newest project marks a return to his creative identity that succeeds sonically in spite of its organizational shortcomings.

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Review: “Ventura” Epitomizes Artistic Redemption, Imbues Optimism

Photo Illustration by Kevin Sittner

Photo Illustration by Kevin Sittner

Photo Illustration by Kevin Sittner

Photo Illustration by Kevin Sittner

Kevin Sittner, Reporter

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Delving further into the funk and soul grooves that he often draws inspiration from, Anderson .Paak’s latest musical rendering, a full-length studio album entitled “Ventura,” marks his return to peak form, both instrumentally and lyrically, by way of the atmospheric and stylistic diversity paramount to his early works. Rich tones of vocal harmonies and intimate synth cuts commence the album with “Come Home,” a heartfelt plea to a former lover to make amends, a staple of soul music past that immediately dictates the project’s refreshing tone. In-the-pocket drum lines coupled with the cadence and quick flow of hip-hop legend André 3000, although buried in the track’s final verse, supply momentum to an otherwise intimate, classic piece. Though failing to reach the visibility and memorability that his 2016 LP “Malibu” achieved upon release, “Ventura” signals a time of artistic growth for .Paak while offering a reprieve from the aggressive excess that marred his prior release. Thematically, he discusses the role of activism in entertainment, conveys how past struggles and new-found status have dictated his relationships with women, and relates the frustration synonymous with his rags to riches story already delivered to listeners in “Malibu,” his second full-length work.

Distinct backing vocals supplied by Smokey Robinson amidst a sweeping of strings on “Make It Better” offer a seamless transition to a luscious track that in spite of thematic disparity, establishes an early sense of cohesion. “Reachin’ 2 Much,” regardless of lyrical suggestiveness, stands as the unequivocal apex of production quality while washing away the isolation of prior tracks with its flashy, intoxicating groove. .Paak’s decision to front-loads the tracklist with a diverse, star-studded array of featured artists, although an effective vehicle for retaining initial listenership, sets high expectations for the tracks that follow. Fortunately, the collection of tracks that follow emphasize the versatility responsible for attracting so many listeners to his discography. He cycles from a cold rap verse at the tail end of “Winner’s Circle” to the subdued club anthem of “Jet Black” before reaching Motown grooves and staccato brass backings on the project’s penultimate song.

In truth, “Ventura” listens more like a collection of decadent, carefully crafted singles and EPs than an artfully organized story that comes full circle.”

— Kevin Sittner

Throughout, the scope and nature of .Paak’s social commentary varies immensely; criticism levied against those who deny climate change, framed through subtle shots at our acting president, starkly contrasts the forthright demonstration of solidarity with LeBron James’ efforts to unite his community on the album’s first single to be released, dubbed “King James.” Perhaps the most glaring mark, however, is the absence of a truly grand, conclusive final track that leaves a lasting impression upon listeners, a critical component of .Paak’s past renderings. “What Can We Do?,” the project’s underwhelming closer, ultimately pales in comparison to the likes of “The Dreamer,” a highly personal projection of hope to youth and “Cheers,” a celebratory tribute to the late rapper Mac Miller off of “Malibu” and “Oxnard” respectively. The track’s concluding piece instead subtly offers the plausibility of heartbreak and separation in spite of joint accomplishment, a damaging, yet astute observation that fails to provide closure.

Frequently exercising liberal artistic discretion, .Paak possesses an ear for creating organizationally sound albums, which is, to its detriment, not the case for his latest work. Still, “Ventura” signifies .Paak’s much-needed return to producing top-shelf work for both new and returning listeners, offers optimism that the full extent of his artistic potential remains untapped, and provides the thoughtful lyrics in conjunction with stylistic diversity that reaffirms his musical identity.

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Review: “Ventura” Epitomizes Artistic Redemption, Imbues Optimism