Ventura, the latest offering from Anderson .Paak, is a slick R&B record that dives deep into funk and neo soul. It’s a tight package crammed with satisfying musical ideas, with a warm and lush sound that will prove perfect for the summer. It packs a punch, though it’s missing that knockout blow, which largely comes down to a lack of originality. The substantial nods to funk rock and golden-age Stevie Wonder are nice, but perhaps lay it on slightly too thick. Influences very quickly become imitation. There’s something slightly cynical about replicating a sound so closely without including anything meaningful to the formula.
Paak doesn’t do much in the way of rapping on Ventura, which is a shame given how good he sounds spitting on “Yada Yada”, with its focus on creative freedom in an exploitative industry: ‘came a long way from them open mics at Leimert/forgive me if I walk like I got a chip on my shoulder/label tried to play me like I didn’t do all the work/I found another way through the open gate and my purpose’. It’s a clear highlight, and the flow is reminiscent of peak Kendrick Lamar.
Ventura is an enjoyable record, for sure, but it’s always a shame when great talent settles for something less. Frank Ocean pushes R&B to all sorts of weird and wonderful places, and that’s why Channel Orange will be remembered in 10 years time. For all its positives, I doubt Ventura will be looked back on with such fondness, and there’s very little doubt that Paak’s best work still lies ahead of him.7 10
Favourite tracks // Make It Better
This has been a strange year. Each album seems to have something really right with it, but there’s always something crucial missing. Sadly, Ventura continues the trend, though many of its ingredients are top drawer. The arrangements are funky, the production is lush and sophisticated, and Anderson .Paak is a suitably smooth master of ceremonies. When the album is in full swing, be it through the jangling groove of “Yada Yada” or the thick, velvety soul of “Chosen One”, it’s very, very pleasant to listen to.
But then very, very pleasant isn’t exactly an epic achievement. A bit of raucousness would be nice, a bit of grit. Ventura is nothing if not steady. It makes for a super consistent hip hop experience, but I can’t help but wonder what might have been achieved with the safety wheels off. Not for the first time this year, a purple patch of closing tracks brings home how lacking the preceding songs are. Waking up from an album is never a good sign, but at least on Ventura it happens during rather than after. “What Can We Do?” is a cut above for me, its rich harmonies and purposeful beats making other songs look pedestrian in comparison.
In all this is a very suave shade of beige. Ventura sounds like what a great hip hop record should sound like, it’s a good length, and it’s all a bit too comfortable. Its eclectic, professional execution makes it one of the standout releases of the year so far, but that’s not saying a great deal. I wish it had as much impetus as it does style.7 10
Favourite tracks // What Can We Do?
Jet Black Hair
Anderson .Paak has created an album full of rich, textured tracks fit for summer on Ventura. With some great collaborations and Paak on form with his vocals, there’s a great deal to enjoy here.
Kicking off with a very welcome feature from Andre 3000, opener “Come Home” sets a good pace for the rest of the album. Instrumentals are backed by suave basslines that saunter smartly under proceedings, while crisp guitar lines and warm keys fill out the space comfortably. “Make It Better” dusts doting strings throughout as Paak’s vocal takes centre stage.
Ventura isn’t making any effort to hide its influences, while there are a lot of contemporary artists’ influence in the mix, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean to name just two, the funk and disco here teeters on the line so much it may well stub Stevie Wonder’s toes at times. On the other hand, “Twilight” is the exception to that rule and stands out from the rest of the tracklist as a result, and while the closer, “What Can We Do?”, returns to the ’70s funk and soul, it too stands out as a highlight here and really does leave me wanting something more, for better or worse.
As has become a trend this year, however, I don’t get much more than a pleasant yet unremarkable listening experience. Ventura has a polished sound without doing much with it or treading new ground, and while neither is a requirement of a great album, it’s something that Paak has achieved in the past, so it’s hard not to see it as a slight step down. This latest release will no doubt stick around for the summer sound it exudes, but whether it stays longer than that is less certain.7 10
Favourite tracks // Twilight
What Can We Do?