Straight Outta Oxnard: Anderson .Paak Talks Working With Dr. Dre on ‘Compton’
Meet the songbird of Dre's new album.
Photos by Christopher Captain
Meet Anderson .Paak, formerly known as Breezy Lovejoy: a multi-dimensional artist and musician Straight Outta Oxnard, California—whose name is all over Dr. Dre’s Compton album inspired by the new F. Gary Gray film. Not only does Anderson appear the most on this album, but he is also the only artist to be featured by himself—on his track “Animals,” which is co-produced by DJ Premier. This definitely says something about Dre’s faith in Anderson’s artistry and ability to hold his own, especially when placing him alongside two of Dre’s most prolific collaborators: Ice Cube and Eminem.
With all things considered, Anderson .Paak must be on cloud nine right now. His path to Dre’s door was not your typical one: he wasn’t signed to a major label, didn’t have ties to Dre, and definitely doesn’t have a hit record on the radio…yet. Along with Philly producer Knxwledge, he is one half of Stones Throw Records’ NxWorries. Their song “Suede” organically traveled to the right eardrums, ultimately reaching Premo and then Dr. Dre himself. The rest is history, which .Paak gleefully chronicles to Mass Appeal for the benefit of fans of Compton and all those with hopes of working with one of the greatest music producers of all time.
Mass Appeal: What happened between you and DJ Premier that led to your collaboration with Russian producer BMB Spacekid?
Anderson .Paak: That was awesome, man. We were doing this Boiler Room show in Russia with my group NxWorries with Knxwledge. MF DOOM was supposed to do the show, but he pulled out—so we were a last-minute addition to that show. Preem told me that he didn’t know who I was at the time, but when they played the video for “Suede,” he was like, “Oh yeah, that’s a go.” Part of that show was to do a collaboration with him and BMB Spacekid. There was supposed to be a vocalist for that collab, so I ended up being that vocalist. Before the show, we had a session. It was kind of frustrating because of the language barrier. I think it’s hard for two producers to work together as it is. On top of that, Premier never works with another producer. I know that was tough for him. When I walked in, they were playing me two beats: the beat for “’Til It’s Done” along with another beat. I really liked the other beat, but for some reason I started writing “’Til It’s Done” first. I ended up doing most of that song there. When I went back home, I finished it up, then got ahold of that other beat, and that was what became “Animals.”
I was really excited about it when I got it done. It was around the time of the riots and everything. I had never made any political songs before, but this one just came naturally. I didn’t want to be too preachy—I just wanted to add my perspective. When I recorded it, I had already been working with Dre. Before I left the studio with him, I was like, “Oh shit, let me play you this joint I got with Premo.” He was like, “You got a joint with Premier?” I played it, and it wasn’t even three bars in and he just went nuts! He was like, “I gotta get on this!” The next day, Dre hits me up himself, like, “Yo, I fucking love this song. I know it’s your tune, and no disrespect, but I would love for this to be a part of the soundtrack. Whatever we have to do…” I was like, “Say no more, let’s make history,” so he added his verse on there. He ended up adding really dope instrumentation too. He messed with the drums, added some guitar, and some really cool transitional stuff that wasn’t on there before. I watched Premo do the scratches on it, and it was just a crazy moment. I’m still wrapping my head around it.
You are the only stand-alone artist on the Compton soundtrack. How does that feel?
I feel blessed. I’m super proud about that. It doesn’t take away from any of the other artists or anything. The way I was even brought into this situation was them bringing me in off a song that was out already. They were all feeling “Suede.” Whenever I was in there, I felt a feeling of mutual respect. Dre pulled me aside, and told me, “Yo man, I really appreciate you for what you did for this album. I’m a huge fan of Preem, and you just put this song in my lap, and I can’t thank you enough.” That song is very special to me, so I’m glad that it was just me and them on the track. I don’t think it needed anything else. I’m really proud that it’s also a song that is true to myself. This is one of those songs where I’m saying something that matters, that is timely, and timeless—and I’m with two legendary producers that I’ve always wanted to work with. It’s a lot to take in. It feels great.
How did you and Dre initially meet?
I had already known Ty [Cannon], an A&R for Aftermath, and he has a partner named Drew [Corria]. Drew was the one that put everyone in the camp on to “Suede.” He was playing it around for everybody. When Justus and King Mez heard it, they were like, “Yo, you wanna work with DJ Dahi for this Dre project?” When I heard that, I was like, “That’s tight,” but I kinda didn’t pay any attention to it, because I’ve been out here for 10 years and you always hear these stories about people working for Dre. This was before I found out about the soundtrack or Detox being scrapped. They were like, “Try to do something with Dre.” I was like, “Who knows about that, but I’m down to work with Dahi. I’ve been a big fan for a while.” So we go to the studio, and I get to record one, and the first person I see come through is Dre and DOC, and I’m like, “Damn!” It was crazy, man. He didn’t know who I was, and was just trusting Mez and Justus that I was someone legit. I got in the studio with them, and before we got to the Dahi tracks, they decided to just play “Suede” for Dre. He comes in, and I’m just sitting in the room, and I saw him play it over and over again. At the third time, he was ready to work. He played the beat for what is now “All In A Day’s Work,” and man, I hadn’t heard a beat that dope in a while. I was like, “Yo I’m gonna spazz on this if it’s the last thing I do.” Dre was telling us how the vibe should be, and so I just put the headphones in and recorded with a mic in the middle of the studio with like 15 people watching. I just closed my eyes and went off the top. After I finished, I looked at Dre, and he was just going nuts. He’s very involved in writing and getting a great vocal performance. I’ve never worked with a producer that can get that great of a vocal performance out of me. After that, we just kept working. One song turned into two or three, and then I gave him “Animals,” and it was just nonstop. We have this crazy chemistry in the studio.
You are truly the songbird of Compton, as your voice appears throughout the entire project. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s incredible to be a consistent texture to the album. There’s a lot of different pieces to the puzzle that is this album, and it’s just dope to be one of them.
What is a typical session with Dre like?
Usually, you don’t know when he’s gonna call. When he calls, you just go over there. We would record at Record One, but sometimes even at his house. When I get there, a lot of times he would have already worked with his musicians and producers, and have a template of the track—sometimes even with some lyrical ideas. He’ll tell me what he’s thinking as far as the vibe of the track, and I’ll tell him what I’m thinking. We’ll go over ideas, and he’ll pour up a glass of Hendrick’s gin, and we’ll just go in. Sometimes, he’ll have one hot line in mind, and we’ll just go from there. The homie Mez and Justus are very much a part of the process as well. We’ll just go in until we love it. You hear that he’s a perfectionist, and that’s definitely true. He just likes to get the right take. I hear horror stories, but I don’t really get it after working with him. A lot of times, the take that he likes is the one that maybe isn’t the most perfect—like my voice might have cracked, and maybe there’s a little bit of pain in there, but he loves that. I feel like I adapted quick to his work ethic. We just have this likemindedness in the studio. We’ll take breaks, and he’ll tell me crazy Death Row stories, and there’s just a lot of dynamics with him. It’s really chill, man. He’s very approachable. I still trip out when he asks for my opinion on things. He pushes me to the very best, and that’s awesome to be around.
Were there any powerful tidbits he gave you?
He doesn’t like to worry too much. He just likes to take things in steps. Working with him, you can’t get away with half-ass stuff. He’s going to push for the very best. He’s perfecting the tracks the weekend before the album is supposed to be mastered, and I’m trying to take that into how I work too.
What’s the significance of Compton, CA for you?
I see it as one of the richest breeding places for talent in hip hop—equivalent to Brooklyn or The Bronx. Anywhere where there’s a harsh environment, the best musicians flourish. My mom was actually born and raised in Compton during the period of the “American Dream” Compton mentioned in the intro of the album. My mom was born in ’51 in Seoul, Korea, and was adopted and moved straight to Compton. It was booming there. It was a suburbia. It has a rich history in my family, and the same goes for Dre. I got to work with The Game, and it was incredible to hear his story about gang life in Compton. Then there’s Kendrick’s good kid, mAAd city story. There’s so many dynamics to that town.
Did you get to work alongside Kendrick in the studio for this album?
Not yet, but it’s crazy, I got a text from him this morning saying, “Bro, incredible work on the album—your tone is amazing!” We chopped it up for a cool minute, man, so we’re gonna get together next week. But it was crazy to get that message from him this morning, because that was who I was hoping to see what he thought of it.
” src=”http://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/72×72/1f4a8.png”>” src=”http://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/72×72/1f4a8.png”>” src=”http://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/72×72/1f342.png”>” src=”http://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/72×72/1f342.png”>” src=”http://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/72×72/1f343.png”>” src=”http://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/72×72/1f343.png”> wait for it pic.twitter.com/af05J0UdY3 — Anderson .Paak (@BreezyLovejoy) August 13, 2015
Was your role on this album not as big as it originally intended to be?
Definitely. I didn’t even know. I talked to people in that studio that have been in there 8-years plus, and have turned in and worked on thousands of tracks with Dre that never saw the light of day. I was just honored to be invited to work with him. It was almost a long-shot to even think I would make the album. Most of everything I did actually made the album—which fucking blows my mind. The role I ended up playing, and the trust that he put in me, I just took and ran with. He set me aside and told me, “We’re going to make some incredible music together. We think the same. You’re going to be great. We can’t even wrap our heads around what we’re going to make, but it’s going to happen.” I was like, “Let’s do it.” I just can’t wait to do a full album with this dude. He gets the best out of me, and it would be crazy to continue to work with him. It’s a blessing to be a part of history—this is his last solo effort. You couldn’t tell me even 10 years ago, “You’ll be on Dre’s last album, don’t trip,” when I was sleeping on couches and scraping up change. This is just some storybook shit.
Were there any growing pains coming from the underground D.I.Y. realm into the studio with Dr. Dre?
Nah man, it’s crazy. I did initially work with guys like Dumbfoundead, Watsky, and Project Blowed people like Nocando who are very much D.I.Y. That’s what I was surrounded by and who I learned from. It’s like I went through this long boot camp of developing my sound that is true to me. I spread around and did different styles because I can. I’ve never been with a major label or had to be some puppet and be stressed out. I’ve always been able to do what I wanted to do, and I feel like that’s the only reason why I was able to get on these records with these people now.
I feel like niggas can’t really tell me anything now. I have such a chip on my shoulder, sometimes, from people turning me down throughout the years. There’s no rules except to stay true to yourself and believe in that, and you will get to the right people—and when that time comes, you better fucking execute. I felt like I prepared myself for that, because I knew I would eventually get in the room with these people. I could always envision being in the room with people like Dre and Pharrell. I knew that they would appreciate what I have to offer with my range and potential. I love that I have all of this groundwork already set with the respect of all of these people in L.A. before getting in front of Dre. I don’t really feel like there was growing pains, because I was prepared. I love being able to go to his studios and just do my thing.
What was the convo like with Knxwledge when you found out you were doing work with Dre?
Knxwledge is just the king—I wish I was as cool as him. He doesn’t get excited for shit. We’re like counter personalities. I’m always super hype, especially when I heard he was working on Kendrick’s album. When I told him I was working with Dre, he was just like, “That’s cool my nigga.” He was happy for me, but he wasn’t through the roof or anything like that. When he got on that Kendrick album, man, I hit him so many times like, “This is so amazing, man.” He knew I was working with Dre, and was like, “Bro, look at you. You’re killing it.” I know the respect was there with him. One time he asked me, “Does that nigga Dre smoke? Did he hit the blunt at all?” I was like, “Not around me,” and he just cracked up about that. He’s a jokester. I’m very excited to hit the road with that dude.
Speaking of which, are there plans to bring Compton tracks on the road with the upcoming Earl Sweatshirt tour?
Oh, I might have to. I kinda want to play “Animals” and shit. We’ll see what’s up, man. I like that NxWorries is its own thing, and I wanna try not to blend the worlds too much, but I’ll talk to Knxwledge and see how he feels, because we might have to do a couple of joints to let them know that we’re in the house. I’m kinda curious to see how we’re going to be received with Earl’s audience, but I’m not worried. I think it’s gonna be dope to have the dynamic of having some soul music with what Earl’s got going on. I think it will be appreciated. Yeah man, maybe we’ll do a couple of the Compton joints, but I think the NxWorries album has enough fire on it alone. I like to spread the music directly to the people, because the people will spread it around. That album alone has some of my best material. I played it for Dre, and that’s really what made him want to fuck with me. I have a lot of confidence in the NxWorries record.
What do you think about the Straight Outta Compton film?
It’s so good, man. I was just watching it at the studio. It’s definitely the best hip hop biopic, by far. They did it justice.
What’s your personal favorite Dre record?
This is a tough one. I love “Xxplosive” and I really like “Fuck You.” Damn…it’s so tough, bro. I was able to digest 2001 better because I was older, and it was one of the first CD’s I remember just being mind blown off of. Everybody just killed it on that album. I love “Ain’t Nothin’ But A G Thang,” and everything, but when records like “Xxplosive” and “Fuck You” dropped, it was just game-changing. It was special to me, because at that time I was just getting into music and realizing that I wanted to be in the industry. When The Chronic came out, my pops just took it away from me, and would listen to it himself and not allow me to listen to it. But when 2001 dropped, I was like a freshman in high school, and I was DJIng and stuff, so when I heard “Xxplosive,” I was like, “Oh yeah, this is it. This is what I want to be a part of.”