Anderson .Paak: the next contender in a long line of weed and lean-influenced rappers interested in providing partygoers a smooth mixture of hip-hop, R&B and dance music to lose their nights to. Lacking a gimmick or defining element, the Los Angeles MC is content with coasting on the skills of established producers in a project that perfectly checks off every box on the list of “chill party rap” tropes.
Despite the name on its cover and the voice on its songs, the life of Venice’s party comes from the talented crew of beatsmiths credited within its tracklist. From the dedicated persistence of Lo Def features to the standout contribution from rising star TOKiMONSTA, the instrumental package here is well-rounded with a variety of artists giving their take on the blissed-out formula. Anderson himself even contributes on “Miss Right” via an old-fashioned groove that leaves one wondering why he isn’t crafting more himself; he’s pretty damn good at it.
Regardless of the emotional content of a song, they are all guaranteed to feature elements of dance that encourage getting down over pondering deep. “Drugs” slams with heavy bass and bright synth plinks, “Milk N’ Honey” slashes forward with grimy synths and choppy percussion, and “Get ‘Em Up” induces euphoria with flashes of color and playful pianos. The instrumentals leave just enough space in their content to set the stage for some stellar singing or spitting to take them to the next level.
The vocal package, unfortunately, doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. It’s not offensively bad in any way; Anderson .Paak’s upper-register rapping and singing complements the beats quite well. The problem is that, on most tracks, neither the instrumentals nor the vox are willing to step forward and take the reigns. Take Lo Def’s cut on “Might Be,” for example: the looping nature of the beat’s bars invite participation from an MC who is able to supplement the music with the kind of variety the background isn’t providing, but Anderson only doles out laid-back raps about having “a half an ounce of that tree, about a half cup of that lean.” His material deliberately lacks engagement in terms of lyrics and delivery, which results in songs that quickly turn to background noise when the beats share his disinterest in being dynamic.
The rule of thumb seems to be: “If the instrumental could be a fully-fleshed song without Paak’s presence, it is one of the better tracks on the album.” That doesn’t bode well for the star of the show: His lethargic rapping and repetition of hooks simply can’t carry a track without a good deal of assistance from a producer.
Venice ends up being the perfect record to throw on and chill out to. Anderson . Paak isn’t interested in fast bars, technical skill, deep emotions, or impressive singing: He’s content to chant “I’m swimming in milk and honey” for a good chunk of four minutes before moving on to coo “The city belongs to you, girl” for the next three. The lack of ear-catching content makes it difficult to stay an active listener of the record, and that’s not inherently a strike against it. The problems only begin to fester when the track numbers start hitting double digits and the record still hasn’t thrown a curveball; chilling out turns to spacing out, and boredom starts to wish Anderson had selected an EP as his vehicle of delivery.
3 out of 5
You can purchase Venice on Amazon.