Most of the world got to know Anderson .Paak on Dr. Dre’s Compton where he was snarling, strained and at times, desperate to impress. Then came Malibu, a masterpiece of sensitivity, warmth and triumph, and we grew to appreciate a new element of Anderson .Paak’s artistry. Between projects, he’s shown up just about everywhere: he shared the zipping Unique with GoldLink, he flanked the abrasive Game on Magnus Carlsen, he owned the eccentric Worlds to Run with Milo and Busdriver and he even had his pop moment remixing Jack Garratt’s Worry. If you haven’t realised yet, Anderson .Paak has done just about everything you could do in just over one calendar year.
NxWorries preceded the rise to stardom. A collaborative venture with Los Angeles producer Knxwledge, the duo released their debut single Suede way back in February 2015. It would be romantic to say Suede is like a time capsule, a ‘before’ to compare all that came ‘after’, but it wouldn’t really be correct. Truthfully, Suede feels just as at home on Yes Lawd!, an album released now, as it did all the way back then. It’s a track that showcases NxWorries’ masterful control over everything they do: Anderson’s verses flow and glide like a dream while Knxwledge’s beats are remarkably simple, halting and re-entering with emphasis at just the right time. Even before Dr. Dre had his phone number, Anderson .Paak packed confidence far larger than his diminutive stature.
Yes Lawd! is the back-to-basics project, finishing what the duo started with a solitary EP at the end of 2015. Nineteen tracks long, the project is eager to show off all the ideas that the duo have cooked up in the studio during the absence. The songs however are tantalisingly short, often clocking in under three minutes when they really deserve to be three or four but it’s effective. It not only leaves the listener craving more, it always gives the project the ability to burn through nineteen diverse tracks without getting tired.
The album carries a sense of care to it and it’s apparent that every detail on the project has been scrutinised. The complete absence of guest features is telling, especially for an artist as collaborative as Anderson .Paak (Malibu has 8 guest features and a revolving door of producers): Yes Lawd! is a nurtured, personal project that the two friends have harboured an ambition to complete for quite some time.
The album isn’t a concept piece, but there’s some distinctive character work done throughout. On the intro, Anderson .Paak is brash, offensive and confident: he swears on every bar, he coyly asks “Wanna dance with the boy?” and he’s unnecessarily verbose (“perfucious” isn’t even a word, I checked!). It establishes yet another character that Anderson .Paak can effortlessly embrace and pull off, after his darker side on Compton and the utterly charming Malibu.
Yes Lawd! may be his most nuanced performance yet. Anderson is charming and dismissive, seductive and disrespectful, often in the same breath. Wngs is sensual and smooth, but the intriguing tension of Anderson curtly demanding “Baby get your shit together/I’m talking right now” makes the track even more interesting. Elsewhere, Best One has a gorgeous rolling hook that’s made for the bedroom but drops in lines like “I hope I never have to cut you off” that gives the album a curious wrinkle.
The underlying narrative evolves as the album progresses in a subtle, but noticeable way: there’s the grinning scumbag shows scraps of regret on What More Can I Say, an album standout with a hypnotic strings loop that’s peppered with high horns. At the album’s midpoint, Get Bigger / Do U Luv offers a woozy vow to mature and Suede is the misguided attempt to make good on that vow.
The payoff comes on Starlite, when a line that starts with “Goddamn bitch, they’re playing our song/I want to stay with you all night long” evolves on each attempt: he interchanges “bitch” for “baby” on the next line and after that, turns his expression of lust to a question as he asks “Why don’t you stay with me all night long?”. Whether it’s lines like this, or the complicated relationship Suede has with romance and masculinity or Sidepiece’s cathartic show of affection, Yes Lawd! makes every sound and word on the album engaging.
Outside of the carefully curated arrangements of Yes Lawd!, there are brief, refreshing moments that subvert the established sound to hint at the more daring avenues left unexplored. The half-skit, half-song H.A.N. is jarring, sounding torn straight from a musical. Anderson sings conversationally as voices interject all the way through over the bouncing piano keys. It’s hilarious and would be the most unexpected moment of the album, if not for the existence of Scared Money.
That track answers the question we never thought ask: What if NxWorries wanted to pay tribute to 80’s rock titans Toto? The keys pounding in time with Anderson’s big chorus sound absolutely vintage in a way separate to the rest of the album, and in lesser hands this track would stick out like a sore thumb. But between Knxwledge’s catchy production and Anderson .Paak singing much like Dev Hynes on Freetown Sound, Scared Money instead jumps out as memorable. Even though it may only have a tenuous connection to the rest of Yes Lawd!, it’s just way too good to leave off.
If there’s a particular strength of amalgamating the crooning Anderson .Paak with Knxwledge’s crisp but quirky production, it’s the consistency that it seems to produce. Both artists could deliver a good song in their sleep and it’s unsurprising that this consistency continues on their full-length collaborative debut. It’s a project loaded with potential singles, yet almost every track feels like a crucial piece of a much larger puzzle. Yes Lawd! not only delivers on the lofty expectations of good music, it also shows off a thematic complexity we could have never expected, doing so with superb polish.