Friday, October 21, 2016

NxWorries - Yes Lawd! Review

In August of 2015, Anderson .Paak, after bubbling in LA's relative underground for quite some time with the Hellfyre Club, appeared seemingly out of the blue on Dr. Dre's Compton. Seen at the time as one of Hip-Hop's most hyped releases considering Dre's 16-year studio absence, the majority of Compton's attention fell squarely on its trove of features. Anderson .Paak, with five of those, garnered the most notice, especially given his lack of mainstream notoriety. Since then his name has been everywhere, including his lofty and highly-acclaimed Malibu project that dropped earlier this year. It didn't reinvent the wheel of modern Neo-Soul, but in such a short period of time his unmistakable sound began appearing every which way, from Domo Genesis' Genesis to Mac Miller's Divine Feminine. Now, less than a year later, .Paak returns in album form, this time teaming up with his side project NxWorries, a collaboration between .Paak and longtime producer Knxwledge. Two prolific artists, the latter releasing a plethora of beat tapes since 2010 (13 in 2013 alone, to put this in perspective), come together for their first official LP, and what happens? As you'd expect, a 19-track collection of half-baked ideas. There's a lot of filler on Yes Lawd!, but that still can't invalidate two talented musicians working at the peak of their careers.

Long time readers of mine know my thoughts on having too much. Yes Lawd! fits this ideology to a tee, supporting a fleet of similarity-minded concepts that don't draw too far from their source. And really, this was expected, as the entire 48 minutes are given to just .Paak and Knxwledge. Two minds can only go so far without help. So yes, as would almost always be the case, hampering down this mighty hoard into something more manageable would've resulted in a better LP, simply put. However, as my first listen of Yes Lawd! taught me as it played off in the background, how these 19 tracks coalesce with seamless ease is a definite drawing point. While one, two, or half a dozen tracks could've been removed without anyone noticing, the fluff in between takes is almost nonexistent. Knxwledge makes sure to not waste the listeners time, rapidly progressing through the LP, illustrating the larger picture than settling down with a series of works. The thought's likely optimistic though because, for all we know, Yes Lawd!'s coherency might just be due to Knxwledge's limited sonic range.

And that it is, following the route of Madlib, Oh No, J Dilla, and other Stones Throws muses that came before. The short, stop-go production mentality with interspersed samples is nothing new for the record label, which makes Knxwledge's production a bit dated, albeit tastefully refined. There isn't a bad beat here, just like there's none that go over the top. Just like his quiet personality, Yes Lawd!'s instrumentation is rather unassuming, modest, and self-effacing. His best work is actually his first, 'Livvin,' which promptly uses a rumbling live instrumentation basis, horns, percussion, gospel choirs, and more, to introduce the listener to Yes Lawd!'s preachy acoustics. The ecclesiastical sound allows .Paak to flourish with his sandpaper-like vocals and bashful charm. Unfortunately, as Knxwledge's production becomes more uniform to Hip-Hop standards, as does .Paak's lyricism, which becomes a tad bit hypocritical in the romantic sense. Not nearly as bad as Mac Miller's self-prescribed effeminacy, but .Paak does resort to some tired tropes that, in 2016, aren't a good look. Namely, his overuse of "bitch" and aggression towards guys who use the word towards 'his' girl, despite calling all girls bitches numerous times throughout the LP.

When .Paak distances himself from that short-sighted belief, the project tends to flourish, at least relative to the short-comings all around. 'Get Bigger / Do U Luv' stands out thanks to .Paak's simple, but effective confidence that shines around a woozy clash of percussion and synths, while 'Best One' soothes around some twangy Soul that doesn't sound too removed from the 90's R&B days. Then there's 'Link Up' and 'Suede,' released previously on, you guessed it, 2015's Link Up & Suede EP. Both of these, especially 'Link Up,' which samples Funk legend Cassiano, overshadow the quality of their neighbors, giving further credence that NxWorries' time would've been better spent condensing these ill-defined fragments into full-fledged singles. A lot of them, like 'Another Time' or 'Scared Money,' which both have noteworthy potential, could've benefited from more intense polish. Tracks like 'Starlite,' 'Sidepiece,' or 'Lyk Dis,' which all glide off some unnecessary .Paak redundancy, aren't essential here, simply profiting off his easily created sound. It's songs like these that could've easily been cut without a detriment to the overall quality. Even the interlude tracks like 'Can't Stop' and 'H.A.N' provide better, and more varied, substance to Yes Lawd!'s otherwise one-dimensional palate.

However, with all that being said, Anderson .Paak's material always, for better or worse,  has that air of class surrounding it. Never does Yes Lawd! feel bad or of low quality. So while, yes, it would've materialized into something greater had there only been ten or so tracks, the excess doesn't take away from the project as a whole. If anything, just use the moments of tedium to groove rather than scrutinize. Obviously this isn't as good as Malibu, the drastic content upheaval and range of producers automatically makes .Paak's latest affair a better LP, but that doesn't mean Yes Lawd!'s without merit. We're already accustomed to Knxwledge throwing his kitchen sink at the audience, failing to restrain himself of less than superb material, and now .Paak has done the same. Yes Lawd!, to me, isn't so much an official LP as it is a collection of sketchbook ideas half-filled in. Like a scribbler etching his latest creation in the columns of a paper before abandoning the unfinished work for something different, Yes Lawd! feels similar, setting the foundation but failing to stuff it with color, variation, and nuisance. Thankfully for us, Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge are just really good drawers.

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