Producer Knxwledge and singer/rapper Anderson .Paak both sit comfortably at the intersection of hip-hop, R&B, funk, and soul. Their respective solo projects are potent stews of disparate elements, cooked down into delightful new flavors altogether. Knxwledge’s particular strength is his ability to deconstruct samples yet keep them intact, building new layers from a song’s splayed parts. Similarly, .Paak is adept at merging various genres without flattening their differences. His debut studio album, Malibu, is a carousel of sounds, .Paak’s sprawling ideas and influences all swirling in tandem yet still distinct. As NxWorries, .Paak and Knxwledge push each other toward refinement. Yes Lawd!, the follow-up to their Link Up & Suede EP, hones their sound, expanding it beyond collage and tapping into the sentiments that make their favorite genres so resonant.
Whereas Link Up & Suede was more evenly split, featuring as many instrumental interludes as full songs, Yes Lawd! is more of a showcase for .Paak. Stretching himself beyond the player persona from Link Up & Suede, here .Paak often presents himself on a precipice. “Jump in front of a train, bitch I might,” he threatens on “Get Bigger / Do U Luv”. “She look like she married but why is she staring?/ She think I’m afraid to reach, don’t dare me,” he warns on “What More Can I Say”. Throughout the album, his writing is haunted by anxiety, the air sucked from his boasts, everyday experiences turning acutely existential. “Cutlass ain’t running like it used to,” he laments on “Khadijah”, the sex machine from “Kutless” suddenly rusted. If Malibu is a bright-eyed victory speech after a harrowing election, Yes Lawd! is a press conference six months into the first term, optimism giving way to bristling truth. .Paak still radiates confidence on “Suede” and “Link Up”, which are just as sterling on the album as they were on the EP, but in the midst of these more vulnerable songs that confidence feels more earned, the pimping not easy.
The corollary of .Paak’s dominance is Knxwledge’s absence. The compositions are absolutely distinctly his — surgically sliced soul and funk samples drenched in smoky chords and perched atop crisp percussion — but there’s something missing. The producer has never styled himself as the star of any show, but his personality tends to show through his choices of samples and arrangements and even his song titles. Looking at the cover art for his various Bandcamp albums, for example, feels like scrolling through a Tumblr page, a personality lurking beneath every curated image.
Yes Lawd! is a bit sterile in comparison, and some of the weaker songs likely would have been strengthened if he’d been more involved. The blandly sarcastic “H.A.N.”, for instance, easily could have been replaced with a movie clip or been livened by some vocal compression or chopping and screwing. Likewise, “Jodi” begins with a Quasimoto-esque skit and cuts to .Paak crooning, no link between the two. Knxwledge has spent his career irreverently tinkering with voices and sounds, and “Droogs”, his brilliant rework of .Paak’s “Drugs,” was the standout track of Link Up & Suede. But when it comes to .Paak’s voice, here he’s oddly hands-off.
Of course, a producer being reclusive is neither unprecedented nor inherently bad, but considering that the duo first met through Knxwledge remixing audio of .Paak singing and playing the tambourine, the producer being so secondary here is certainly a missed opportunity. The album still ends up being a thrill, due to the duo’s sheer talent, but its caution undermines its competence. .Paak has insisted that Yes Lawd! is not an Anderson .Paak album, but it sure sounds like one.
Essential Tracks: “Link Up”, “Get Bigger / Do U Luv”, and “Suede”