.Paak brings the “Fire” on new “Shang Chi” soundtrack

It’s been an absolute joy to me watching the continued rise and success of musician Anderson .Paak. The Oxnard, California native hit the jackpot especially hard this year, largely due to his gold medal-level collaboration with Bruno Mars in their new band Silk Sonic. Debut single “Leave the Door Open” has been all the rage in 2021, possessing a popularity watermark that made the song almost Tik Tok-levels of unavoidable at its peak.  

The duo continues to take their time releasing a full LP (second teaser “Skate” dropped in July), but in the meantime .Paak has kept busy. The rapper, singer, music video director, drummer and jack of all trades makes his latest appearance on the big screen with a song that’s part of the soundtrack for Marvel’s recently released superhero film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Courtesy of Google

“Fire in the Sky” isn’t just some unused session track here to fill time either. 88rising, a record label largely devoted to Asian and Asian American musicians, was brought in to curate the LP; creating a melding flow of artists like Jhene Aiko and NIKI with Marvel’s first tentpole flick that’s primarily focused on Asian and Asian American actors. A similar method was employed for Marvel’s Black Panther; rapper Kendrick Lamar executive produced the effort with a specific vision meant to pay homage to the culture and tones of each moment. 

Shang Chi skillfully paints with a similar brush, using the soulful vibe of .Paak’s wide-grinned musical optimism just as Shang-Chi’s credits roll. And, like so many of his features or one-off appearances on various projects, he always knows just how to hit center stage’s sweet spot. Kicking in with a blissfully hazy piano in a gentle cloud of guitars, .Paak raps, drums and sings with all the rhythm of a buzzed romantic high on another human, sticking out his chest, shooting his shot, and making that lightning rod first connection. 

“Fire in the Sky” is aptly named as its all the sensation of looking at a post-storm horizon, bright swatches of color emerging in wild, intricate streaks of hope after a dark and lost night. Bruno Mars is credited as a contributor/lyricist for the song, which makes sense as its warm throwback vibe sounds right next-door to the Silk Sonic creatives. At the end of the day it all boils down to this one simple point (something I knew well already) .

PAAK DON’T MISS! 

.Paak Hits Old Stops, Travels New Places with Endearing “Ventura”

Anderson .Paak has been feelin’ it lately with an ever-versatile, high-stepping vengeance.

In case you’ve been stuck under some rocks, the Malibu singer/songwriter/rapper/drummer/producer helped end 2018 on a strong note with his Dr Dre-collaborated, rap rave-up Oxnard. The record drew mixed reviews soon after release, though I suspect that was due to it being an album that required time and repeated listens to level up.

It would also have flowed much better without the skits that don’t age well after a lot of repeats. But I digress.

That’s why, as someone who’s written about music the last several years, I often hesitate to talk about new work the day it releases or soon after. There’s certainly a high associated with those initial listening experiences, but taking the time to study the puzzle pieces has a way of expanding the angles of creativity being brushed into this mix of many melodies.

So when the announcement for Ventura inevitably came along… that mental battle began. Especially with how quickly I’ve enjoyed the record since it dropped earlier this month.

“Come Home” is a retrograde-groove, come to attention album-starter that almost smells like an old LP sleeve and benefits from .Paak’s time-and-again sense of flow (not to mention slapping drumwork). The whiplash of a blistering second half verse from Outkast’s Andre 3000 certainly adds to its case, helping to put this one straight into the “Winner’s Circle” (Ventura song title joke, it happened, let’s move on).

“Come Home” brilliantly melds the warm R&B vibe that was promised in early Ventura teasers with the story Oxnard began late last year, and the theme threads throughout the album. Because in many ways the pair are a double album to each other, just speaking separate sides of the same coin. One that ran hard to chest bump and bass thump, and another… that just had to talk about love a little bit.

Speaking of love, tracks like “Make it Better” just make me smile. A slow-swaying ode to lost affection featuring a crooning .Paak backed by the velvet voice of Smokey Robinson, the singer who helped make the torch song croon what it is today? That’s a kind of magic you can’t deny, especially when you’re encircled by that chorus. I get the same vibe from .Paak’s back and forth with the vocals of the departed Nate Dogg on “What Can We Do?” Try not to belt along when you know musical church is in session.

“Reachin’ 2 Much” feels like a drum and horn-floated, tempo-chopped cruise down the coast of Miami Vice with a touch of .Paak’s own tune “Lite Weight” scattered in for tempo-switching flavor. While “Winner’s Circle” samples the classic “A Bronx Tale” before proceeding into a Thundercat-assisted slapping punch of rhythm that slips with satisfaction into “Good Heels”.

While I would say .Paak’s far from alone in creating these genre fusions, his songs always speak in their own voices. Some in certain seasons, others with connection to particular moments. And while I won’t go making the exhausted “is Ventura better than Malibu?” comparison, it is a VERY fine addition to the .Paak library.

And something tells me he’s still just getting started.

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