Anderson .Paak, who has been springing unsaddled into the higher reaches of fame since collaborating with Dr. Dre last year, isn't the man singing on Yes Lawd! There’s a character in his place — some Californian troubadour cowboy — and he’s not exactly singing. Instead he wails, croons, and smirks, all charming. His obsession is courtly love in the hood, a subject that he covers with humor and brio. “I could leave it at the drop of a fedora,” he groans on “Best One,” performed from the mind’s eye of a hypnotic rolling stone. .Paak’s character on Yes Lawd! is outrageous, and lovably so. Vocally and lyrically, he is a torrent of personality. Knxwledge’s eloquent and patterned beatmaking steadies the trip.
The union of producer and performer depends on reciprocity and good communication. Yes Lawd!, released on Stones Throw Records last week, strongly persuades on the argument that .Paak and Knxwledge could be a pair for the ages. NxWorries was formed in 2015, at a time when both were prolific and California-based, although .Paak’s distinctive, omnivorous style on Malibu had garnered more attention than Knxwledge’s production work. The EP they released almost a year ago, Link Up & Suede, previewed how prepared they were and how, in unison, the musicians had grown. On Yes Lawd!, .Paak is something like an eccentric blues vocalist, and Knxwledge is an outstanding accompanist, building subdued drums and surprising sighs of strings to buttress the vocals. “Kutless,” slower than the general drive on Yes Lawd!, is an especially warm conversation between singer and producer. There are 19 songs, but so many are south of three minutes, and many are punctuated by funny, Teddy Pendergrass–like skits.
NxWorries circle in an orbit of artists who could be loosely grouped as blues musicians of the internet age — acts like Kaytranada, BADBADNOTGOOD, and Kendrick Lamar. (Knxwledge contributed work to To Pimp a Butterfly, the urtext for the sound.) Production-wise, Yes Lawd! seeks to inherit the rich grammar of J Dilla and Madlib, and it comes magnificently close. “Scared Money” drifts on a ’70s synth while .Paak riffs seductively on a black proverb: “Scared money don’t make money / Baby, talk is cheap.” “What More Can I Say?,” the album’s most wondering song, blinks in violin and stuttering horns between .Paak’s small proclamations: “It’s always the simple shit / I’m caught up again.”
Sex plays a character on Yes Lawd!, hilariously and warmly. .Paak sings about respecting the eroticism of Barry White and Marvin Gaye on “Suede,” and the song itself sounds like an upbeat White reimagination. On the bawdy “Wngs,” a beat Knxwledge first made for 2013’s Kauliflowr, .Paak’s version of an ain’t-shit player tells his woman: “Go with your big ass, girl / I want you, you still a nasty girl.” The self-seriousness of sexy music is an inherently bemusing thing, and .Paak’s wild, in-character singing captures the doubleness charismatically. He sings like, and about, men who are no good until they stumble through the door, put your legs up, and then are so good. The humor on Yes Lawd! isn’t limited to sex, either: “H.A.N.,” about trifling men who bite off the real creators, is structured like comic theater; the audience laughs.
NxWorries uncommonly strike that sweet spot of artistic collaboration on Yes Lawd! — one member influences, upgrades, and tempers the other. Prior to its release, the world had already accepted .Paak as a star. Get ready to embrace Knxwledge next.