Anderson .Paak Used to Crash in Dive Bars. Now He’s Headlining Madison Square Garden.

Anderson .Paak Used to Crash in Dive Bars. Now He’s Headlining Madison Square Garden.

Anderson .Paak writes his music for localities. His first album was named Venice, followed by Malibu and Oxnard. Now, coming off the high of winning his first Grammy (Best Rap Performance for “Bubblin”), he’s releasing another in April, Ventura, produced at the same time as Oxnard. “Growing up in Oxnard gave me the grit and the church to find this voice of mine. One town over, I went further and found my depth,” he said when he announced it. His North American tour, which kicks off in May, is anything but local. .Paak is hitting Madison Square Garden and Red Rocks, among other massive venues, bringing with him Earl Sweatshirt, Noname, Thundercat, and more. But he still knows the value of a neighborhood dive bar to musicians, even as these places start to disappear. “My band grew up playing tons of hours in local bars,” .Paak says. “It was a lot of our foundation, a lot of our instinct, and made us tight as a unit. I felt like when you take these places away it loses identity. The neighborhood loses identity.” And so as he and the Free Nationals play some of the biggest stages in America, he’s also trying to save the local scene. His new partnership with Jameson asks fans to “Love Thy Bar,” with Jameson putting up $1 million to get folks to support their neighborhoods spots. As he says in the campaign, as many as six local bars are closing each day in America. .Paak spoke to Esquire about his earliest gigs at bars like these, working on Ventura with Dr. Dre, and his upcoming tour. How is playing in front of a live audience different than honing your skills in a studio or a basement? Nerves. You do a lot of things in the little studio by yourself, in your closet. Nobody’s around, it doesn’t work, you can start over. But when you’re on that stage, it could be 20 people or it could be 20,000, you have to look at people. You only get one time to do it, and you gotta make it right. You start to see what people are made of, if they’re superstars or if they’re not. What memories do you have from your early days playing in neighborhood bars? We literally used to have no place to stay. We go to the downtown and we play at our gig at a bar called Sharlene’s. They would pay us 300 bucks to play pretty much all night, but they would feed us too. We had to be out at a certain time or else we would miss the last train. And then never would we be out at certain times ’cause we would be there having a good time, partying after we played. Sometimes [the owner would] be cool that when we’d stay, we’d lock the spot up, and we had a second after-party there. Everybody is gone, usually in the morning, and then we catch the first train out. We clean up the place and go about the day. Do you miss that scene at all? I think I miss it, but it was tough times. Like, it was the grind. It was a lot of uncertainty. But I do miss the intimacy of being that close to people. You know if you really, really kill, what people felt about your music, and then having the bartenders right there. That part I try to keep with our shows ’til this day. Jameson What’s it like to be launching into such a huge tour? It’s really humbling you playing to these places. I think about when I’m gonna be playing Madison Square Garden and the Red Rocks. We’re always opening and going on tour with good people that have played them, and now we’re playing them ourselves, and we’re bringing a lot of the homies from the neighborhood with us to do it. That’s what I’m probably the most proud of, is the people that are coming with me I’m truly big fans of. Me and Thundercat, we come up in local bars like Zanzibar, Temple Bar—these places are not even around anymore—and we about to bring that to Madison Square. Did you want to make any changes to Ventura after winning your Grammy and announcing the tour? I wanted to keep it as incubated as I could ’cause I wanted to keep the vibes with how we felt at the time. I didn’t want to over-produce, I didn’t want to start second-guessing it, I didn’t want to drive myself crazy. I drove myself crazy with Oxnard. That was almost why I was like, I’m about to put [Ventura] over to the side now, like a “break in case of emergency.” I did want to get one more song, but I wasn’t really stressing, and then it just fell in my lap at the very end with one of my homies. Jameson What’s the story with that song? It’s a beautiful song. I got to work with FredWreck, who is one of the main producers that Dre works with, and one of my favorite producers just coming up. He’s worked with everybody, D.O.C. down to Snoop and Nate Dogg. He had an archive of amazing music and artists that he worked with, and he [wrote a single] from those songs, from an artist who’s no longer with us but is a West Coast Legend. What was it like working with Dr. Dre on the two albums? With Oxnard, I felt like he wanted to get his chance to work with me. We started making music with him, working with his producers, working with his writers in his studio. We came up with one of the best material, “6 Summers.” What else we did in that time? “Sweet Chick,” and just lots of tunes. That’s when I was like, you know what, I’m going to make [another] album. It’s a learning process for him and with me. I had to compromise a few on the outside, and he’s had to. I was learning from him a lot on Oxnard, and allowing myself to open up and be produced and to be more of a vessel. On his journey he’s definitely learning all the same things, how to oversee and to make sure the songs were right, and trust in the fact of putting out more content on a regular basis is cool. And if he doesn’t understand it, he’s always like, I’m a rapper, I’m gonna trust that he knows what he’s doing. I love him for that. He let me have a lot of leeway on Ventura. He was like, it seems like you got it. I spread my wings on the production and on the writing and on these collaborations. Again, very ambitious, working with icons on this one as well. But it was chill working with Dre. Who else you know that will sign with Dre that’s putting out this much content in this short of a time? This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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