Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals w/Reeny Smith
Saturday, July 15, 8:30pm
Jazz Fest Main Stage
Lower Water and Salter Streets
"It's like eating a Ferrero Rocher," I say when my mother asks what Anderson .Paak's music is like. "It's beautifully packaged; once you unwrap it, you quickly get to its core and then you just want more and more."
.Paak is one of those rappers who, two bars in, gets me emotional and I'm OK with that. "Come Down" from 2016's Malibu, immediately gets my hips moving and is reminiscent of my late teens in Jamaica where I'd slow wine to dancehall/roots reggae mash-ups in the balmy Kingston night breeze. "Come Down" flawlessly achieves what Rihanna's "Work" was attempting to accomplish.
It isn't common to see a rapper headline a venerable jazz festival, especially the oldest one in Atlantic Canada. We had R&B diva Lauryn Hill last year, but having a rapper is a bit more purposive. Andrea Dawson Thomas, interim executive director for Halifax Jazz Festival, says, "To us, he's more than just a rapper—his musicality is as diverse as our audience," she syas. "Our patrons have diversified over the festival's 31-year history and we want our line-up of artists to reflect that change."
Since the announcement of his appearance, Halifax has been buzzing with anticipation. You may ask "where's the jazz?" but jazz and rap have many commonalities. From the onset, both were terribly misunderstood and labelled as music for poor and uneducated black people. The brilliance of their dissonance (think of Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book and Kanye's Life of Pablo) delights and dizzies with Aronofskian energy. Both have been the soundtrack of a resistance. Many jazz and rap greats had their musical foundations laid in the church. Both are often replete with Sartrean existentialism. And, the genres offer both performers and audiences catharsis.
Looking at .Paak's Instagram, I see a rapper more focused on his art than on fronting. And, with his difficult youth, you wouldn't blame him if he went full Lil Yachty—he witnessed his father almost beat his mother to death; his father went to prison when .Paak was just seven years old and he never saw him again until he was buried. At 17 his mother was sentenced to prison for tax evasion; he was once homeless, and he divorced his first wife in his early 20s.
.Paak has endured his fair share of Stygian gloom, has used his misfortune to create wonderfully personal pieces of art and has decided to not sweep the past under a rug. Hence the dot in his name.
In a 2016 interview with NPR .Paak said, "after I came out of my little incubation I promised that I would pay attention to detail. And on top of that, I want to make sure that dot is always there to remind me and to remind others."
I remember the first time that I had a Ferrero Rocher—I was eight years old. It was Christmastime and a family friend brought a box from England. Unwrapping the cellophane and then the gold foil built my excitement for a treat that did not disappoint. Getting to the hazelnut centre was a religious experience.
This sensation would not repeat itself again until I encountered the music of Anderson .Paak. And each time I see that chocolate orb or his name in print, I'm reminded there are pieces of perfection in this world.