‘American Treasure’ Anderson .Paak: ‘Best Teef’ & Show In The Game

Anderson .Paak
Israel Ramos
– Anderson .Paak
cover of Pollstar’s June 10, 2019 issue.
Before headlining Madison Square Garden Arena May 30, Anderson .Paak tried to get in the zone, spending time by himself and “doing a lot of visualizing.” Then he took a shot of tequila and hit the stage. 
“I was pretty nervous,” .Paak says the day after the sold-out gig. “I just wanted to play the best show I could possibly play and get it done. But when I was on stage I was having moments, just looking at the crowd, thinking, ‘Wow! How did we get here? This is crazy.’”
The New York arena is a stop on the “Best Teef In The Game Tour” – the polymath performer’s biggest tour yet, featuring amphitheater dates across the continent including the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colo., and a few other arena shows including the 17,500-capacity Forum in Inglewood, Calif. 
.Paak and his longtime backing band The Free Nationals have gotten here thanks to their incendiary live show, delivering an energetic blend of funk, hip-hop, R&B and soul, with the charming .Paak on drums and vocals. He’s put in time on the road, including as support for Bruno Mars and J. Cole, and has made the rounds on the festival circuit and played plenty of smaller venues. Three years ago, the 33-year-old artist, born Brandon Paak Anderson, was pulling in grosses such as $22,135 at Boston’s 953-capacity Paradise Rock Club. Today, word on this phenomenal fusionist is spreading like wildfire.  
“It’s true musicianship,” says Full Stop Management’s Jeffrey Azoff. “What he’s doing is really refreshing, He’s about to sell out [arenas] without a pop radio hit, just based off the fact that he’s that good of a performer.”   
CAA’s Caroline Yim, who books .Paak with Zach Iser, saw something special in .Paak the first time she caught him live in February 2014, eight months before he’d even released Venice, his debut studio album as Anderson .Paak. (He’d previously put out two mixtapes and an EP in the early ‘10s as Breezy Lovejoy.)  
“Once I saw his live performance it was over – I was blown away,” Yim says. “He performed at The Lyric [Theatre]. There were probably 100 people in the room. He turned that whole crowd up. He sang, he danced, he jumped on the drums and he was still singing, he jumped back in the crowd. The energy was insane; he had the whole room dancing. … I knew right then and there, ‘Oh, he’s outta here.’” 
Anderson .Paak
Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images / Coachella
– Anderson .Paak
But .Paak’s ascent wasn’t immediate. “I knocked on a lot of doors and asked everyone to book him or have him support,” Yim said. .Paak’s team took the slow and steady course, making sure he was playing “the right rooms with the right ticket prices, while at the same time focusing on expanding his audience through festivals.” 
Meanwhile, .Paak’s studio work was ramping up. After Dr. Dre came across .Paak’s music and invited him to appear on his 2015 album, Compton, giving him cred and a boost to his career, .Paak released his sophomore album, 2016’s Malibu, to critical acclaim. The release cemented .Paak’s sound, while covering deeply personal topics, from growing up with a dad in prison to .Paak’s struggles to make it in the music business and provide for his own family as a young husband and father who found himself homeless after losing his job at a marijuana farm. 
After Malibu, .Paak maintained his momentum through collaborations with Chance The Rapper, Mac Miller, and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and an appearance on the “Black Panther” soundtrack. 
He also teamed up with Knxwledge for the side project NxWorries. In February he picked up a Grammy for Best Rap Performance for the single “Bubblin.”  
.Paak, in prolific Prince-like funky fashion, now has two new albums to show off – the rap-centric, gritty Oxnard and the soulful, “pretty” Ventura, released within five months of each other on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment and the new Apple-backed 12 Tone (launched last year by Doug Morris and run by Steve Bartels). 
Executively produced by Dr. Dre, the releases pay tribute to the Southern California beach towns that raised him as he memorized and performed rap songs for his friends at school and learned to play drums at a Baptist church. 
“With Oxnard I wanted it to be one sound – ambitious, hip-hop, rapping – sitting in a new car with the best in the business, excess, having a good-ass time. That’s one side of my personality,” .Paak says of the LP with appearances by Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg and Q-Tip.
“With Ventura I wanted to reflect on the things that are important – mending my relationship, love. I wanted to mix [in] some sweet on Ventura. I wanted to make a song I could play in the White House. … I wanted to challenge myself in different ways with each album.” 
A week before Oxnard’s November 2018 release, .Paak signed with Full Stop Management.
“They brought me in the office. Irving [Azoff, co-founder of Oak View Group, Pollstar’s parent company] was in there, Jeffrey [Azoff], Damien [Smith], and Anna [Savage]. And it was just like, ‘Whatever you wanna do, the sky is the limit. How can we help?’” .Paak says. 
“It wasn’t something where we met and they were trying to have me sign shit right away. … They seemed like they could help me get to another level and I liked that they were thinking big. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about Madison Square Garden or the Forum or anything like that but they were pushing me. … They made me more ambitious.” 
For Full Stop, signing .Paak was a no-brainer. 
“Who wouldn’t want to be involved? Anderson is an American treasure,” Jeffrey Azoff says. “That’s the easiest way to describe him, both as a performer, an artist, a writer – all of it and most importantly, as a human being, I can’t say enough nice things about the man.”
Adds Savage, “I’d seen him at multiple festivals prior to working with him and was impressed by his musicianship and his ability to entertain the crowd. …  I think it’s the best live show you can see right now.” 
Natasha Moustache/Getty Images
– Anderson
Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals perform at Boston Calling Music Festival May 25.
When Full Stop started working with .Paak the goal was “to get people used to seeing him as a prolific performer in his own environment.” He adds that Yim was a big voice in saying he had done a lot across the world, but it was time to headline.  
The team strategically booked a 25-date outing in North America and Europe in early 2019 that they knew would be more of an underplay, with stops including San Francisco’s Masonic and The Fillmore Detroit, followed by the bigger “Best Teef In The Game.” 
“That was intentionally to catch up with how big his stature was,” Azoff says. “And, importantly, not skip a step.” 
After .Paak called Azoff and said he and funk bass virtuoso Thundercat wanted to hit the road together, Lesley Olenik, VP of Touring for Live Nation’s US Concerts division, brainstormed with Yim to figure out who else would complement the “Best Teef In The Game” tour, coming up with support slots for Earl Sweatshirt, Mac DeMarco, Noname and Jessie Reyez. 
The tour is presented by .Paak’s charity organization .Paak House, which uplifts, engages and supports the underprivileged through music, education and spiritual wellness.
In addition to .Paak’s natural charisma as a frontman – complete with that winning smile and raspy vocals that manage to be both smooth and playful – a big part of his appeal is his connection with The Free Nationals, featuring guitarist Jose Rios, keyboardist Ron Tnava Avant, bassist Kelsey Gonzalez and percussionist Callum Connor. 
“Me and the band, that’s family,“ .Paak says. “We’ve got real chemistry, we’ve been playing for 10 years-plus. They say [The Free Nationals] are like bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, Parliament Funkadelic, James Brown. This is the kind of show they would be doing if they could do it in the modern age, that’s what we’re pulling from. It’s like a real soul, funk, acid trip; even a rock show in a sense.” 
.Paak notes that while he didn’t feel like anyone could outplay the band, his shows had lacked a compelling visual aspect. He’s had fun developing the production with his team, including Brian Roettinger, art director and creative director at WP&A. 
“I’m very particular. I wish that sometimes I could walk away but every little detail on the production, on the music side, I just have to be involved,” .Paak says. 
 “We rack our brains, every part of the show we want to be amazing. I’m thinking, ‘Damn, if I was watching the show, what would I want to see?’ I lose sleep over it. The show is everything; it’s my baby.”
Anderson .Paak
Israel Ramos
– Anderson .Paak
To ensure .Paak doesn’t get lost on stage when he’s behind the drum kit, the production team designed a set for “Biggest Teef In The Game” that makes him the center focus, with the drums on an 8-foot hydraulics system that raises, then lowers when he’s not playing. 
“It acts as a big sort of reveal, almost like he’s coming up from the ground,” Roettinger says of the show’s opening, in which fans can hear the drums but can’t see .Paak until the stage rises. He compares it to a simplified version of Parliament Funkadelic’s Mothership. 
“A lot of the [visual] content has to do with the ocean and water and sun and light and dark,” Roettinger says, explaining that the beach-town references on Ventura, Oxnard and Malibu provided an obvious visual theme.  
And as much as the audience is having fun, so is .Paak. 
“It’s a jungle gym on that stage, running up and down the stairs, trying not to get singed by pryo, and crowd surfing and guitar solos, drum solos,” he says. “It’s the show you dream of when you’re a kid.”
Azoff says this is just the beginning: “We think he belongs in arenas and will be in arenas everywhere soon – not just the three markets.”  
Olenik adds, “You can see that his fanbase is growing because there’s so many different types of people attending his show. It’s kind of all over the map, which is exciting because that just shows he’s going to be around for a while and we can keep putting him in bigger rooms.”