Before he was Anderson .Paak, Brandon Anderson Paak was Breezy Lovejoy—a ridiculous name, particularly for a modern-day singer and rapper, but there’s also something beautifully old-fashioned to it. The moniker speaks to the basic philosophy that music should heal, that it is rooted in kindness. This belief seems to still be central to the 30-year-old’s character now that he’s Anderson .Paak, recentAftermath signee.
When he shows up to breakfast in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, hungover after performing on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” he relates a horrifying story about his upbringing, the kind that might engulf another person’s life in darkness entirely, but there is no self-pity or rancor in his voice whatsoever.
“My dad went to prison for drug abuse and domestic abuse for beating my mom,” he says, casually,slipping an Alka-Seltzer into his water glass. “The last time I saw him he was on top of her, blood in the streets. I was, like, 7 years old. He did 14 and a half years in prison. The next time I saw him, he was being buried.” His father was a Navy man who was honorably discharged for marijuana and spiraled downward upon his return home: “My mom tried to get into him to rehab, but that didn’t work out. Before we knew it, he felt some type of way about my mom, and eventually decided he wanted to kill her.” He pauses. “My mom says he was an amazing dad, but once the drugs got ahold, he went haywire.”
This story is harrowing, but Paak alludes to it on “The Bird,” from his breakout album Malibu, in the gentlest and most forgiving language possible. “Mama was a farmer/ Papa was a goner,” he sings. (His mother ran a produce business after his father went to jail; she also spent some time in prison for tax-related issues.) Paak, who plugged away quietly for years as a solo artist before Dr. Dre enlisted him to work on his 2015 comeback album Compton, seems preternaturally gifted at extracting positivity from pain.
Anderson .Paak: “The Bird” (via SoundCloud)
“My mom has all the reason to be bitter, but she’s not,” he says. “Even with my pops, she never talked down to me. She just said to watch out for the drugs, because it’s in my blood—my grandfather had the same situation.”
Years of eking out an existence on the margins seems to have steadied him internally. He has prepared for this moment. Years ago, he made a vision board laying out his future accomplishments. “I wanted to be a part of a #1 album, to get record and publishing deals, a car, health insurance, a new place to stay. I wanted to sell 10,000 units. Simple stuff.”
Now he’s done all of the above and more, but he doesn’t seem to be impressed with himself, just relieved. “There was a time where I thought it might not happen, and I was figuring out what I would do instead,” he confides. “I was seeing other people get on, thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’” As a father and a husband, Paak now has an acute sense of his responsibilities. “I really didn’t want to be one of those cynical dudes in L.A. who just hates everything,” he says. “I was not going to be a deadbeat musician; maybe I would just be a dad, eat what I want and get fat, be domesticated Brandon.” It didn’t come to that, but it’s clear his family never leaves his mind. There is a wolf ring on his left ring finger, a substitution for a wedding band that speaks to his essence. “I’m still a wolf,” he deadpans, “but a tame wolf.”