In 2016, hip-hop acts that feature a live band are nothing special. In fact, they’ve become almost trendy: Peruse the rap section of a record store or the Billboard Hot 100 and you’ll notice they’ve got a weighty presence in today’s musical landscape.
What separates the acts from one another is how they fare in the live setting. As part of DJ 88’s Pop-Up Live series, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals not only demonstrated a stellar ability to pull off hip-hop numbers, but, like The Roots, they showed-off some multi-genre proficiency. The show began without the band: .Paak stormed the stage with a powerful cypher and the rambunctious “Milk N’ Honey,” which prompted both him and his fans to jump like Michael Jordan. (He’d later refer to the Jumpman while telling a story about how his mother bought him his first pair of Air Jordans during “The Season/Carry Me.). The Oxnard, CA. native then brought out his four compeers for a mosh pit before launching into the hard-hitting trap banger, “Drugs.” The quintet ended the tune with an impromptu jazz number that provided a nice contrast to the former.
.Paak may have donned a stylish navy dad hat, but metaphorically, he wore many. He proved himself a singer, rapper, drummer, dancer and bandleader who excelled in all aspects of his performance, and he effortlessly switched roles like an Energizer bunny high on pre-workout. His sharp hitting cadences hit like bee stings as he flowed over the jazz bounce of “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” and tossed his mic stand during the slow burn of “The Bird.”
And when .Paak wasn’t singing, he was dancing. He did some James Brown-esque shuffling during the upbeat funk of “Luh You,” and his band followed suit (though their moves paled in comparison). And if that wasn’t enough, .Paak hopped on the drums for a good chunk of the set—nailing solos and breaks while singing and rapping during “Put Me Thru” and “Am I Wrong.” The group even paid homage to David Bowie with a slick interpretation of “Let’s Dance,” during the latter to put the cherry on top of a prodigious set. ★★★★★
Photos by Alexander Zayas
Milk N’ Honey
The Season/Carry Me
Put me Thru
Heart Don’t Stand a Chance
Room In Here
Am I Wrong
Suede (NxWorries cover)