Imagine a Marvin Gaye album. It could be What’s Going On, it could be Let’s Get it On, it could be another album title that ends with “on.” Picture the lush string arrangements, sleek, smooth vocal performances, and ferociously rhythmic bass lines courtesy of James Jamerson. Every note is perfectly arranged, with not a single pitch straying from its rightful place. Now, imagine someone smashing all the instruments together. This is the spirit of Yes Lawd!
Less than a year ago Anderson .Paak and Knxlwedge came together as NxWorries and dropped their Link Up & Suede EP. The collaboration made sense in the way that both artists were up-and-comers in the vast landscape of California hip-hop, and both draw generously from the cultural wells of old school funk and soul.
Things are a little different now. .Paak has had a landmark year, between the release of his breakout LP Malibu, his inclusion in the XXL Freshman Class of 2016, and guest appearances on everything from Schoolboy Q’s Blank Face LP to Taylor McFerrin’s Hiatus Kaiyote remix. Despite a ridiculous back catalog and some serious production chops, Knxwledge remains best known for producing Kendrick Lamar’s “Momma.” Maybe it’s because of their respective trajectories, or their strong musical personalities, but I was expecting Yes Lawd! to feel disjointed and a bit counterintuitive. I was wrong.
This record isn’t just consistent; it’s unified. Every flavor and idea bleeds together, forming globs of sounds that collide and morph into something totally new. Each vignette, be it a skit, song, or beat, is connected to the next by a thin strand of romantic hindsight, the last scratches of an all-but-forgotten Motown ’45.
Knxwledge manages this relay race. The production reminisces, to be sure (“What More Can I Say” has got to be a Funk Brothers instrumental or something) but the sensibilities are distinctly current. The drums, in particular, will be familiar to anyone who’s listened to Flying Lotus or Kaytranada (let alone Dilla.)
In this way, the album’s most prolific singles are exemplary. “Lyk Dis” shuns most of the tropes that link it to a former era, with percussive bleeps cutting through a thick aura of swirling keyboards and strings. “Suede” embraces modernity as well, almost to a fault. The song is rambunctiously sexy and defiant, and if not for Knxlwedge’s trademark swing, it might not feel at home on Yes Lawd!
Still, the most remarkable moments on the album come with the perfect fusion of past present. “Link Up” brings some emphatically rhythmic vocals, which are displaced by wonky bass and drums, making it groove inexplicably. It might be too much in any other producer’s hands, but somehow, the beat is both meticulous and effortless. That bass lick is nice, too.
Yes Lawd! is MC’d not by Anderson .Paak, but rather, a DOOM-esque alter ego obsessed with sex and money. Yeah, that beat might be gentle, but .Paak is about to throw something really nasty over it. “Starlite” teases these ideas as a raunchy parody of a love song, complemented by pulsating harmonies and a pleasant progression. .Paak seems to have the grit that the old school guys lack.
It can’t all be snarl and obscenity, though. There are some fucking hooks on this thing. If you’ve heard Malibu, you get the idea, but maybe not how it’s implemented. While that record sticks to traditional song forms and fully-realized choruses, on Yes Lawd!, .Paak does more to match the ethos of his collaborator. Many of the tracks (like the fantastically silky “Wngs”) revolve around tiny snippets, looped and adjusted to become hypnotically catchy aspects of the beat.
In transitions, .Paak’s bars are replaced as the focal point by skits and snide references, which give the record a tangible personality. There are moments when I legitimately crack up as I’m listening, like on the snarky “H.A.N.” The (surprisingly strong) instrumental eventually dissolves into a skit, during which .Paak selects members of a crowd and beats the shit out of them in a dystopian gospel. The record’s sense of humor, which permeates almost every song and interlude, provides a nice counterbalance to .Paak’s character, and gives NxWorries the license to be as musically sincere as they desire.
Are there moments which fall flat? Of course. Do some of the beats go harder than others? Sure. But I’d argue that the imperfections of Yes Lawd! are what characterize not only both members of NxWorries, but the epoch of music they’re drawing from. The duo has a sound which gives way to a certain jumpiness, as though some other artist is trailing in their wake, about to snatch their style, and they escape from it at the last possible moment. And each time they do, they take a 40 and a handful of spliffs with them.
Written by Preston Fulks