Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge Turn Pain Into Pleasure on NxWorries’ ‘Why Lawd?’: Album Review

Deep in the second act of NxWorries’ sophomore album, “Why Lawd?,” Anderson .Paak has an epiphany: Maybe monogamy isn’t so bad after all. “I know I said that I cannot choose one / But I’m starting to think you could be all I need,” he enunciates over rapid drum programming. “Girl, I believe you are my one and only.” It’s a low bar for romance, sure, but for the 38-year-old singer/rapper it’s a step in the direction of maturity — even if the breakthrough seems too late to save his songbook love jones.

Things seldom get more sentimental on the aforementioned reunion release from NxWorries, .Paak’s collaborative unit with producer Knxwledge. The stellar, long-awaited project more often deals with the mess left behind from the philandering of 2016’s beloved Yes Lawd!, a portrait of a playboy indulging in newfound stardom and the many, many women who want a piece of him.

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In the eight years since, .Paak’s stock has skyrocketed. He joined forces with Bruno Mars in 2021 to form Silk Sonic, reviving retro soul on “An Evening With Silk Sonic” and nabbing four Grammys and a No. 1 single in the process with “Leave the Door Open”. The following year, he shared the Super Bowl Halftime Show stage with Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige and other music icons. Yet the success has clearly come with a personal price tag. The title “Why Lawd?” says it all: What better occasion to invoke a higher power than to do so while sorting through the rubble of one’s life?

Heartache is the album’s narrative throughline, and .Paak takes listeners through a relationship that’s fissured beyond repair. (His January motion for divorce from singer Jae Lin, his wife of 13 years, is presumably an inspiration.) The groovy duet “Where I Go” sets the tone, with Anderson owning up to his “terrible” ways and H.E.R. depicting how infidelity can transform a once-trusting lover into a helicopter spouse. The Thundercat-guested “KeepHer” reverses roles, with .Paak expressing suspicion as only he would. “Phone off, you said you was sleep / I know you was getting your cheeks beat!” he croons, laying his buttery voice over a guitar-laden backdrop that would sound right at home in A Tribe Called Quest’s catalog. By the time the old-school R&B slow jam “FromHere” rolls around, all that’s left are memories—and all of .Paak’s clothes piled on the front doorstep.

Make no mistake: Despite the loss and longing that course through the 44-minute runtime, this is a feel-good affair with ridiculous replay value, thanks in large part to the sample-flipping prowess of Knxwledge. He moves seamlessly from Pharcyde-esque chillhop (“MoveOn”) to Paisley Park two-stepper (“Daydreaming”), with a proficiency that recalls fellow crate-digging senseis like J Dilla and Madlib. “Distractions” employs a gorgeous collage of strings, chimes and brass for .Paak to paint a vivid backstage vignette, while “86Sentra” channels ’90s G-funk with irresistibly head-nodding results. Knxwledge is not above going back to the well of past work, either — understandable for a creator of his prolificacy. For “SheUsed,” he revisits J. Kelly and the Premiers’ 1973 track “She Calls Me Baby,” which he previously looped for his 2019 Musiq Soulchild remix project, “Musiq, Pt. 1.” Here, the ethereal sample sounds more crisp despite all vocals — .Paak’s included — being pitched-up as if a helium bong was in rotation. It’s one of the album’s most enjoyable and sophisticated chops.

“Why Lawd?” thrives when the lyrics rise to the level of the production. The period in .Paak’s moniker symbolizes detail, and as a songwriter it’s one of his superpowers. His weed is “Luigi green.” His soothing beverage of choice is “tea with the honey from New Zealand.” Instead of shaving, he’s “running a razor across my godly jaw.” On the seductive “FallThru,” he makes time for a tryst, itemizing and disregarding each would-be scheduling conflict.

.Paak has an emcee’s penchant for storytelling, and it’s most effective when wielded autobiographically, as he does over rich church organs on “HereIAm” and the neo-soul bounce of “Battlefield.” On the former, he vividly recalls lurking an ex’s social media activity and dodging disappointed family and friends who remind him that he fumbled a good woman… again. But as a listener, it’s hard to feel sympathy for someone whose means of grieving a relationship is calling his curvy, college-aged rebound “dumb as a brick with shitty music tastes.” His crass lyrics can sometimes skew chauvinistic (see: “Malibu”’s “Silicon Valley,” Silk Sonic’s “Smoking Out the Window,” large swathes of “Yes Lawd!”), which is unfortunate because it undermines his brilliance as an artist. Here, it’s an indication that perhaps he has more growing to do.

Still, at the very least, .Paak appears to be self-aware, even if he’s a work in progress. He rhymes about survivor’s guilt and emotional unavailability and witnessing “things that would make a man crazy.” It’s a level of candor that helps make “Why Lawd?” such an intriguing listen, despite a couple snippet-length fillers toward its back half. Yet on the penultimate “WalkOnBy,” which features a delightfully tangled Earl Sweatshirt guest verse, .Paak offers one of the most introspective one-liners on the whole album: “Evеrybody got a therapist, I’d rather get high.” It’s a reminder that knowing better does not always mean doing better — which just might be the most hard-hitting realization of all.

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