NxWorries was my first exposure to both Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge last year. The disorienting groove of “Suede” had just worked its way into Dr. Dre‘s ear, which led to the start of .Paak’s rise on Compton. Knxwledge’s production was sample heavy and warm like Madlib‘s but prepared on a bed of gospel and soul that unearthed a Gil-Scott Heron classic. And .Paak’s world-weary vocals about grits and Marvin Gaye 8-tracks soared over the beat. But one part of the song that always bothered me was the chorus:
“If I call you a bitch, it’s cause you’re my bitch/And as long as no one else call you a bitch, then there won’t be no problems”
Hearing such a wild sentiment being screamed by myself and fans left me feeling uncomfortable, as it did when I really began to dig into the misogyny of the soul/R&B from my dad’s generation; but the song still got rotation a full year after the fact. Plus, I figured that this would be an isolated incident across whatever project they decided to release in the future. But I was wrong.
Yes Lawd! (dropped as an Apple Music exclusive on October 14 before finding its way everywhere else a week later) is many things: a trunk-knocking sing-song odyssey; a team effort from two artists at the top of their games from a label who knows how to pick ’em; quintessential cookout music; a love letter to fedoras, Cutlasses, and hoe ass niggas. It’s also disarmingly shallow in its misogyny.
Like, misogynist as fuck.
This isn’t me telling you that you shouldn’t listen to Yes Lawd! because the music itself is absolutely worth your time. .Paak’s voice is still an exemplar of modern soul and Knxwledge’s years of work with Noname, Homeboy Sandman, Kendrick Lamar and his still growing Bandcamp beat tape library have come full circle. But face palm inducing lines like “Tenderoni, taking all of my time/It’s the power of the P-U-S-S-Y” on this album send the same shivers up my spine that Lupe Fiasco‘s “Bitch Bad,” YG‘s “She Wish She Was,” and James Brown‘s “It’s A Man’s World” did when I first heard them. Even taking away the offensive nature of some of these lines, songs on Yes Lawd! come across as straight lazy from a lyrical standpoint in a genre where objectifying women is well-worn territory.
.Paak’s and Knxwledge are such a stunning team that a lot of this is overlooked but still felt by many. As a man, innate sexism like that is something I can’t even imagine, but it still flows through Ain’t Shit bars on songs like “Starlite” (“I wish I was Prince Charming, but this is not the fairy tale/Bitch, Cinderella’s boring“) and tweets like this:
And if you think that’s bad, the most trifling song isn’t even a full song. “Jodi” is a musical interlude located near the end of the project that may or may not be about .Paak lusting after a member of a record label’s marketing team, which is wild disrespectful if true. It’s enough to make me look back at some of his features on songs by GoldLink and ScHoolboy Q a little differently, especially knowing that he’s capable of so much more. There’s shades of misogyny on Malibu, but the “theatrically brash” lyrics on Yes Lawd! might make even Chris Brown blush. There is a lack of nuanced perspective that songs like “Without You” featuring Rapsody brought to the table and it’s glaring.
Musically NxWorries’ Yes Lawd! sounds fantastic and no one can take that away from them. At its best, the humor of “H.A.N.,” the humility of songs like “Khadijah” and “Best One,” and the endearing funk of the whole production makes this an excellent slice of new age soul/rap fusion. But amid the debate kicked up from Betsy McCaughey conflating apples and oranges with Donald Trump and rappers, Yes Lawd! doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And whether it’s with this album or not, this is a conversation that needs to be had.