On ‘Bubblin,’ the singer-rapper takes self-confidence to a new level, soundtracking his own hip-hop dominance in the process
There’s a crucial moment in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith where Mace Windu (played by Samuel L. Jackson) tries to arrest a criminal.
In a very un-Samuel L. Jackson move, the jedi master confronts Chancellor Palpatine—a man he has just learned is the evil Sith emperor responsible for a literally galaxy-spanning war. He does this not with his typically Jackson-esque, “kill you now and ask questions later” badassery, but rather with measured civility. The conversation goes like this:
Windu: “In the name of the Galactic Senate of the Republic, you are under arrest chancellor.”
Palpatine: “Are you threatening me, master jedi?”
Windu: “The Senate will decide your fate.”
Palpatine: “I AM THE SENATE.”
Beyond the beautiful, intensely meme-able simplicity of Palpatine’s last line, there’s also a valuable lesson to be learned here: it’s wholly possible to rise above the powers that be—you just have to know what the currency of that power is.
In Star Wars, the currency of power is your influence over the Senate (and your mastery of the Force, and also apparently your Midichlorian count). In Machiavellian politics, it’s the size of your army. In Adam Sandler movies, it’s the loudness of your farts.
In hip-hop, it’s confidence. Rap, a complex and wide-spanning genre, is about a lot more than just flexing, but in a music form that was born out of braggadocio DJ announcements, a little bit of swagger can go a long way.
Anderson .Paak was already nearly the king of confidence (see: this video, wherein he flicks off his sunglasses while finishing a drum solo while also singing with a gospel choir while also convincing a church congregation to sing about smoking weed), but his latest track has elevated him into the swagger stratosphere. On “Bubblin,” Paak’s power is unassailable. He’s above the law. HE IS THE SENATE.
The most compelling thing about Paak’s confidence though? It’s competitive. The track is aggressive in its swagger, and calls out the rest of the rap world in a “seriously, it’s funny how much better than you I am” way that only artists as untouchable as Kendrick or as abrasive as Lil Pump have the courage to be.
“Bubblin” opens like the TV theme for a ’60s superhero show, and Paak flies in with a similar level of undeniable heroism. Once the beat hits, it’s nothing but pure, unadulterated brag-rap, executed to near-perfection. “Look at me, baby, look at me, baby. Don’t I look like a million? I’m ’bout to clean out the safe,” he boasts in the first verse, just lines before telling any would-be challengers exactly which mid-tier hotel chain he’s going to take their mama to.
The track is a complete rhyming showcase, featuring the type of traditional, no-holds-barred flows the Oxnard, California artist has often avoided in previous releases. For someone who so easily thrives as a hook handler or a crooner, it’s refreshing to hear just how good of a rapper Paak really is: his bars are at their tightest, his wordplay its crispest, his references their most absurd.
There’s an ironic undertone to it all, and it’s obvious Anderson .Paak is preaching against the lifestyle his lyrics are promoting. None of this really matters though, because while the words may be satire, the swagger is 100 percent authentic. Paak clearly feels like a million bucks, even if he doesn’t think having a million bucks is necessarily a good thing.
Just take a look at the song’s video, which literally co-stars an ATM. The visuals find Anderson .Paak diving into money pools, swinging from chandeliers and trying on a a lot of very, very fresh outfits. The whole thing is ridiculous, but it has a supreme confidence that comes from a true, powerful (like, Sith lord-level powerful) place.
Paak doesn’t need battle raps. He doesn’t need sneak disses. He doesn’t need Twitter beefs. He’s calling out the rap game just by being himself, by being awesome. And by knowing exactly how much more awesome he is than you.
Anderson .Paak was already a musical weapon—a multi-talented performer who could legitimately do it all. The difference now is that he knows exactly how far those skills can take him. It’s a (SPOILER ALERT) Westworld level of self-awareness that should have other rappers running for their lives before (SPOILER ALERT) this man starts hunting them down while “The Entertainer” plays in the background.
“Bubblin” may not be the best song Anderson .Paak has ever made, but it’s certainly his most intimidating. The track is a promise of what’s to come: it’s a flashy, shamelessly proud anthem from one of the most versatile creators in music right now. It’s like how it would sound if Bruno Mars had Kevin Garnett’s trash talking game.
It’s unclear when exactly Paak’s next project will drop (although he’s said to have two albums due out this year), but when it does the rest of the rap world should be very, very afraid.