When Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars revealed “Leave The Door Open” as the lead single from their debut album An Evening with Silk Sonic back in March, it prompted a sigh of relief from their respective fanbases. The former was further showcasing his prophetic soul and R&B capabilities; the latter was proving to naysayers that he possesses ingenuity of his own. Over the years, Mars has been accused of cultural appropriation and capitalizing on Black aesthetics to further his career. This all came to a head at the 2017 Grammy Awards, where 24K Magic beat out Jay-Z’s 4:44 for Album of the Year.
In an interview on The Breakfast Club earlier this year, Mars directly addressed the criticism, stating: “The only reason why I’m here is because of James Brown, is because of Prince, Michael [Jackson] … that’s it. This music comes from love and if you can’t hear that, then I don’t know what to tell you.” Mars has always praised the legends who have come before him and undeniably shaped his discography. However, as half of Silk Sonic, his claims finally feel valid.
As a solo artist, Mars has indulged in the absurdity of chasing pop perfection (“Grenade”) and using clunky, heavy-handed metaphors (“Perm”). But he’s hit his creative stride by partaking in this formidable duo. An Evening with Silk Sonic masterfully blends Mars’ confectionary vocal stylings with .Paak’s feverish energy and unfettered cool. It’s clear as day on the aforementioned “Leave The Door Open,” where .Paak’s salacious chants are smoothed over by Mars’ sultry crooning.
“Smokin Out The Window,” which features an introduction from the one and only Bootsy Collins, contains more playful lyricism that borders on parody (“Must’ve spent 35, 45 thousand up in Tiffany’s / Got her badass kids runnin’ round my whole crib like it’s Chuck E. Cheese”), but is saved by the duo’s hyperbolic execution. Luckily, elsewhere on the album, we are treated to more complex artistry that does, in fact, serve as a tribute to the greats. Both men are channeling their inner James Brown with a modern edge on “Fly As Me,” where .Paak takes over the rhyming, declaring, “Silk Sonic smooth like a mack / Float like a butterfly on every single track,” while he and Mars team up for a simplistic but bold chorus.
“After Last Night,” which also features Collins and Thundercat, is a classic R&B love song reminiscent of early-’90s throwback jams a la Mint Condition and Jodeci. The disco soundscapes on “Skate” could have easily felt tired and redundant, but are reimagined with enough feel-good percussion and cheesy one-liners directed at a love interest (“You smell better than a barbeque”) to glisten and shine. Mars takes center stage on the emotive “Put On a Smile,” while .Paak rattles off slick boasts over funky basslines on “777.”
An Evening with Silk Sonic works because these two artists know how to complement each other extraordinarily well. Hopefully, down the line, they will work to reinvent the wheel instead of merely paying homage to it. But in the meantime, the world should just enjoy the pithy musings of this lively pair.
Candace McDuffie is a culture writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Rolling Stone, MTV, NBC News, and Entertainment Weekly. You can follow her on Instagram @candace.mcduffie.