USE FIFTH ON FRONT Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, perform at NPR Music's SXSW Showcase at Stubb's on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 in Austin, Texas. Erika Rich for American-Statesman
Photo: Erika Rich
Photo: Erika Rich

Anderson .Paak talks homelessness, activism ahead of Atlanta benefit concert

When Anderson .Paak won his very first Grammy earlier this year, he called the moment “surreal.” 

“WHAT IS LIFE!??!???!!?” he wrote on Instagram

Nearly 10 years ago, life was different for the R&B star. He was homeless with his wife and infant son, earning little to no cash for his music. With the help of friends and family and his 2016 breakout album “Malibu,” he finally began gaining more recognition for his work.

Now the award-winning artist has three chart-topping projects under his belt along with the resources to give back to those who’ve fallen on hard times as he once did. 

That’s why he’s partnered with the brewing company Modelo and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization that helps refugees, immigrants and Americans in need, for a series of benefit concerts in San Francisco, Brooklyn and Atlanta.

The Atlanta show is at 8 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Variety Playhouse. Tickets are $49, and proceeds will benefit the IRC.

The musician recently chatted with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the upcoming concert, his collaboration and his personal experience with homelessness. 

» RELATED: Anderson .Paak will play Atlanta benefit concert for International Rescue Committee

Q: How did the idea for the benefit concert develop? 

A: I’m so excited to be working with Modelo and the International Rescue Committee. They’re helping refugees as well as immigrants by giving them a fighting chance. I jumped on the board because I really felt like I could I identify with that, because I was out here struggling trying to make a way when I moved to Los Angeles [from Oxnard, California]. I had passion, but I didn’t have a place to stay, transportation, food, counsel or anything. There were people that really helped me out when I needed that.

Q: Why was it important to bring the benefit concert to Atlanta?

A: ATL is super important. I got a lot of roots there from growing up. I used to go out [to Atlanta] for the summer and visit my stepsister. It’s one of the best places to do shows. I always come when we go on tour, and we could not leave them out. 

Q: Describe your relationship with IRC. What has it been like working with them on this project? 

A: It’s been amazing. One of my favorite things has been learning about the people they’ve been working with closely. One of the ladies came straight from Mexico. She is transgender, and she was dealing with all of these different issues that were coming up at the border. I was just blown away. I couldn’t imagine. There were a lot of things working against her, but she’s still out here thriving. 

There was another dude from Africa who told me his story. He told me about coming to America from Africa and working to support his family. He talked about being away from his family and starting one here. 

It’s just dope learning these stories and seeing how much I can relate to them. I think about my mom coming from Korea. My wifey came from Korea. They didn’t have any resources and no family, but they made it happen out here. 

Q: Walk me through your experience with homelessness.

A: I definitely didn’t plan on being homeless. Nobody was really listening to the music, and I wasn’t making money with it. I was broke a lot, and I didn’t really care about it. I just wanted to make my music, travel and get different experiences I could put into my music. I didn’t think like, ‘Oh man! I have to support myself, and I have to figure out how to maintain in Los Angeles.’ I don’t think I even really pushed until I had a family to support. Once I had my son and wife, I started thinking about more than just myself.

When people hear about refugees, immigrants or people that come from other countries, I don’t think they feel a relation to it. Maybe they’re numb. When they hear about people being detained and kids being snatched away from their families, there’s a kind of numbness. I was even numb in a sense until I had a family. They deserved more, and I wanted to push myself to do more. People saw that desire in me and were helping me out. They helped my family out when we didn’t have a spot to stay. It was a blessing to have that. It’s important. 

 Q: You’re so closely related to these topics. You seem like the perfect person to collaborate with.

A: I think there’s a lot of artist and people in general that have different versions of this story. It’s amazing being able to have resources and people that extend a hand and help you bridge to the next destination. It’s dope that they even considered me. 

WATCH VIDEO: Make It Better (ft. Smokey Robinson)


Modelo Fighting Chance Concert Series Presents Anderson .Paak

8 p.m. Nov. 15. $49. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-524-7354,

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About the Author

Najja Parker
Najja Parker
Najja Parker is a writer and online content producer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution