ESPN’s The Undefeated today published the first of four chapters of “You Don’t Know the Half of It: The Family That Gave Us Anderson .Paak.”
The Undefeated’s Dwayne Bray initially met musician .Paak and his family as neighbors in Ventura, Calif., in the early 1990s. Then a Los Angeles Times courts reporter, Bray had no idea the attempted-murder case he was covering involved the biological father of his son’s friend and the Brays’ neighbor, .Paak.
The saga has several twists and turns as .Paak has emerged from dire circumstances to become an acclaimed musician who is now collaborating on a project with Bruno Mars. At the 2017 X Games Aspen, .Paak was a headline performer as part of the music festival portion of the winter sports competition.
.Paak has won three Grammy Awards for his previous work and is nominated in two categories for the 63rd edition of the event, which occurs Sunday, March 14.
Bray, an award-winning reporter, editor, and producer with The Undefeated, talks about the long-form music journalism profile of .Paak and his family with Front Row.
How did you get the idea to dive into the family story of .Paak?
In 2014, a producer from National Public Radio’s “This American Life” started asking me about a story called “Brother’s Keeper” that I had written when I was a youngish Los Angeles Times reporter in 1994. That was so long ago I still had hair.
— Anderson .Blacked (@AndersonPaak) March 5, 2021
The story involved 42-year-old twin brothers from Oxnard, Calif. One had replaced the other in jail out there without authorities realizing it. The twin on the lam then strangled his wife within an inch of her life in an attempt to take money.
I found out the twins had been switching places all their lives – on teachers, girlfriends, employers, and even the U.S. Army. At the same time then, my son was 7 and had a close friend in our neighborhood named Brandon Anderson. The friend could really dance and grew up to be Anderson .Paak.
What are some of the challenges you faced in telling this story?
This story had too many good characters and storylines, if that can be a problem. It’s about 18,000-19,000 words. I interviewed more than 100 people and reviewed thousands of pages of public records.
Also, it’s not easy going back to your old neighbors – people you once knew as friends – and asking them why they kept a secret. I was also asking them to go on the record about old family wounds.
But .Paak’s mom, siblings, and his stepdad all cooperated. Unfortunately, .Paak at first decided to cooperate but later backed out.
What are the key messages you want people to take away from .Paak’s story?
This is a story of heartache, coincidence, and triumph. It looked like his music career wasn’t going to pan out. He got regular jobs. He got married and had a child. He, his wife, and his baby were homeless. Now he has three Grammys, so that shows his strength and his perseverance. It also shows how others – like his sisters, his wife’s friends, and the L.A. music community – wouldn’t let him doubt himself.
For more on The Undefeated’s profile of .Paak, visit ESPN PressRoom.
In the video interview excerpt below, ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts asks Brenda Bills, Anderson .Paak’s mother, how her son succeeded in spite of many incredible challenges.