Thundercat has released his new album “It Is What It Is” on Brainfeeder Records. The album, produced by Flying Lotus and Thundercat, features musical contributions from Ty Dolla $ign, Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, BADBADNOTGOOD, Louis Cole and Zack Fox.
“It Is What It Is” follows his game-changing third album “Drunk” (2017). That record completed his transition from virtuoso bassist to bonafide star and cemented his reputation as a unique voice that transcends genre. “This album is about love, loss, life and the ups and downs that come with that,” Bruner says about “It Is What It Is”. “It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but at different points in life you come across places that you don’t necessarily understand… some things just aren’t meant to be understood.”
The tragic passing of his friend Mac Miller in September 2018 had a profound effect on Thundercat and the making of “It Is What It Is”. “Losing Mac was extremely difficult,” he explains. “I had to take that pain in and learn from it and grow from it. It sobered me up… it shook the ground for all of us in the artist community.”
The unruly bounce of new single ‘Black Qualls’ is classic Thundercat, teaming up with Steve Lacy (The Internet) and Funk icon Steve Arrington (Slave). It’s another example of Stephen Lee Bruner’s desire to highlight the lineage of his music and pay his respects to the musicians who inspired him. Discovering Arrington’s output in his late teens, Bruner says he fell in love with his music immediately: “The tone of the bass, the way his stuff feels and moves, it resonated through my whole body.” ‘Black Qualls’ emerged from writing sessions with Lacy, whom Thundercat describes as “the physical incarnate of the Ohio Players in one person – he genuinely is a funky ass dude”. It references what it means to be a black American with a young mindset: “What it feels like to be in this position right now… the weird ins and outs, we’re talking about those feelings…”
Thundercat revisits established partnerships with Kamasi Washington, Louis Cole, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Ronald Bruner Jr and Dennis Hamm on “It Is What Is Is” but there are new faces too: Childish Gambino, Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, plus Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B on ‘Fair Chance’ – a song explicitly about his friend Mac Miller’s passing. The aptly titled ‘I Love Louis Cole’ is another standout – “Louis Cole is a brush of genius. He creates so purely,” says Thundercat “He makes challenging music: harmony-wise, melody-wise and tempo-wise but still finds a way for it to be beautiful and palatable.”
Elsewhere on the album, ‘Dragonball Durag’ exemplifies both Thundercat’s love of humour in music and indeed his passion for the cult Japanese animé. “I have a Dragon Ball tattoo… it runs everything. There is a saying that Dragon Ball runs life,” he explains. “The durag is a superpower, to turn your swag on. It does something… it changes you,” he says smiling.
Thundercat’s music starts on his couch at home: “It’s just me, the bass and the computer”. Nevertheless, referring to the spiritual connection that he shares with his longtime writing and production partner Flying Lotus, Bruner describes his friend as “the other half of my brain”. “I wouldn’t be the artist I am if Lotus wasn’t there,” he says. “He taught me… he saw me as an artist and he encouraged it. No matter the life changes, that’s my partner. We are always thinking of pushing in different ways.”
Comedy is an integral part of Thundercat’s personality. “If you can’t laugh at this stuff you might as well not be here,” he muses. He seems to be magnetically drawn to comedians from Zack Fox (with whom he collaborates regularly) to Dave Chappelle, Eric Andre and Hannibal Buress whom he counts as friends. “Every comedian wants to be a musician and every musician wants to be a comedian,” he says. “And every good musician is really funny, for the most part.” It’s the juxtaposition, or the meeting point, between the laughter and the pain that is striking listening to “It Is What It Is”: it really is all-encompassing. “The thing that really becomes a bit transcendent in the laugh is when it goes in between how you really feel,” Bruner says. “You’re hoping people understand it, but you don’t even understand how it’s so funny ‘cos it hurts sometimes.”
Thundercat forms a cornerstone of the Brainfeeder label; he released “The Golden Age of Apocalypse” (2011), “Apocalypse” (2013), followed by EP “The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam” featuring the modern classic ‘Them Changes’. He was later “at the creative epicenter” (per Rolling Stone) of the 21st century’s most influential hip-hop album Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”, where he won a Grammy for his collaboration on the track ‘These Walls’ before releasing his third album “Drunk” in 2017. In 2018 Thundercat and Flying Lotus composed an original score for an episode of Golden Globe and Emmy award winning TV series “Atlanta” (created and written by Donald Glover).