Thundercat delivers fun, introspective funk on new album

Leo Friedman

Jazz funk virtuoso Thundercat combines hip-hop, jazz and funk music to produce an eclectic and enjoyable listening experience. The face behind Thundercat, Stephen Lee Bruner, released his new album, “It Is What It Is,” on April 3. 

The album, Thundercat’s fourth full-length project, has a wide range of love songs, existential musings and a few humorous tracks relating to how he explores the ups and downs of life.

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Thundercat worked with a number of collaborators, including Kamasi Washington, BADBADNOTGOOD and Childish Gambino. Flying Lotus, Thundercat’s co-producer and longtime collaborator, told Billboard that the album was largely influenced by Mac Miller, a longtime friend of Thundercat’s, who recently passed away.

The album starts off with a short, dreamy track titled “Lost in Space / Great Scott / 22-26,” with the fitting lyrics, “Hi, hello/ Is anybody there?/ Let me know if you can hear me/ It feels so cold and so alone.” This song is a perfect opener to an album filled with contemplation and philosophy. This track appears to echo Thundercat’s mental state, as he reaches the end of the song singing “breathe for me.”

“I Love Louis Cole” is a song dedicated to Thundercat’s friend Louis Cole. The song also features Cole and is a great upbeat banger dedicated to Thundercat and Cole’s friendship, with a fast drum beat from Cole and Thundercat harmonizing over his own lyrics in the background.

Following “I Love Louis Cole,” is “Black Qualls,” featuring Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington and Childish Gambino. This funky jam feels like it is straight out of the ’70s — in a good way. While it is a generally positive song about overcoming paranoia, Childish Gambino’s verse touches on a scary reliance on technology, with him singing, “We don’t talk, then we feel safe/ Each one of us with tiny, tiny, tiny screens.”

Thundercat’s bass prowess is on display on the short track “How Sway,” which features a bass lead and keyboard background. This fast-paced track is a nice change of pace from some of the slower lyrical songs. A classic Thundercat instrumental piece is always appreciated.

It Is What It Is,” can be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music.

“Funny Thing” is one of the few songs on the album that falls a little flat. The dreamy synths on the track are nice, but the song is a bit boring, with a repetitive chorus of the phrase “But I just wanna party with you.” It is a simple but uninspired love song in the middle of some pretty heavy tracks, although some listeners might appreciate the change of pace.

“I feel kind of fly standin’ next to you/ Baby girl, how do I look in my durag,” Thundercat sings on “Dragonball Durag,” a quirky song about unconditional love. This funky, bass-heavy song is playful, with Thundercat referencing some of his favorite things, like the Dragon Ball anime franchise. The incongruity of video games in a song about love is just flat out fun.

“How I Feel” is a psychedelic track filled with meandering keys, xylophones and guitars, featuring the single lyric “How I feel/ Is this real?” At a little more than a minute long, this short song goes deeper than one would expect, showing us Thundercat’s fragile mental state and perfectly fitting the album’s theme of life’s ups and downs.

“King Of The Hill,” a previously released single featuring BADBADNOTGOOD, is a mix of lo-fi music and soul. The song explores Thundercat’s inner mind. BADBADNOTGOOD adds their signature jazzy lo-fi blurry-sounding style as Thundercat sings the chorus, “A king in his castle/ A king of the hill/ Wasting his time/ Chasing cheap thrills/ He knows it’s gonna cost him/ God knows how much.”

The next song, “Unrequited Love,” was written for the anime seriesCarole & Tuesday” and is about loving someone who doesn’t love you back. One can’t help but feel the pain of unrequited love when listening to Thundercat sing soulfully on this melancholy keyboard and string filled track. Thundercat’s iconic bass riffing still shows up at the end to add an ominous ending to the track.

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The final and titular track is a slow guitar- and bass-heavy song that pays tribute to Miller. You can hear the pain in Thundercat’s voice as he sings, “After all is said and done/ And I’m all alone/ When I sit back and reflect/ From a broken heart.” However, the song ends with a lengthy upbeat and fast-paced instrumental and guitar section reminiscent of Thundercat and Miller’s collaborations in the past, showing that their bond is eternal.

“It Is What It Is” is a terrific exploration by Thundercat of the twists and turns of life, framed by his trademark esoteric sound and featuring some great musical contributions from his friends.

Score: 9/10

Best songs: “I Love Louis Cole,” “Black Qualls,” “Dragonball Durag,” “It Is What It Is”

Worst song: “Funny Thing”

Leo Friedman can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @leofriedman13