By Megan Barbera
Thundercat is music’s “inside outsider.” Working with Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, Erykah Badu, Mac Miller and dozens of other big names has made him an established bassist, singer/songwriter, and producer in the music industry, but there is still a cloud of mystery and unpredictability that surrounds him as a musician, making the release of his own work feel like a wild card.
Thundercat’s sound feels like a trip through the clouds.
He plays the bass like a painter constructing a picture; creating intricate and dreamy stories through an emotional and lighting-fast stringing of notes.
His uniquely sweet-sounding vocals and humorous songwriting blend seamlessly with his bass abilities, and I find him to be one of the most innovative and impactful musicians of our time.
His latest studio album, “It Is What It Is” (IIWII) released on April 3. Produced by critically acclaimed producer, Flying Lotus, the album features the likes of Ty Dolla Sign, Childish Gambino, Louis Cole, Steve Lacey, and Lil B.
The first aspect of the album that struck me was the clear influence of the late Mac Miller throughout the entire discography. Thundercat and Miller were a well known dynamic duo, notably appearing together on Miller’s Tiny Desk Concert in 2018.
When Miller passed in September 2018, Thundercat said in an interview with Vulture Magazine, that he took a step back, quit drinking and made some life changes. “IIWII” appears to be an embodiment of his mentality change, and his acceptance of the inability to change the past.
He described the album, in an interview with NPR, as a “goodbye” to Miller. The lyrics to “Fair Chance” the notable tribute track to Miller featuring Ty Dolla Sign and Lil B, show the clear pain Thundercat has endured to accept the death of his close friend, with the hook singing
“I keep holding you down// even though you’re not around // so hard to get over it// I’ve tried to get under it”.
While Mac Miller references and influences are spread throughout the whole discography, the album as a whole tells different narratives aside from that, taking the listener through a diverse musical journey of love, humor, uncertainty, and pain.
The first two tracks, “Lost In Space” and “Interstellar Love” provide an intergalactic, soft introduction to Thundercat’s world. The tempo of both songs is slower, and the tracks are guided by the bass and Lotus Flowers experimental production.
Towards the middle of “Interstellar Love,” the bass picks up and a minute-long instrumental of drums and saxophone take the tracklist to a different speed, that leads into the next track “I Love Louis Cole,” an upbeat and speedy pick-up.
The next few songs take a funkier, 80’s-inspired sound, with a stand out track being “Black Qualls” featuring Steve Lacey, Steve Arrington, and Childish Gambino.
The track sounds like it could be an intro to an 80’s comedy movie, with heavy neo-funk influence. This sound carries throughout songs “Overseas” and “Funny Thing” as well, but Thundercat has a way of utilizing similar styles in his tracklists, without ever making a single song sound the same as another.
Thundercat’s iconic songwriting humor comes out during “Dragonball Durag,” a track that simply tells a story of a man getting a new durag, and trying to get girls while wearing it. The music video for the track encapsulates the song’s energy perfectly, filmed like a high school video production class project, and featuring Quinta, Kali Uchi and the girls of Haim.
The final six tracks seem like a reflection- “How I Feel” feels like an unearthly introduction into the darker parts of Thundercat’s mind. The second to last track “Existential Dread” is just under a minute but manages to relay the message of the entire album- that the bad things in life, such as death, heartbreak, and conflict, are inevitable.
“IIWII,” tells a story of dealing with a loss, and all the moving parts that come with it. There are deeply emotional aspects of this album, and also strings of pure humor and trolling.
I believe in the current times we are in, this album is what listeners need. A story of grief, comedy and the ultimate acceptance of the inescapable. “IIWII” encapsulates Thundercat as an artist, and his multifaceted talent to be so much, but nothing at the same exact time.