Thundercat is on a mission to take neo soul music to funky new heights. On his new album, It Is What It Is, the talented bassist concocts another blend of avante garde jazz with funky bass lines and dopey humor. Thundercat throws the weirdness of an Adult Swim segment into the webs of contemporary jazz compositions to tell goofy love stories that bring his musical comics to life.
Flying Lotus, longtime collaborator of Thundercat’s, is credited as executive producer on the new album. Flying Lotus, alongside Thundercat and saxophonist Kamasi Washington, are at the forefront of a new wave of jazz/electronic/hip hop fusion – one of the most exciting niches in contemporary music. All three have worked together recently on various projects, and all contributed in a large part to Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly. Here the two are together again, and in typical fashion.
It Is What It Is showcases the lasting impact of Andre 3000’s experimentation on The Love Below – a full 17 years after its release. Look no further than songs like Prototype and My Favorite Things on The Love Below, and you’ll find songs that were way ahead of their time, and that have similar vocal and production styles to some of Thundercat’s most intriguing compositions. Even Thundercat, whose originality is undeniable and whose genre is an intersection, has an aesthetic more like Andre Benjamin than any other great jazz bassist. Unlike Andre 3000, Thundercat doesn’t attempt to be the jack of all trades, but he does succeed in inventing his own recognizable brand of groovy neo soul music.
It Is What It Is offers a more concentrated style, and is also shorter than his previous album, Drunk. It plays out like a romantic fantasy developing in Thundercat’s mind while he’s absent-mindedly playing bass grooves. The lyrics, which are whimsical, goofy, and (mostly) innocent in spirit, may be serendipitous, but they’re memorable – and they set the tone for the entire feel of the album. Here are some of the standouts:
- ‘I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good; Baby, let me know, how do I look in my durag?‘
- ‘Made an oil spill that makes Exxon offended; Then you fell asleep on the laundry in my room’
- ‘Let’s join the mile high club’ (and the proceeding skit with the pilot commenting on Thundercat receiving ‘sloppy toppy’)
- ‘Do the fuckin’ happy dance. Even when you’re really fuckin’ mad’
On It Is What It Is, we get less of everything than we did on 2017’s Drunk. But we do learn more about the life and fantasies of the video game and cartoon-loving bassist. Although sometimes hidden behind his signature quirkiness (or stated drunkenness), at his music’s core is the simple human desire of wanting to love and be loved. Whether it’s wanting that for the night (at the club) or for life is not exactly clear – nor the point.
I Love Louis Cole made our Freezing playlist. Check it out alongside the other top songs of 2020 on our Spotify playlist.