‘It Is What It Is,’ Mac Miller, Gaming

Many of the notable hip-hop, soul, jazz, and funk records of the last decade and a half share a common fingerprint. The nexus joining the intricate grooves of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and To Pimp a Butterfly, Kamasi Washington’s Heaven and Earth and The Epic, Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah diptych, Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer, and records by Mac Miller, Flying Lotus, Childish Gambino, Travis Scott, Kali Uchis, Jhené Aiko, Moses Sumney, and many more is the fleet six-string fretwork of bassist, producer, and singer-songwriter Stephen Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat. Thundercat plays notes like pregnant clouds spill sheets of rain. The riffs are dense but also affecting, spacey without ever losing sight of the ground. Thundercat songs are virtuosic, but also playful in the same way that classic funk records marry elite musicianship with carefree moods and relatable themes. His new album, It Is What It Is, out Friday, is light and uplifting, pushing back at a passing darkness like the first breezy spring days after winter breaks.

I met Thundercat on a crisp February day on the Lower East Side to talk about the new album. What followed was a sprawling conversation about anime, comedy, loss, sobriety, and the ways these threads are braided into his fourth album. We touched on life changes in the wake of losing Mac Miller, the long-lasting musical partnership he has maintained with Flying Lotus, the then-looming threat of the coronavirus (his tour with openers Guapdad 4000 and Teejayx6 has joined the long list of cancellations), the pitfalls of remastering old art for modern sensibilities, and the wonderfully weird future of swag rap.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.