I’ll be honest, I was beginning to lose hope. After years of anxious anticipation spent agonizing through project after project, I can finally say: Thundercat made a good album.
Thundercat, the jazzy, funkadelic, bass wielding, To Pimp a Butterfly collaborator released his fourth studio album, It Is What It Is, on April 3. The project contains everything fans have come to love about Thundercat; inexplicably fast bass lines, groovy licks, funky falsettos, jazzy semi-improv, rap, solemn ruminations and humor.
More importantly, many tracks are sonically similar, no songs are nearly as bad as “friend zone,” the atrociously corny track that nearly ruined his previous album- 2017’s Drunk.
It Is What It Is is significantly shorter than Drunk, with 15 tracks spanning 38 minutes. The project is cohesive and succinct but is nonetheless able to evoke numerous emotions, from joy to heartbreak to laughter. Track two, “Interstellar Love” is a swirly constellation of jazz, with minimal singing in the first half giving way to a wonderful saxophone solo that one cannot help but sway to. The lyrics themselves do not reveal much of the song’s subject matter, meaning the title may be a reference to John Coltrane’s posthumously released album, “Interstellar Space.” As referenced above, track three, “I Love Louis Cole,” is incredibly similar to “friend zone.” Both begin with a slowly rising chord before the introduction of the bass line and Thundercat’s semi conversational singing.
Track four, “Black Qualls,” is by far the best song on the entire album. The funky song tapps Steve Lacy of The Internet, Steve Arrington and Childish Gambino for a track groovier than my horribly scratched vinyl collection. On “Black Qualls,” Thundercat’s bass slapping, a rarity for the dread headed musician, is nestled under verses of Thundercat singing alongside each of his collaborators. While Thundercat and Lacy’s falsettos are beautiful, I prefer the more hoarse voice of Steve Arrington. Arrington has verse two all to himself, and his gravely delivery mixes with Thundercat’s silky background vocals in a combination akin to a jar of creamy Skippy spread on crunchy burnt toast. Rather than rapping, Gambino sings, resulting in a verse that sounds like Anderson .Paak doing a cover of Gambino’s “Because of the Internet.”
Track eight, “Overseas” is largely forgettable, but concludes with a skit in which comedian Zach Fox pretends to be a flight attendant noticing Thundercat joining the Mile High Club. The skit also serves to introduce the next song. Track nine, “Dragonball Durag” is not great: it’s sonically redundant and is so disgustingly mixed that I checked my headphones for water damage. Criticisms aside, “Dragonball Durag” is hilarious. The song concerns Thundercat attempting to woo a woman and contains the lyric, “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good,” a line so funny it negates any issues the track has.
The 13th song, “Fair Chance” is an excellent cut featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B. Fair Chance is about the death of Mac Miller, a longtime friend and collaborator of Thundercat. Thundercat croons, “I’ll keep holding you down, Even though you’re not around, so hard to get over it.” Ty Dolla $ign continues his streak of flawless features with a verse interpolating Mac Miller’s “Hurt Feelings.” Lil B’s is also stellar, contributing a semi spoken word rap about mourning. Overall, It is what it Is is great. It’s a concise and well thought out album that despite its flaws, proves Thundercat did not prematurely peak in 2015.