Published Apr 02, 2020There is perhaps no better album with which to face our current uncertainty than Thundercat's It Is What It Is. Filled with gentle reflections on love and loss, mixed in with the star bassist's signature sense of humour and funky beats, it is exactly the record the world needed. While many musicians have faced a difficult decision to push back new material, Thundercat (aka Stephen Bruner) has enthusiastically counted down to his April 3 release.
It Is What It Is, co-produced by Bruner's longtime friend and collaborator Flying Lotus, is a spectacular followup to 2017's critically acclaimed Drunk. Not to say we expected anything different; Bruner's virtuoso talent speaks for itself — the L.A. native has released three solo albums, won a Grammy for his work on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, composed for Donald Glover's Atlanta, and collaborated with countless high-profile artists, including Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg. Nevertheless, navigating the sudden and tragic death of his best friend, Mac Miller, was not something he could have prepared for.
"Losing Mac was extremely difficult," he explains in the presser. "I had to take that pain in and learn from it and grow from it. It sobered me up… it shook the ground for all of us in the artist community."
The sense of loss is palpable, especially on the track "Fair Chance," which was written with Mac in mind. Its sombre reflection on grief is a touching tribute to those lost too soon, and provides some kind of space for healing to take place. But even in the face of extreme pain, Thundercat has always found solace in humour. "If you can't laugh at this stuff you might as well not be here," he says. The best example being single "Dragonball Durag," an homage to Bruner's lifelong love of the Japanese anime, which boasts such lyrical gems as "I may be covered in cat hair / But I still smell good."
Featuring musical contributions from Ty Dolla $ign, Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, BADBADNOTGOOD, Louis Cole and Zack Fox, It Is What It Is hosts an impressive roster of talent to complement Bruner's innate genius. Drawing on the styles of musicians who have inspired him, like Arrington, Bruner continues to excel in his ability to bring together diverse genres and styles, such as funk, jazz, R&B, soul and electronic. "This album is about love, loss, life and the ups-and-downs that come with that," Bruner says. "It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but at different points in life you come across places that you don't necessarily understand… some things just aren't meant to be understood."
In this way, It Is What It Is manifests as a beautiful ebb and flow of emotional states, philosophical musings and plain old comedy. It doesn't drown itself in existential dread or proffer any clear-cut solutions, but just exists on its own plane. The line "it is what it is," oft repeated over the course of the album, becomes ingrained as a modern-day mantra of sorts. At the end of the day, all you can do is follow along to Thundercat's falsetto and "do the happy dance / even if you're not alright." (Brainfeeder)