Review: Thundercat – It Is What It Is


Whenever you think of the record label Brainfeeder, you think of two names: the first one obviously being its founder Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus, and the other one is another man named Steve — or in this case, Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat. A versatile musician who dabbles in many genres from jazz fusion, R&B, funk and even crossover thrash considering his past with the band Suicidal Tendencies. Three albums in (and including production work/collabs with artists like Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino and the late Mac Miller), he returns this year with his 4th album, It is What It Is, which was already previewed with a few singles like “Black Qualls” (the single version) and of course, the one that attracted all the weebs: “Dragonball Durag”.

So what it is with It is What it is?

Instrumentally, everything I heard from the album is beautiful. I just love that about whenever I hear something from Thundercat. It begins like a grand space opera with “Lost in Space // Great Scott // 22-26” as he goes on about his mental state and how he’s feeling lost and alone, but he knows that he’s never alone out there. “Innerstellar Love” continues that mood with this jazz-infused cosmic sound, and that includes a sweet saxophone solo from Kamasi Washington.

I know I’m always mentioning that some particular songs sound like an anime theme, but I got to say it again for “I Love Louis Cole” as its fast-paced tone carries that feeling, and yes it features Louis Cole as well. Now I mentioned “Black Qualls” as a single earlier, but the album version here includes a verse from Childish Gambino, and his verse has something to do with technology and being watched.

We don’t talk, then we feel safe
Each one of us with tiny, tiny, tiny screens
I’ve been runnin’, I’ve been runnin’ like a soul, woo
Sweatin’ on ’em, now the beat gon’ breathe
But I keep hearin’
Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop (Tell you what)
Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop (Can’t even imagine)
Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop (Whatever I feel is real)
Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop, yeah, ayy, hey (It does not matter, I mean it)

Remember when I said there were some other singles before this?

Well, there were a couple before the official album announcement, the first one being “King of the Hill” featuring BADBADNOTGOOD which was a part of the Brainfeeder X collection back in 2018. That song still hits every time I listen to it, from its dreamy intro to the funky instrumentation, and the other one that I’ve been wanting to hear the full version of ever since it came out is “Unrequited Love.” That was the soundtrack piece he wrote for the anime Carole & Tuesday last year, with Thundercat being the singing voice of one of the characters Skip, going on about how he’s not over someone he used to love. Having seen Carole & Tuesday (and reviewed it, the show is awesome BTW), it was obvious that Skip and Crystal were a thing before.

There’s also one topic that Thundercat isn’t going to leave off: his departed homie Mac Miller. “Fair Chance” is how when Mac passed, the whole hip-hop community was shocked and how hard it was that he was gone. There’s also contributions to the song from Ty Dolla Sign and the Based God himself, Lil B, and both featured artists came through with their verses.

My emotions
Gimme a sip of that potion
No, my heart is not broken
But I feel like it’s open
Please, somebody, do surgery
Tell the doctor come work with me
I keep lookin’ at my soul
Prayin’, but only God knows
And I’ve been workin’ nine to nine

Then there’s the closer (at least on the American release) with the title track that pays homage to Mac as well with the instrumentation of the strings, but if you happen to have the Japanese release, you get the ending track “Bye For Now”, featuring past collaborator Michael McDonald.

The themes of this album vary, from love and loss to the usual goofiness and fun-loving style that we know Thundercat for. I mean, have you seen the video for “Dragonball Durag”? You should, by the way, and you should also check out this album, too. Thundercat easily does it again with this album, bringing that gorgeous production courtesy of him and others like Flying Lotus, Sounwave & BADBADNOTGOOD and all in under 40 minutes. Yeah, there are a couple of one-minute tracks on here, but not too short that I wanted more and they fit just right: an album fitting for these troubling times.

Final Verdict: BUY IT. It is what it is….it’s a good album.

It is What It Is is  on Brainfeeder and available on CD, vinyl, digital download and streaming services. You can also buy it via his Bandcamp.

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