There may be no other contemporary player who’s logged as many miles, taken as many left turns, or made as many friends on his musical journey than Thundercat. The artist more prosaically known as Stephen Bruner began playing bass at age 15, absorbing the lessons of jazz fusion greats like Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, and Jaco Pastorius. He soon joined his older brother Ronald Jr. as a member of Suicidal Tendencies, serving the L.A. thrash-funk-metal institution for the better part of a decade, while still making time to tour with Snoop Dogg and build a rep as a session musician for the likes of Erykah Badu and Bilal. Even after Thundercat established his own flair for spaced-out, vanguard R&B with his debut solo album The Golden Age of Apocalypse in 2011, he continued collaborations with Flying Lotus on the Brainfeeder label and forged a new one with Kendrick Lamar. He and brother Ron were also a part of Kamasi Washington’s formidable group for The Epic.
The influence of these past hookups are easy to hear in the astonishingly diverse sounds of Thundercat’s new album, Drunk. Yet the album contains fresh surprises, too. Appearances by Lamar and newbies Wiz Khalifa and Pharrell may not be so shocking, but who could’ve known that Thundercat’s allegiance to yacht rock was so fervent that he’d enlist Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins for cameos on the ultra-smooth “Show You The Way”? The album’s crackpot humor and abundance of short, weird tracks are equally suggestive of his devotion to Frank Zappa, and at some shows he’s performed a cover of “For Love (I Come Your Friend)” by George Duke, the R&B maverick who was one of Zappa’s best musical foils.
Drunk could only be a product of Thundercat’s vast and vivid musical universe, one that we explore here via songs he’s either created or helped craft, plus equally vibrant tracks by other artists he’s covered, sampled, and loved.