With his Most Ambitious Project, Thundercat is Invigoratingly Bold | 'It Is What It Is'
Evan Dale // April 3, 2020
With his most ambitious project to date, 6-string bassist and falsetto-poetic songwriter eternally punched by theatrical humor, Thundercat is awesome and invigoratingly bold with understated title, It Is What It Is. Hugging the lines of jazz, soul, and funk, no matter what it is that It Is What It Is is, it’s transcendent. As are all works from Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and Steve Lacy with whom, Thundercat – as an experimentally forward instrumentalist fusing his timeless craft with a modern scene that prioritizes those who can exist in more than one lane – shares indefinable company.
The roots of that transcendence are the deepest roots of It Is What It Is. If the project is purely an explosion of Thundercat’s artistry, then there is no genre label that could restrain its wide-ranging flames. From track to track, consistencies align between Thundercat’s bass, the charm of his inconspicuous vocalism, and a full band laying tracks for the project’s smooth subtlety to ride. Yet, from track to track, inconsistencies themselves provide It Is What It Is with deeper flavor profiles. Whether coming in the form of featuring artists, one-liners that pull listeners back for a second guessing second listen, or entire tracks founded in humor and an offset smile only second to raw, risk-taking funk glory, It Is What It Is is also a righteously unpredictable jaunt. It brims with bizarre riffs that match, reflect the bizarre nature of Thundercat himself, for whom this project shines in a light equal parts neon flashy and candlelight comfortable.
One listen to Miguel’s Happy Dance is all a listener need hear to know where their stance on the project at large will come to rest. It’s jazz timing synth outbursts and Thundercat’s calls for listeners to ‘do the happy dance’ will very clearly and very quickly split a room in two between those that obey his orders gleefully and those that are made uncomfortable by the whimsy of it all. Thundercat is a sonic showman and his personality comes to full fruition while playing music. Naturally, akin to everything he’s ever put out, It Is What It Is is not meant to be taken too seriously.
At the same time, any listener understanding of the genuine genius behind Thundercat’s ability to wield a bass guitar find plenty about It Is What It Is to be taken incredibly seriously. The difficult of being an instrumentalist and a vocalist whose instrument is more outrightly known than the voice behind it makes for a difficult path even when those artists play the piano or the guitar. But Thundercat isn’t only making waves throughout so many different stylistic lanes at the hand of his coalescence and invention with an instrument, he’s doing it as a bassist.
Like Anderson .Paak who is at one time his band’s drummer, rapper, and vocalist – for whom Thundercat has opened in the past – Thundercat is reinventing the role of a front man in a post-genre era, and It Is What It Is is his to-this-point most widely tangible collection. Whimsicality and bizarre antics are to be expected from Thundercat, and anyone suggesting his personality is more out there than any modern hip-hop artist would be lying to themselves. But It Is What It Is is well-balanced in its humor and its vulnerability; its intense jazz and funk experimentation and its approachable takes on Neo-Soul and beyond.
There is no question that It Is What It Is, but what it is is largely up for debate. Is it jazz, funk or soul? Is it simply Thundercat being Thundercat? Is it a joke? Is it an experiment? Is it too out there for the mainstream? Or is it a reminder that even art – no matter what you call it – should make room for the presence of humanity and humor? And is it possible while doing so that art itself can be furthered by the hand of a work like this?
We think so.