The song boomed from the shitty speakers with the loud roar of thunder on a silent night, the '96 Toyota Avalon soaring down the road vibrating with sound, as if the music was fueling its engine. Thundercat’s “Oh Sheit It’s X” causes sparks to fly from the aux cord while my cousin and I sing each lyric with breathless enthusiasm. We are entranced, lost in the ecstasy of chords laced with shenanigans, a bassline from a funkadelic future and the voice of a singer that takes us to a dance floor littered with glow sticks, sweat and a roof on fire. A song that sounds exactly like the title, being under the influence, lost in the moment, feeling completely in control and completely fucked up. It’s the kind of song you feel compelled to share, to keep it secret would be violating some unwritten amendment. That’s how I feel about Thundercat, an artist so good you just have to tell someone.
Thundercat is known, well known in some circles, famous enough to overshadow Lion-O if you search his name in Google. Before he began to sing about the joys of drug-induced partying, he entered the music industry playing bass, an instrument that he’s been strumming since early adolescence. Thundercat can be heard playing with metal band Suicidal Tendencies, touring with neo-soul goddess Erykah Badu, has been a major collaborator with Flying Lotus since 2009-2010, most notably the critically acclaimed Until The Quiet Comes and You’re Dead, and one of the few re-occurring features on Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly masterpiece. From the background he created a name, the instrument was his voice, and it sung a sought after funk. It was during my instrumental phase, a phase every music enthusiast explores, when you discover that production can speak without lyrics and you are introduced to the art of Madlib, Dilla and Flying Lotus. Somewhere between the dusty crates and never-ending loops I stumbled upon Thundercat.
My introduction to him wasn’t some guy standing in the background holding a bass but a grown man wearing a Thundercats graphic tee and a Native American headdress. A scene from the music video for "Walkin’." Visually, it’s like taking a stroll through the bizarre imagination of a teenager that discovered 4chan and sativa at the same time. He walks with his porn star love interest through a neighborhood where there’s a peculiar character on every corner. There’s a light saber wielder, Miguel’s head appears in a bubble, a business suit wearing a horse mask and Flying Lotus shooting laser beams from his eyes. Some people are born in the left field, will spend their entire lives outside the box, completely un-phased by the idea of popular. Thundercat appears to be such a person. He creates with a mind that doesn’t see trends, "Walkin" showed me an old-school romantic that still valued long walks with his lover who’s an enthusiast for creativity, cartoons, porn, and cheesy effects. I was hooked.
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He only has two albums, his 2011 debut, solo album, The Golden Age Of Apocalypse and the 2013 sophomore, Apocalypse. I’ve spent much more time with the latter but I recommend both. The Golden Age is like entering a jam session, intricate sounds and rich instruments all dancing in unison. The bass is still his voice, while Flying Lotus encouraged singing become another attribute in his skillset. It’s truly an album for those that adore production and the warmth of a blend of instruments working like carpenters building something massive. He truly finds his inner-songbird on Apocalypse. There’s no pitch corrections or added vocal effects, the high note he sends to heaven on “Tenfold” and “Special Stage” are done without any studio assistance. In an industry plagued by robots, it’s an interesting change. Apocalypse overshadows its predecessor by being a complete upgrade. The listeners truly get to see the blueprint become a home. From his falsetto vocal range to the glossy production, Thundercat improved tremendously during the two year gap.
The biggest artists in the world are aware of his magic, the stages that he has graced are getting larger, the people are slowly starting to awake. For those wondering where to start, you can’t go wrong with Apocalypse. The entire album is worth a week of indulging, soak up the grooves, and get lost in the vibes. Don’t go in expecting a certain genre, there’s no one place he calls home. Jazz, rock, hip-hop, soul, it’s a cauldron of sounds stirred together in harmony. You’ll feel like your two stepping in a video game or voyaging to a distant galaxy where music is the only language. The music is colorful as the animated series from which he adopted his name. He’ll sing about love like its divine and dedicate an entire song confessing his undying affection for his cat Tron. When the world was popping mollies and sweating, he took X. He talks about death with fear and solace like it’s the beginning and end. Thundercat sings with sincerity. Each song and subject holds a special relevance to the artist, creating a bridge to his creatively, unrestrained mind through the music. He is one of the most talented musicians in music but he's much more than what he contributes to others.
He’s one of the many pearls that shine in the underground, one that doesn’t care to be admired by the popular populace. He seems completely uninterested in breaking into Billboard’s sanctuary. A musician that is still enamored by the process, bringing to life the sounds that he hears in a head full of video game cheat codes and an endless amount of music knowledge. His eccentric brilliance is a quality that might not attract the most attention, but for the few that see the genius, it’s our duty to tell others. That’s the beauty of connection, there’s no secrets. I wrote this for the people that have heard the name, seen his face, but aren’t aware of all the music. Here’s a guide to an artist worth exploring. Just promise to keep sharing.
[By Yoh, aka The Golden Age Of Yohpacalypse, aka @Yoh31]