Of all the musical mutations that have evolved over generations, funk has been a fascination of mine since I was a teenager. There’s a palpable force lying dormant in the eternal grooves of the many incarnations that funk has taken over the years, a simultaneously subtle and overwhelming power.
Funk and hip-hop have a long and fruitful relationship, and while funk’s influence has taken a backseat for a couple decades—outside of the West Coast anyway, G-funk never really left—artists like Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino have recently placed funk back at the forefront of hip-hop’s conscience. They arguably could not have done this, however, without the contributions of Thundercat.
Over the past decade, Thundercat has worked with all the aforementioned artists and countless others, injecting funk/jazz fusions into some of our favorite albums. On his solo work, Thundercat’s sound has morphed over the years into an exciting blend of omniscient funk grooves and progressive jazz arrangements with the love and passion of a dedicated nerd, which Thundercat makes no apologies about.
Nearly two years after his last solo release, The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, Thundercat returned today (February 24) with a sprawling, 23-track offering titled Drunk, a culmination of all the sounds and influences Thundercat has inspired and been a part of throughout his career.
Three Standout Tracks:
Remember when I wrote Thundercat makes no apologies about being a nerd? I rest my case.
While Drunk contains plenty of hints at Thundercat’s nerdery, "Tokyo" is an unabashed love song dedicated to the mecca of Gundam and Dragon Ball Z fandom. The fast-paced ode perfectly captures the buzzing excitement I imagine Thundercat felt, as he roamed the crowded streets of the Akihabara district searching for Japanese editions of his favorite video games.
Thundercat is at his most captivating when he fully embraces the sort of nerdy innocence that fueled his love for music and video games in the first place, a characteristic that influences his blithe brand of musical fusion as much as it does his unconcerned and often hilarious-in-its-spontaneity lyricism.
"Drink Dat" (ft. Wiz Khalifa)
I had no idea what to expect when the track list to Drunk was released and I saw Wiz Khalifa’s name, but I’ll be damned if this pairing doesn’t work surprisingly well. Thundercat slows the vibe down to let Wiz’s lines breathe, but make no mistake, the funk is still very much present.
“Drink Dat” proves that yes, Thundercat is capable of wrangling mainstream sensibilities while still managing to color outside the lines. I love his moments of unbridled weirdness, but it’s subtle side-steps like “Drink Dat” that offer a glimpse into his vast range.
"The Turn Down" (ft. Pharrell)
This is the type of political song that only Thundercat could craft, somehow capturing the current state of the world with his wandering lyricism, all wrapped in the sort of moody, bass-driven soundscape that he’s spent years perfecting. Pharrell’s performance on this track is another notch in his trajectory of understated brilliance, foregoing verbose poetics for the type of undeniable simplicity that puts truth at the forefront and ditches the bells and whistles.
I’m gonna need a collaborative project between these two musical geniuses a-fucking-sap. While I’ve come to love and expect the sort of meandering thought-salad that dominates Thundercat’s lyricism, Pharrell settles into the habit with ease on “The Turn Down,” resulting in one of the most captivating offerings on the album.
When all is said and done, Drunk plays out like a prog-funk opera of Thundercat’s constantly-shifting thought process, somehow attaining solidity through its constant refusal of coherence.
Love songs spill into random musings on video games and pop culture references, often on the same track. Generally speaking, Drunk is sloppy, scattered and challenging. It’s also beautiful, soulful and gentle. There’s a dichotomy to Thundercat’s music that’s apparent in every note and lyric, a supercollider of all the things that have brought him joy and pain throughout his life.
More than anything, Drunk is a reminder of the all-inclusive nature inherent in funk music. Funk isn’t just cosmic afro-futurism or gut-punching breakbeats. Funk isn’t just anything, it’s a little bit of everything, and that’s exactly what’s represented on Thundercat’s latest work.
If this is what being drunk with Thundercat feels like, you can leave me here with the bottle.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Brainfeeder