Classifying Thundercat (born Stephen Bruner) as a bass player is like classifying Kanye West as a beat-maker. It’s partly true, but woefully inadequate. Bass is Bruner’s home turf, and hearing him play is a distinctly thrilling experience. But Bruner is also a talented singer, songwriter, producer, video game aficionado, and eclectic musicians who has both played in a thrash metal band and won a Grammy for working with Kendrick Lamar. He’s a new vanguard virtuoso, and his newest album Drunk (released on frequent collaborator Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label) shows off his wide range of talents in breathtaking beauty.
Bruner was born into a musical family. His father Ronald Sr. is a famous drummer who worked with classic Motown groups like the Temptations. His brother Ronald Jr. followed in his footsteps as a Grammy award-winning jazz drummer. As Thundercat, Bruner plays the six-string electric bass with the dexterity of a classical guitarist, strumming and picking to create otherworldly textures not normally heard from a bass.
Thundercat collaborates often with artists in diverse genres, from rap to jazz to electronic. More recently, he was an integral presence on Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly, winning a Grammy for his collaboration on “These Walls.” He has also worked on extensively on Flying Lotus’ records, produced for rappers like Childish Gambino, and played bass on Kamasi Washington’s jazz opus The Epic.
His solo music is indelibly based in funk, but infused with elements of jazz and electronic components. Thundercat’s first two solo records are immersive journeys into this mélange of styles, each featuring patchworks of short tunes that segue into more substantive, catchy songs with dynamite hooks like “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” and “Oh Sheit It’s X.” His solo breakout came in 2015 with the song “Them Changes,” which features Flying Lotus and jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Built around the famous drum sample from the Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark,” “Them Changes” features Thundercat’s trademark complex bass vamps and an array of keyboards and synths, with his soulful voice gliding over the top of it all.
His recent singles have been a strong indication that Drunk will be an even bigger success. “Show You The Way” is a slow-burning, subtle groove, an ode to the sultry smoothness of the 70s and 80s featuring Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, the pillars of that sound. The hilariously snarky “Friend Zone” is a more upbeat song featuring Thundercat spewing lines about playing Diablo and refusing calls from a former lover.
Catch Thundercat and his six string bass at Paradise Rock Club on Thursday March 2nd at 8pm.