Known most recently for being the primary bassist and co-producer on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Thundercat has also co-produced the last three Flying Lotus records, including You’re Dead!, Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part One and Part Two, and “Shadows,” off of Because the Internet by Childish Gambino. The letter-jacket and eagle-feathered Cheyenne Indian chief war bonnet wearing neo-soul-funk musician has had the time of his life the past 5 years. Writing two albums of his own, he returns with The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, technically an EP, named “album”, co-prod. with Flying Lotus & featuring Herbie Hancock, and Brainfeeder label mates Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Mono/Poly & Kamasi Washington.
On The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, we see less of the Thundercat from “King Kunta” off To Pimp A Butterfly, and more of the Thundercat we saw involved in You’re Dead! and Gambino’s “Shadows.” While I really enjoy “Shadows,” the Thundercat that I really love is the one from To Pimp A Butterfly. Called in after playing bass on Erykah Badu’s two records, he joined Kendrick on stage at Colbert for an untitled song that never made it onto the album, but stuck around anyway to be a big influence and bass player for that record. “I played him Miles Davis,” Thundercat says, to which Kendrick replied, “What the fuck is this?” “This is Miles Davis, man,” he remembers responding, with Kendrick saying, “I gotta come to your house and take this stuff off your hands.” “With him [Kendrick Lamar], it was effortless,” Thundercat goes on, “this motherfucker [was] on point.”
Here, on The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, we see Thundercat at the forefront. We see snippets of classic Flying Lotus involvement, or Herbie Hancock synths, but without the Gambino’s or Kendrick Lamar’s hitting the forefront vocally, it’s not as powerful. It doesn’t have that, “this motherfucker is on point,” reaction like “u” off of To Pimp A Butterfly. With no insult to Thundercat, he’s best when he’s a part of the team. While he can click together on his own, like on “Lone Wolf and Cub,” the thing Thundercat is really best at is being that bassist and producer, who’s very well versed in old jazz and funk, and can show up to the session and change the way you think about music, like he did with Kendrick. And while The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam, and even his past two solo projects, don’t accurately represent all that Thundercat is capable of, I am nonetheless never not going to be excited whenever I see “Thundercat” on the credits of a song. And that’s worth way more in my books.