Thundercat — It Is What It Is — Album Review
Funk | Acid Jazz | Soul | R&B
Without even realising it until recently, I had been listening to Thundercat for quite some time, with the earliest instance actually being the artists involvement in my favourite album of the previous decade, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. However, the first example of an album I heard from Thundercat, would be 2017’s Drunk, which was also his latest studio album, prior to the one I am reviewing today
But going back to Drunk for a moment, I feel that it was released at a time where my palette of musical taste didn’t quite branch out towards the unique and also somewhat goofy style of the album; but by no means did I perceive it as a bad project by any stretch of the imagination.
I actually got a much better grasp of Drunk in the late summer last year, where I could finally appreciate it for the brilliant and quirky piece that it was. I got a better sense of the brilliant concept and aesthetic that this album had. And luckily enough for me, I managed to fully enjoy Thundercat’s music not too long before the teasing of his newest album, It Is What It Is began.
said teasing began with a “single version” of a track titled “Black Qualls”, which to me displayed a more accessible style of funk, and this was furthered by the inclusion of vocals from Steve Lacey and Steve Arrington. At the time, I did think of it as a solid single through and through.
The other three teasers that followed were “Dragonball Durag”, “Fair Chance” and “Innerstellar Love”, although the latter slipped under the radar until the time came when the full album was out. I both adored, but also felt a bit torn towards “Dragonball Durag” for sharing an uncanny melodic resemblance to the Flying Lotus track “The Climb”, which was released last year, and indeed features Thundercat on it. One could even say that the Flying Lotus track was what ultimately pushed me to revisit Thundercat, so in my heart of hearts, I cannot quite say that I didn’t enjoy “Dragonball Durag”, despite sounding almost identical.
And lastly, “Fair Chance” makes for a triad of incredibly solid tunes, when pairing it with the other two teasers. It’s much more mellow than the other two, but is just as infectious. I also think the features from Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B really help elevate the song towards being incredibly catchy. I also felt that this track did an amazing job of actually “teasing” what was to come on the album, which I shall elaborate on shortly.
Once I actually listened to “Innerstellar Love” from the full album, it quickly became a highly enjoyable tune, which encapsulates the cosmic atmosphere that the majority of this album carries through. I feel like this track could’ve featured the likes of The Comet Is Coming, and still sound pretty much the same, as it definitely gave me a strong “Astral Flying” vibe.
To elaborate on this cosmic atmosphere a little more, I admittedly felt that It Is What it Is would ultimately not carry that same uniqueness that Drunk did. And while I was definitely expecting to enjoy this album regardless, I felt that the teaser track were veering towards a far more accessible project, which would have been a godsend for me some 3 or 4 years ago, but I wanted to experience the same kind of Thundercat we got in 2017.
While the album didn’t show this completely, what we got instead was arguably even better! We got an album that had enough of a influence from Drunk to connect the two together, but instead of a complete copy/paste, It Is What It Is is entirely its own album, and then some. The cosmic atmosphere allowed the album to stay as a refreshing listen, while the majority of tracks are also accessible, yet don’t feel too familiar.
In other words, Thundercat has found a perfect balance between uniqueness and accessibility in this newest record.
The resemblance to Drunk that I wished for was answered with tracks like “Miguels Happy Dance”, “Funny Thing”, the title track, and the incredible astral joyride that is “I Love Louis Cole”.
Not only does this album carry a tonne of incredible tracks, it also excels both conceptually and structurally. According to a tweet for Flying Lotus (who actually helped produce this record), he talks about the “three acts”, which I think were foreshadowed really well by the three teaser I mentioned. There is a hopeful innocence (“Black Qualls”) that turns into love (“Dragonball Durag”), until a heavy dose of reality and pain shakes it up (“Fair Chance”). I also feel that the track “King Of The Hill” does a really good job of summing this theme up, in which the lyrics address the “price to pay” for an obsession disguised as love, and impulsive coping mechanisms (or “cheap thrills”).
I going to revisit “Black Qualls” for a moment, as we are treated to the album version of the track this time around. The biggest difference with this version is of course the additional feature from Childish Gambino. And this, along with how much better it sounds on the album as a whole, has actually made it one of my favourite tracks.
I honestly didn’t think that this album would somehow manage to arguably be even better than Drunk, while paving a slightly different stylistic path, but It Is What It Is ended up being considerably better than I was expecting it to be. In-fact, the only slight nit-pick I could have at this album is the abundance of interlude-like tracks, but other than that this album is nothing short of phenomenal.
Favourite Tracks: Innerstellar Love | I Love Louis Cole | Black Qualls
Least Favourite Track: How Sway