Nine Lives of Thundercat

L.A. dude. New icon. Virtuoso. Session cat. Ringleader. Fanboy. Bass demon. Superhero. Philosopher. Stephen Bruner is living his best lives nine at a time

Nine Lives of Thundercat

L.A. dude. New icon. Virtuoso. Session cat. Ringleader. Fanboy. Bass demon. Superhero. Philosopher. Stephen Bruner is living his best lives nine at a time

Photo by Hypland // Quin Dunziellas “Every day has been a mental … whatever you call this,” says Thundercat. “I saw Kamasi [Washington] a couple days ago, and he was like, ‘This is the longest I’ve gone without genuinely playing my instrument in the manner that we do.’ It’s weird, man! It’s messing with my brain function. I feel like I’m in slow-motion right now.” Thundercat has all the reason in the world to feel like he’s in slo-mo. A week into the tour celebrating his latest album and just days after a joyful March 9 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the coronavirus pandemic took him off the road. He was already home in North Hollywood when It Is What It Is officially dropped on April 3, garnering high praise and inspiring more than one reviewer to note that the album’s themes of loneliness and loss (“Lost in Space,” “Unrequited Love,” “Fair Chance,” “It Is What It Is”), nostalgia (“Interstellar Love,” “Funny Thing,” “Overseas”), fear and technology (“Black Qualls”), dancing the pain away (“Miguel’s Happy Dance”), being vulnerable (“Dragonball Durag”), and sweet uncertainty (“How I Feel”) — as well as the perfectly titled “Existential Dread” — seemed eerily prescient. As Thundercat shelters in place, the murder of George Floyd, the nationwide protests that follow, and the general malaise — exacerbated by hot weather and lockdown-related restlessness — are on his mind. While we chat one afternoon, he gets word that protests are headed his way; helicopters are buzzing his neighborhood, and the 5 PM curfew approaches. “There’s a lot going on at once … I feel a little loopy right now,” he says. If anyone can survive this weird-ass moment with style, it’s Thundercat. The 36-year-old multi-hyphenate navigates extremes like few others: Vulnerable and virtuosic, down-to-earth and deep in space, he is equally eloquent about DMT-related shenanigans and being a dad to 13-year-old Sanaa. He effortlessly connects the dots between Pokémon, jack-off jokes, Cannibal Holocaust, Bootymath, streetwear, and being a black otaku in the age of Trump, and he finds the idea of boundaries between music genres somewhat amusing. Like a feline living all nine lives at once, Thundercat fully inhabits simultaneous realities, watching it all with Zappa-esque humor. Is it any wonder, then, that his outlook on life in 2020 is both realistic and optimistic? “What stands out more than anything right now is that we are not the first ones to go through this,” says the South Central L.A. native. “I’m not saying it’s not real — the difficulties, the existential dread, is real,” he says, laughing. “But you know what? From every bad thing comes something good. I know we’re gonna be all right.” Young Stephen Bruner I. The L.A. Dude As old folks say, Thundercat done seen some thangs. Being an ’80s kid from Compton means the 1965 Watts uprising
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E. E. Bradman   By: E. E. Bradman

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