Thundercat was never going to exist in the background for long. His father drummed for both The Temptations and Diana Ross, and when Stephen Bruner started on his own path as a session bass player in LA he was hard to ignore, wearing a helmet and colourful shoulder pads to perform with the likes of Suicidal Tendencies and Erykah Badu. His vibrant wardrobe, dark humour and love of obscure South Korean movies attracted Flying Lotus, who signed him six years ago. Soon everyone from Dr Dre to Odd Future was a convert. But his really big break came as the creative architect behind 2015’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, Kendrick Lamar’s ambitious, jazzy second album.
Which means he has a lot of famous fans, a number of whom return some favours on this, his fourth album: Kendrick, who pops up on the shuffling ‘Walk On By’; Pharrell, who lends a spacey vocal to ‘The Turn Down’; and Wiz Khalifa, who raps about the dark side of excess on ‘Drink Dat’. Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus are also there. So too is Thundercat’s long-time hero Kenny ‘The Soundtrack King’ Loggins (of ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Footloose’ fame) cropping up on ‘Show You The Way’, a Kenny-G- meets-Prince smoochy slow jam.
‘Drunk’ is jazz, but not the La La Land type. It’s a futuristic brand that’d be as at home at Coachella as at Ronnie Scott’s. Funk, soul, pop, electronica and hip-hop orbit around each other. When they cluster and fuse, the results are cosmic (‘Bus In These Streets’ and ‘Them Changes’).
It’s funny, too, in an odd, silly, cartoonish way. ‘Drunk’ ponders some serious issues – the death of a close musician friend, police brutality and Thundercat’s own demons – but that’s contrasted with fart sound effects, snoring and meowing cat noises. Sure, there’s some annoying wiggy tangents (‘Uh Uh’ and ‘Blackkk’) and occasionally it feels longer than its 43-minute lifespan. But those things are forgiveable, because ‘Drunk’, as out-there as it can be, is an album totally high on its own unique ideas.