Thundercat has always been a true original. When you’re walking around South Central in the 90s in cartoon tees and moon boots, slapping the jazz bass at Locke High and thrashing with Suicidal Tendencies, there’s no pre-existing archetype that makes sense. He was Bootsy Collins in the post-Boyz In the Hood era. If you didn’t make sense, that’s because the sui generis never do.
You could categorize it as Afro-Futurism, but even then, there’s always been something firmly grounded in the terrestrial world. He writes songs about contemporary apocalypse and anime, cats and ecstasy. George Duke covers and poignant elegies celestially co-exist with songs about baseball cards and needing to jerk off before going to sleep.
Beyond the kaleidoscopic façade and Twitter hilarity, Thundercat’s genius extends beyond just bass virtuosity and a pitch perfect falsetto. There’s an everyman relateability there that allows him to write songs like “Friend Zone,” waxing philosophical about the age old art of the curve. A vulnerability that allows him to pen requieums to Austin Peralta and others who prematurely departed. A lack of self-seriousness that allows him to admit things that might conflict with the veneer of underground cool. For lack of a better word, he’s just real.
If Drunk is his best album, which it very well might be, it’s because the father of Tron Cat found a way to reconcile every strand of his influences, inspirations, and original ideas. No one else could bring Kendrick Lamar alongside Kenny Loggins and make it work. You get flashbacks to the kid growing up on Michael McDonald and Stanley Clarke, Grover Washington, Steely Dan, and Jaco Pistorius. 70s AOR and jazz fusion, Low End Theory experimentalism, hip-hop, and sci-fi voices. Plus that falsetto that sounds like the molly just hit and your only impulse is to roll six spliffs, hijack a yacht, a bottle of Jim Beam and hoist yourself on the mast letting the wind slap your face like a six string bass. And who among us hasn’t had that feeling?
The 23 tracks feel like one long amniotic cloud float—or as Thundercat says “nothing is real, I’d rather be out of my mind.” A Samsara boat cruise where the drinks are tropical and as strong as the hangover. On “The Turn Down,” he sings “you’re so drunk you’re missing out/just make sure you have the right Jordans on or be left behind to ride and die/face down in the gutter.”
You can read as much or as little as you want into that. Thundercat was never the type to wring his hands and make an overwrought and melodramatic ode to substance abuse and the contemplation of mortality. But he’s managed to make something that yields the same affect without a hint of corniness. If he’s drunk or drugged, it’s to escape from the asphalt realities that none of us can duck for long. It’s about trying to find a peace without pacifism, calm without apathy, a space ride without the crash. Drunk is the sound of personal hells transmuting into a psychedelic heaven.