Photo Credit: Zach Finch and Armando Torres
Thundercat’s fourth official studio album It Is What It Is is a full on jazz, funk, R&B meditation on love and life. It starts off with synth piano and the words: “Is it time to go? // Go and start the show // Somewhere lost in space.” The intro transitions us into “Interstellar love”, which talks about humans decaying overtime, and how there’s nothing we can really do about it. It follows a sax verse by Thundercat’s childhood friend Kamasi Washington. When they take us on the journey, Thundercat somehow makes us see the positive side of monotone existence.
That said, the next portion of the album only gets more joyful. The goofy, fast-paced “I Love Louis Cole” with its super quick drums and beautiful guitar tells a real story of fellow musician and friend Louis Cole. The album features multiple friends and previous collaborators. In the second half of It Is What It Is, “Funky Black Qualls” features Steve Lacy, Childish Gambino and Steve Arrington. The song speaks about making it and trying to leave all their worries behind while still having the same fears.
Next up, Miguel’s “Happy Dance” is a song that brings up the spirit. Definitely something that will help us all in these days of quarantine. Followed by the tracks “How Sway”, an electronic dance song without lyrics and the funky upbeat “Funny Thing”, which reminds us of the good old times when we partied to get our mind off something. The stand out track “Dragonball Durag”, is exactly what it seems – a song about a durag with images of Dragonball Z. Even Thundercat’s nickname is a reference to the show. In the song, the durag is like a power from a superhero book: “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good.” Thundercat’s fascination for comic books, anime and computer games have been well known throughout his career. He has sampled themes and sound effects in the past, like using Sonic The Hedgehog sound effects in “Them Changes.”
Joking around in the ode to Thundercat’s confidence-boosting headpiece, we see he is fooling around and having fun, although, it also doesn’t mean he isn’t in pain and still grieving. He checks in with himself in “How I Feel” and follows with “King of the Hill”, a song about uncertainty and how we know nothing about what the future holds. Starting the ballad with a Spanish guitar intro, Thundercat sings about the one that got away in the melancholic “Unrequited love”, which was written for the anime series Carole & Tuesday (available on Netflix).
The last part of the album is dedicated to Mac Miller, a close friend of Thundercat. Featuring Lil B & Ty Dolla $ign, “Fair Chance” includes paraphrased lyrics from Miller’s song “Hurt Feelings” and also provides responses to his song “Small Worlds.” We go through what feels like post-panic attack dullness in “Existential Dread.” Wrapping up the album with namesake “It is What It Is”, featuring Pedro Martins, is also a heavy reference to Mac Miller’s song “What’s the Use.” We hear the phrase “it is what is is” a lot throughout the album, Thundercat meditating and trying to accept a loved one gone too soon.