Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Bonnaroo Artist Focus: Thundercat


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Photo courtesy of NPR

With Bonnaroo tickets on sale and the Manchester festival’s June 7-10 dates around the corner, it might be a little daunting trying to decide which of the 100+ artists will give you the most bang for your buck. In this column, we’ll focus on a different artist every week to give you a sense of who they are and who will be worth checking out once summer rolls around.

It’s hard to keep track of the amount of musical projects Thundercat has dipped his gifted fingers into. The individualistic bassist has contributed to today’s jazz through work with Kamasi Washington on “The Epic,” hip-hop with a strong role in the creation of Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed 2015 record, “To Pimp A Butterfly,” and even electronica, with credits on a handful of Flying Lotus records. As for himself, Thundercat has put out three records through Flying Lotus’ independent label, Brainfeeder.

With a listen to any of the bassist’s virtuosic runs of the fretboard, it becomes easy to see why so many contemporary artists today want to work side-by-side with him. His style, characterized by a colorful, modulated bass that’s played more like a lead guitar than a rhythm instrument underscores a level of creative expression no other artist can claim to replicate. Falling within the genre label of acid-jazz, Thundercat’s blend of twinkling neo-soul synth voicings and striking, layered harmonies makes for an intriguing listening experience, to say the least.

His latest solo record, 2017’s “Drunk,” transports the listener to a disorienting, child-like realm of fervent whimsicality. The musician’s frequently-employed falsetto becomes as much of a staple as his ambitious bass riffing and gives the album an over-arching theme of intentional silliness. Tracks like “A Fan’s Mail” are examples of this, with absurd choruses like “everybody wants to be a cat / it’s cool to be a cat.”

One of Thundercat’s greatest strengths that will translate into his live performance at Bonnaroo is the ability to simultaneously lead his songs in vocals and bass and make it all look like a cake-walk. Thundercat’s set will provide for a strange, but captivating collection of imaginative jazz-soul tracks that will appeal to those wanting to hear a barrier-breaking artist who seeks to fight wonderfully against formulaic approaches to music.

Watch Thundercat’s performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts below.

Tickets and information can be found on the Bonnaroo website.

To contact Music Editor Hayden Goodridge, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

For more updates, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter/Instagram at @Sidelines_Life.


  1. It’s rare that we even see artists who remain as true to their sound and artistic nature as Thundercat. The first time I ever heard the production and bassline on tracks like “Them Changes”, I knew that this was an artist that only comes around once every other decade or so. I believe Thundercat, while creating his own sound, simultaneously reminds us of how fantastic his influences are. Not to mention how much he taps into other genres, showing how easy it is to link influences together through music. His live show, while minimalistic, is by far one of the most musically liberating things I’ve ever witnessed. It’s astounding how much can come from three musicians on one stage. This is a true testament to the “less is more” ideology.
    Thundercat has single handedly shed new light on the current R&B, funk, and hiphop scenes through his authenticity as a songwriter. Everything from the programmed drum tones to how he dials in his envelope filter, he continues to transcend musical planes as a writer and an artist. Without a doubt, he will certainly be one of the best acts to catch at this year’s Bonnaroo. I can barely contain my excitement.

  2. When I saw this article about Thundercat being at Bonnaroo, I got excited. I love getting into new artist, and experiencing that first-time joy of falling in love with their music. I did that with Thundercat’s music last year. I remember listening to “Wesley’s Theory” the first song on Kendrick Lamar’s album, To Pimp A Butterfly and hearing the funkiness of it and the intriguing bass line. I attributed the soulful and funkadelic feel to George Clinton being on the song, who is a funk legend. However, the music artist Thundercat is also featured on that same song and another one “These Walls” on Kendrick’s album. Back then I didn’t realize the influence of Thundercat. I got hooked on his music after hearing his song, “Them Changes,” on an Apple Music radio station. The bass line didn’t just catch me, but the soulful soft falsetto of his voice. That quickly drew me to find more songs by him. That’s when I recognized his name from Kendrick Lamar’s songs. I became a fan quickly. Much more meaningful to me are his lyrics too. His lyrics can be quite quirky, but relatable. An example is in his song “Friend Zone” where he says, “if you’re not bringing tacos I suggest you start to walk away.” This article mentions how “so many contemporary artists today want to work side-by-side with him.” He also features artists that surprisingly mesh well, as in Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins in the song, “Show You the Way.” Thundercat has songs that are laidback and others that are upbeat/groovy. I can play an entire album of his and let it run continuously without skipping a song. I appreciate that Thundercat is playing at Bonnaroo, I feel like more people need to know about him. In this article, it references how he sings and plays the bass at the same time making it look effortlessly. Then the article backs this up with a video of his NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert. I’m not sure if I can get Bonnaroo tickets this year, but seeing Thundercat perform live one day is a must.

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