Music Reviews

Review: Thundercat Grieves Mac Miller On “It Is What It Is”

The jazz icon’ latest effort is a heartfelt collection of grief-laden poetry.

The fourth project by funk-psychedelia polymath, Stephen Lee Bruner, has taken Thundercat's world of '80s funk and turned it into meditative reflection.

While 2017s Drunk was a chaotic odyssey of drugs, sex, and blackouts across Tokyo, It Is What It Is is contrastingly modest in its execution. With 15 songs at just 37 minutes, the album floats, only sinking its teeth in at opportune times before disappearing into space. "How Sway" is just Thundercat slapping the bass for a minute straight while Flying Lotus's production takes center stage. The project then goes relentlessly into "Funny Thing," another fast-paced 1:50 seconds, with Bruner asking bluntly, "Do you mind if I wild out a little?" (as if our answer would stop him).

Thundercat - 'Black Qualls (feat. Steve Lacy & Steve Arrington) [Single Version]' (Official Audio)

The project is full of these vivacious scraps, and at first glance, listeners might miss the existentialism. "Is this real? Is this real?" he asks repeatedly on "How I Feel." "It feels so cold and alone," he croons on the album's brief intro. Thundercat is hardened by the waves of grief that have polluted his life in recent years, but It Is What It Is moves with the fluidity of life. Its as if he's saying: "It's all so fast and vapid, this thing called living, and it requires acceptance that there will always be more questions than answers."

"Stuck in between, it is what it is," he sings with a shrug on "Fair Chance," Thundercat's somber dedication to the late Mac Miller. On "Existential Dread," Thundercat admits that even when dread sets in "loud and clear," he'll "adjust and simply let go." As wind howls in the background, Thundercat admits on the album closer that "sometimes there's regret," before diving into a fabulous closing solo. "Hey Mac," he calls out to his friend. There are moments of silly reprieve ("Dragon Ball Durag,") but It Is What It Is is a coming-of-age tale at its center. "Things became a bit realer to me," Bruner told The New York Times. "I was faced with a choice – to either follow suit or figure it out. And I guess this is me trying to figure it out."

It Is What It Is