Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner rose during the first decade of the new millennium as the go-to bassist for a multitude of forward-looking artists traversing electric jazz, punk, R&B, and hip-hop.
His nimble, syncopated, groove-heavy basslines have propelled songs by Sa-Ra, Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar, some of which have also featured his gentle and sweet vocals. Although his session work is extensive and filled with highlights -- he was awarded a Grammy as one of the voices in Kendrick Lamar's "These Walls" -- Thundercat is just as recognized for his adventurous solo output. Albums such as The Golden Age of Apocalypse (2011), Apocalypse (2013), Drunk (2017), and It Is What It Is (2020) have stretched and bent numerous genres while drawing lyrical inspiration from science fiction, mortality, romantic heartache, and pop culture, especially video games, manga, and anime.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Thundercat had the good fortune to be raised in a musical family. His father, Ronald Bruner, Sr., is an accomplished drummer who has performed and recorded with an assortment of acts including Diana Ross, the Temptations, and Helen Baylor, and has led his own sessions. Thundercat's older brother, Ronald Jr., is a drummer whose career is highlighted by Grammy-winning work with Stanley Clarke. The youngest brother, keyboardist Jameel Bruner (aka Kintaro), established himself as a member of the Grammy-nominated Internet. The Bruners have played together in several combinations.
Thundercat's career began in earnest during the early 2000s. While still in high school, he was in the short-lived band No Curfew and shortly thereafter joined Ronald Jr. with skate-punk pioneers Suicidal Tendencies, replacing Robert Trujillo, who'd moved on to play with Metallica. At shows, the younger Bruner displayed flair and dexterity, playing some of Trujillo's three-finger riffs with just his thumb. Possessing a kinship and interest in the entirety of L.A.'s progressive music community, he began collaborating with some of its foremost creators. During his lengthy tenure with Suicidal Tendencies, he and Ronald Jr. toured with Stanley Clarke and were members of Young Jazz Giants and the Next Step, groups that featured the likes of Kamasi Washington, Cameron Graves, and Miles Mosley. Thundercat also contributed to many Sa-Ra and related projects. These included The Hollywood Recordings and Nuclear Evolution: The Age of Love, Erykah Badu's New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War, and Shafiq Husayn's Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka, as well as Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma, Bilal's Airtight's Revenge, and Miguel's All I Want Is You. During this period, Thundercat performed live with conductor Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, who led the Suite for Ma Dukes orchestra, a contemporary ensemble that revisited J Dilla's Donuts.
Having formed a creative bond with Flying Lotus, Thundercat joined the roster of the artist's Brainfeeder label as a leader. Flying Lotus then served as executive producer for Bruner's 2011 debut, The Golden Age of Apocalypse. Released the same year Thundercat was heard on recordings by Snoop Dogg and Ty Dolla $ign, the album received considerable acclaim for its acrobatic basslines and advancements from '70s fusion masters such as George Duke and Jaco Pastorius. After he worked on Flying Lotus' Until the Quiet Comes, Thundercat returned in 2013 with a darker second album, Apocalypse, recorded after the death of close friend and collaborator Austin Peralta. During that year and the few that followed, Bruner's session highlights included crucial contributions to a handful of Mac Miller releases, Flying Lotus' You're Dead!, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and untitled unmastered., Kamasi Washington's The Epic, and Terrace Martin's Velvet Portraits. He contributed to Lamar's "These Walls," which won the 2015 Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
As he continued to handle stage and studio commitments, Thundercat devoted time to developing material, including a 2015 stop-gap EP entitled The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam. The expansive full-length Drunk followed in 2017 with featured appearances from Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald on the single "Show You the Way." Drank, a chopped-and-screwed version of the album courtesy of OG Ron C and DJ Candlestick, followed in 2018. By the end of the 2010s, Thundercat had added to his session discography with contributions to albums by Childish Gambino, Mac Miller, N.E.R.D., Janelle Monáe, Kali Uchis, Anderson .Paak, and Danny Brown. He entered the next decade with his fourth proper album, It Is What It Is, on which funk legend Steve Arrington, Ty Dolla $ign, and Childish Gambino made appearances. ~ Andy Kellman & Vincent Thomas, Rovi