Thundercat (musician)

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Thundercat (43228969271) - edited.jpg
Thundercat in 2018
Background information
Birth nameStephen Lee Bruner
Born (1984-10-19) October 19, 1984 (age 37)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, actor
Instrument(s)Bass guitar, vocals
Years active2000–present
Labels Brainfeeder

Stephen Lee Bruner (born October 19, 1984), [3] better known by his stage name Thundercat, is an American bass guitarist, singer, songwriter and actor from Los Angeles. First coming to prominence as a member of crossover thrash band Suicidal Tendencies, he has since released four solo studio albums and is noted for his work with producer Flying Lotus and his appearances on Kendrick Lamar's 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly . [4] In 2016, Thundercat won a Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Performance for his work on the track "These Walls" from To Pimp a Butterfly. In 2020, Thundercat released his fourth studio album titled It Is What It Is , which earned him a Grammy Award for Best Progressive R&B Album.



Bruner was born into a family of musicians, including his father Ronald Bruner Sr., a drummer, and his mother Pam a flutist and percussionist. They raised him in Compton and other parts of Los Angeles. His father played drums for The Temptations, The Supremes, and Gladys Knight amongst others. After Bruner Sr. sobered from dealing with cocaine, the children would watch him play gigs at the Crenshaw Christian Center. [5] Bruner attended Locke High School, playing in the school's jazz band. His teacher, Reggie Andrews, produced and co-wrote Let It Whip and collaborated with Rick James. Andrews re-introduced Bruner to Kamasi Washington, who originally met as children through their fathers’ play in a gospel fusion band. The reunited duo would sneak into jazz concerts, driving around in a worn down 1982 Ford Mustang to do so. They would later get to play the same venues as the performers they watched. They also sessioned with Terrace Martin in Washington's father's garage during this time. [6]

Bruner began playing the bass at an early age, listening to bass players such as Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller for inspiration. [7] By the age of 15, he had a minor hit in Germany as a member of the boy band No Curfew. A year later he joined his brother Ronald Jr. as a member of the Los Angeles punk band Suicidal Tendencies, replacing former bass player Josh Paul. Bruner's earliest studio album appearances include playing electric bass on Kamasi Washington's Live at 5th Street Dick's and The Proclamation . [8] In 2004, Bruner collaborated once again with Kamasi Washington, as well as Cameron Graves and Ronald Jr, under the name the Young Jazz Giants. [9]

Along with his band duties, Bruner is also a session musician, acclaimed for his work on Erykah Badu's New Amerykah (2008) and Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma (2010). Erykah Badu was credited with helping Bruner find his stage presence and identity as Thundercat. Around this time, Bruner would play in live bands for Raphael Saadiq and Snoop Dogg, both would make quips towards his playing style. [6] Bruner credited Flying Lotus with pushing him to start singing and making his own projects. [10] He released his first solo album in 2011, The Golden Age of Apocalypse , which featured production from Flying Lotus, and was influenced by 1970s fusion artists such as Stanley Clarke and George Duke. The next two years saw a return to the recording studio with fellow Brainfeeder artist Flying Lotus, with contributions to the Lotus's Until the Quiet Comes (2012) and You're Dead! (2014), and the release of Thundercat's second album Apocalypse (2013). [11]

The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam and To Pimp a Butterfly

Thundercat performing at Stern Grove, San Francisco, 2021 ThundercatSternGrove2021.jpg
Thundercat performing at Stern Grove, San Francisco, 2021

Bruner was a major contributor to Kendrick Lamar's critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly , and has been described as being "at the creative epicenter" of the project. [12] Longtime Thundercat collaborators Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, and Terrace Martin were also major contributors to the album.

On June 22, 2015, Thundercat released The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam EP, which was developed during the production of To Pimp a Butterfly. The EP includes tributes to his friend and collaborator Austin Peralta, a jazz pianist who was signed to Brainfeeder before his death in 2012. The EP also includes a feature from Herbie Hancock and was the first appearance of "Them Changes".

In 2016, Bruner revealed to XXL that he was working on a new album with Flying Lotus as a main contributor. In May of that year, Bruner appeared live with Red Hot Chili Peppers to play additional bass on their song "Go Robot" at iHeartRadio's release party for the band's 2016 album The Getaway . In August 2016, Bruner appeared live with singers Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald in Chicago.


In June 2017, Thundercat appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to promote his studio album Drunk with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. [13] "Them Changes" contains a drum sample from the 1977 track "Footsteps in the Dark" by the Isley Brothers, the same sample used in Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" (although the latter more heavily sampled the original).

It Is What It Is

In October 2018, Thundercat premiered the song "King of the Hill" from his then upcoming album It Is What It Is . [14] [15] The second single, "Black Qualls" featuring Steve Lacy, Steve Arrington, and Childish Gambino was released on January 16. [16] Another single, "Dragonball Durag", was released on February 17. [17] It Is What It Is released on April 3, 2020, and was met with critical acclaim. [18] Thundercat dedicated the album to friend and frequent collaborator Mac Miller. [19] In 2020, It Is What It Is won Best Progressive R&B Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards. [20]

Thundercat performing in front of his logo in 2018 Thundercat (43228967431).jpg
Thundercat performing in front of his logo in 2018

In 2021, he received the Libera Awards for Best R&B Record 2021 for his album It Is What It Is (Brainfeeder Records) by the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM). The album was also nominated as Record of the Year, but lost to Phoebe Bridgers' album Punisher. [21]

In 2022, he made a guest appearance in the fourth episode of The Book of Boba Fett as a "Mod Artist" that Boba Fett enlists to save Fennec Shand's life in a flashback where he replaced her damaged parts with cybernetic replacements. [22]


Bruner is most often seen playing his Ibanez Custom Shop model bass, possessing six strings (which are tuned to BEADGC), a hollowed out maple body, five-piece maple/jatoba neck, and rosewood fingerboard. [23] It utilizes EMG magnetic pickups, Graph Tech Ghost piezo saddles, and a MIDI program In/Out. [24]

Personal life

Bruner was a close friend and collaborator of the rapper Mac Miller, and the two often partied together. Miller's death in 2018 made Bruner confront his own substance abuse and alcoholism causing him to drink less and adopt better eating habits as well. "It’s sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. It’s real. You ride the line, you don’t know how close you are sometimes. Do I think he meant to die? No, I don’t think he did. Even though that sometimes creeps in there because you’re always on the edge of a knife. Sometimes you mess up. That happens a lot," he stated in a 2020 interview with the Guardian. [25]

Bruner is a Christian, and incorporates many of the religion's themes in some of his music. [26] He has a teenage daughter named Sanaa. [27]

Bruner is a big fan of Anime and cartoons, and will wear outfits that reflect this such as a Pikachu backpack or cat-ear headbands. His stage name bears influence to this, deriving from Thundercats, the 1985 cartoon series. [28]

Thundercat in 2015 Thundercat (musician) 2015.jpg
Thundercat in 2015

Awards and nominations

Grammy Awards

2016 Album of the Year To Pimp a Butterfly (as featured artist and producer)Nominated [29]
Best Rap/Sung Performance "These Walls"Won
2021 Best Progressive R&B Album It Is What It Is Won [1]

Libera Awards

2016Heritage Album of the Year The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam Nominated [30] [31]
2017 Album of the Year Drunk Nominated [32] [33]
Best Blues/Jazz/R&B AlbumNominated
Creative PackagingWon
2021 Record of the Year It Is What It Is Nominated [34]
Best R&B RecordWon



2022 The Book of Boba Fett Mod ArtistEpisodes 4, 7

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