Thundercat is everywhere. If you have even a passing interest in boundary-pushing rap and R&B, you’ve probably found yourself floating through his orbit. Born Stephen Bruner, he is the son of Ronald Bruner, Sr., a drummer who played with Diana Ross and the Temptations. Bruner’s career has featured him writing, performing and recording with a diverse group of notable musicians including Herbie Hancock, Erykah Badu, George Clinton, and Suicidal Tendencies.
More than a hired gun, he’s developed his own sonic persona, starting with his collaborations with Flying Lotus and then coming into full view on his two blistering solo slabs of jazz fusion: 2011’s The Golden Age of Apocalypse and 2013’s Apocalypse. He returned this year with a surprisingly deep mini-album called The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam.
Bruner’s sonic DNA is intrinsic to the fabric of Kendrick Lamar’s iconoclastic statement To Pimp A Butterfly. His ebullient bass playing is prominently featured across the album, along with production credits on “Wesley’s Theory”, “Hood Politics” and “Complexion (A Zulu Love)”. His extensive involvement also put him in a position to see one of today’s greatest artists at the height of his powers from close-up.
“Kendrick is such a dynamic person, man. There’s more to what Kendrick does than [just] rapping,” says Bruner. “It translates in the words so heavily – it feels like an understatement to call him a rapper. Watching his process, watching how open he is to stuff, and when he’s open, he’s fully open. He executes everything that he thinks and it was an amazing process to see.”
Bruner’s influence on the album extends to letting Kendrick in on his encyclopedic knowledge of jazz as well as introducing Lamar to producer Taz Arnold of Sa-Ra, a former collaborator who presaged hip-hop’s current obsession with minimal funk. But his strangest impact on the album hinged on Kendrick Lamar’s preternatural sense of emotional perceptiveness.
“[While composing music for] ‘Mortal Man’, I had been going through a certain set of circumstances emotionally, you know? And I played it for Kendrick and with Kendrick not having seen me, as soon as he heard it, he said, ‘That sounds like something like this happened.” It was like on a whim that he got exactly where the music was coming from: from me. And it freaked me out.”
“He described whatever was going on with me to a T within five seconds and then walked out the room. It put a little bit of HD on everything, like high definition. It was like, ‘This guy’s on it!'”
With events like the Afropunk Festival and albums like To Pimp A Butterfly and D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Black Messiah serving as contemporary mainstream responses to the unjust treatment of black people in America, there are striking parallels between the black music of today and that of the 1970s, another period of time where social upheaval made for timeless revolutionary music.
“Music has always been the soundtrack to life in a genuine way and art being an imitator of life, this is just the sights and sounds of what’s going on right now. Call it politically, economically, emotionally dealing with the same issues at different levels. This is the soundtrack to that.”
“I don’t wanna specifically call it black, even though it’s one of those things where it’s inevitable that it’ll be considered that to some degree but I feel like the reason that it resonates so hard is that everybody can feel it.”
“Whenever you talk to somebody that lived during the ’70s, they have this certain sense of peace about them. There was a bit of happiness amongst a bunch of darkness. These are those moments like that. Not knowing what’s gonna happen to our country, so to speak. Like, are we still dealing with racism? Is it still like a circus? Am I crazy or are they crazy? Maybe I’m crazy. This is the sound that comes with that.”
The Beyond / Where the Giants Roam finds Thundercat further exploring the vast landscape of his creative talents, a realm that has come to contain echoes of grunge, hard funk and R&B. The languid, relaxed tone of these songs belies the dark lyrics in a way that mirrors Bruner’s inward approach to dealing with problems in real life.
“Whenever stuff gets crazy, I really calm down. I’m the worst person to react to anything. I have catlike reflexes on accident but in real time, if somebody was gonna swing at me, I would get hit but hopefully it wouldn’t knock me out. That calmness comes from the genuine feeling of everything being completely out to lunch.”
The meaning of Jazz Cartier’s Fleurever is rooted in duality. In the two years since his sophomore mixtape, Hotel Paranoia, the artist has had to “[battle] the balances of love and money, risks and rewards, right and wrong, or living and dying”, alongside coming to terms with the throes of wealth and fame. Subsequently Fleurever—or, as he calls it, his “third project”—explores Cartier’s personal growth in the years following. With his newfound maturity in tow, Toronto’s rising rap star is on course to start a music revolution—well, that’s the idea anyway. Georgie caught up with Cartier to talk about gratitude, the rapper’s personal transformation, and the driving force behind Fleurever. G—Can you tell us a bit about your latest album Fleurever and the inspiration behind it? JC—Most of the inspiration came from growth, and a bit from my departure from Toronto. A lot of the record was made in my last days in Toronto, and just having that cloud over my head and knowing that I’d be leaving soon—it was more so showing my affection for the city that pretty much shaped my sound. G—Did you have a vision in mind when you started writing this album? JC—For the most part Fleurever is just myself and my
When asked to describe herself in three words, Nina Nesbitt didn’t hesitate. “Introverted, creative, and driven”. While you wouldn’t guess the former from her edgy, empowering tracks—her latest single “Loyal To Me” is a girl-power anthem, rallying women to ditch their unfaithful partners—the latter two can’t be questioned. In the six years since she was discovered in an unplanned encounter with Ed Sheeran, Nesbitt has released three EPs and one full length album; toured with Sheeran, Justin Bieber, and U.K rapper Example; and carved her way into the alt-pop scene with a harmonious blend of groove and grit. Earlier this year, the Edinborough-native was one of three emerging female artists chosen to partake in Spotify’s “Louder Together” initiative, recording the first collaborative Spotify single (“Psychopath”) with Sasha Sloan and Charlotte Lawrence, and showcasing her signature style of thoughtful messages pulsating atop hook-driven melodies. With her sophomore album ready to drop, Georgie spoke with Nesbitt about her experience being thrust into the spotlight and maintaining her creative independence throughout it all. G—You’ve been touring a lot this year, specifically in North America. How have your North American audiences been receiving your shows? Is it different than performing for UK audiences?
Named for the Toronto area they grew up in, The Beaches are a far cry from a placid day on the lake. Led by singer/bassist Jordan Miller—with her sister and guitarist Kylie Miller, guitarist/keyboardist Leandra Earl and drummer Eliza Enman-McDaniel—the Canadian four-piece burst out of Toronto with their 2018 debut, Late Show, and have since built up an aura of dissident swagger. Taking home this year’s Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year, the all-fem rock quartet is bringing grunge, gloss, and 70s glamour to a predominantly male genre. Georgie caught up with Leandra to talk about the band’s latest music video, taking charge of their music, and three simple ways to keep women in the industry. G—Did you grow up together in Toronto? LE—Yeah, I met the girls in high school. Jordan and Kylie are sisters, so they’ve known each other a bit longer, but they grew up with Eliza in Toronto’s Beaches area. G—What kind of music were you listening to at that time? LE—We grew up listening to all of the music our parents listened to. That definitely influenced us while writing our debut album since we drew from a lot of the 70’s music that our