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Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to recognize genius the moment we see it. Sunday night at U Street Music Hall a fortunate five hundred people bore witness to the future of funk, hip-hop, and jazz, all pouring out of an oddball fellow dressed in a black poncho, Birkenstock sandals, and pants tucked into cartoon print socks. Stephen Bruner, better known as Thundercat, is truly not of this planet.

The Los Angeles native played over an hour and forty-five minutes to a sold out crowd that rose and fell in perfect harmony to the vibes his prog-jazz trio was putting out. Flanked by a keyboard/synth player and a drummer, Thundercat channeled the spirit of avant-garde legends who came before him, while also adding his own twist to what jazz and hip-hop are – and more excitingly – what they can be. Thundercat is out here making genre-defying music like it’s nothing, while also earning the respect of his peers and elders.

It was evident early on that this crowd really knew their stuff. As they sung along with equal vigor to major hits and deep cuts, Thundercat remarked on more than one occasion how impressed he was with the audience’s energy and enthusiasm. I’ve previously been critical of audiences for hyped up shows at U Hall – it has often seemed like many people were just there for the ‘gram, or for the “cool” factor inherent in saying you liked an unconventional artist before he or she entered the mainstream. This was not one of those occasions. The artist couldn’t help but crack a smile when over half the crowd sung along to a bossa nova rendition of “Bus In These Streets,” a critique on the overexposed and ultra-connected world we live in, and also the lead single from his latest album, Drunk.

As a bassist and producer, Thundercat marries incredible technical ability with deep sensibilities and eclectic – often eccentric – tastes. It’s clear that he’s been heavily influenced by greats like Stanley Clarke, George Clinton, and Outkast, as well as by more obscure, idiosyncratic artists – his falsetto singing reminiscent of Cody Chesnutt; his melodies aping vocal patterns potentially lifted from French composer Chassol. All in all, we are blessed with an artist who is a voracious consumer and critic on all things culture, creating music that is at the forefront of the next evolution of hip-hop and jazz. Thundercat might claim he’s drunk, but we’re all drinking it up.

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