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Thundercat names his favorite basslines and explains why slap bass is so controversial

Bass wizard Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner has made a name for himself playing with everyone from Flying Lotus to Kamasi Washington to Kendrick Lamar, not to mention with his own impressive solo output.

But while everyone seems to love Bruner’s basslines, what basslines does Thundercat himself hold in high esteem?

In a recent sit down with Pitchfork for its Under the Influences series, he revealed some of his favorites, beginning with D’Angelo’s 1995 song, Lady.

“This is the beginnings of me learning about feel and the importance of how things sit in a song,” Thundercat explains.

“It took me a long time to really wrap my mind about the part where this guy’s only playing three notes but this song grooves so hard.”

From there, Bruner dissects the basslines from numerous classic songs, including The Brothers Johnson’s Strawberry Letter 23 (“If you ever wanted to know what pimpin’ was, play this song,” he says) and Jaco Pastorious’s Portrait of Tracy.

He also singles out Jack Bruce’s “iconic” bass part in Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love.  

“This is one of those driving basslines that you can’t get away from,” Thundercat says.

Additionally, Thundercat spends plenty of time ruminating on the positives and negatives of slap bass, and highlights Graham Central Station’s Hair as a high point of the technique.

“Larry Graham invented slap bass,” he says. “This is a known fact.”

In the end, no matter what approach you take to the instrument, “If your feel sucks, you just suck,” Thundercat says. “There’s nothing you can do about that.”

Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.