Anyone who’s spent time talking with Thundercat or listening to his music will soon discover that the best way to get him to open up is to talk about his love for Japan and Japanese culture. Pachinko machines, sushi, Street Fighter II, Dragonball Z, Sony headphones, Nintendo Game Boys — the experimental bassist-singer-producer treats it all with a fervor verging on the religious. One of the highlights on his latest album, Drunk, is “Tokyo.” Layering a classically dense and liquid funk groove over futuristic keyboards clearly influenced by video-game soundtracks, the song’s lyrics detailed the artist’s pilgrimage to Japan’s central metropolis in a tone of childlike wonder. Much as Tokyo is the capital of Japan, “Tokyo” sits at the very center of Drunk, the 12th track out of 23, a refuge of joyful luxury set in a gorgeously rendered landscape of worry and confusion.
The video for “Tokyo” is a decidedly low-budget affair, consisting entirely of medium-resolution footage of Thundercat’s travels in the city. Compared to the high-concept video for Drunk’s “Them Changes,” released two years ago and memorably featuring the artist in full samurai regalia, it’s more down-to-earth. But the production values for the new video are more than enough to register the unspoiled delight on Thundercat’s face. He’s kissing a Game Boy, he’s playing Street Fighter (Ryu versus E. Honda, both of them native Japanese), he’s chowing down on raw fish, visiting an exhibit of anime sculptures, wearing scouter eyewear from Dragonball Z. He doesn’t want to sleep because there’s so much to take in, but best believe that when he does don a sleep mask while riding through Tokyo’s immaculate subway system, the eyes on the mask are those of DBZ’s Super Saiyan Goku. A purer love has yet to be committed to film so far this year.
Renowned as an avant-garde musician, Thundercat is clearly ahead of the curve as well when it comes to his love for Japanese pop culture, and for anime in particular. More than a few of the young black artists currently climbing to stardom — Lil Uzi Vert in particular — are vocal about their passion for the vivid sensibility on display in Japanese cartoons. The “Tokyo” video is one of the first to put Japan front and center, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that it won’t be the last.