Here’s where Thundercat gets his inspiration

Written by By Claire Tatum, CNN Early in his career, jazz drummer Thundercat achieved notoriety by getting into argument with Dr. Dre on Twitter. Now, after five acclaimed albums and years of A-list collaborations,…

Here's where Thundercat gets his inspiration

Written by By Claire Tatum, CNN

Early in his career, jazz drummer Thundercat achieved notoriety by getting into argument with Dr. Dre on Twitter.

Now, after five acclaimed albums and years of A-list collaborations, including with Kendrick Lamar and British saxophonist Jamie Cullum, the Los Angeles-based player is inching closer to pop fame — all the while nurturing his roots.

Thundercat, whose real name is Nathaniel Rateliff , recently chatted with CNN about the delicate relationship between art and commerce, his transformation as a musician and the emotional demand of collaborating with people he feels a connection with.

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a musician?

It’s funny, because if I would try to answer that now, I’d say (about five years ago). I was just ‘I want to do this because I can and I want to’ (sic). It wasn’t like ‘I want to be a jazz musician.’ There was a part of me that was like, ‘I could do it.’ But at the same time, as a kid (me being) a fan of everything and stuff, having that little voice, it was like the worst thing to have, that selfishness.

You were definitely on the road before you became successful. How has that made you who you are?

I think just having the work ethic and not knowing what the business is, and the understanding that this is just one way of making something and having fun. With touring and all the necessary business meetings and stuff like that, just not caring. And, you know, for not being ready or making things happen in a business man kind of way, and just being, like, like, “Me, you know, this is what I want. This is the way I want to make this.” It kind of just comes down to being passionate about whatever you want to do.

Had you always thought about how you’d put music out into the world?

Yeah, of course. (For) so many years, I’d been having this idea.

I’m like, “I’m going to put my thoughts in a form and people are going to hear it and I want to make it sound cool.”

I was a musician before I was a creative; I was just a musician first. So, I was just focusing on that. And of course, it’s going to get big. You’re going to want to hear it. You’re going to be like, “Oh, man, I want to hear more of that.” Or, “I’m done with that.” And I was like, “Yeah.” It was really that simple. That would be it.

What inspired you to write ‘Custard?’

“Custard” is a record about three dudes that get incarcerated after they’re bailed out. It was just a story about the feeling that this happens for a lot of black men in our community and we take that as normal. We don’t talk about it.

It’s real world stuff. It’s gonna tell a story. It doesn’t need to end in like a jaunty way, like a buddy movie. It needed to be, like, real.

And people are really giving it attention, honestly. In the past we’d like to sit back and be like, “That (stuff) is just for us.” It’s for the world. Everybody can talk about what’s going on but I didn’t want to talk about it as reality, being like, “Oh, this is how it is.” I’m like, “Oh no, that’s not how it is.”

You had a handful of issues with Kendrick Lamar on Twitter. There was a lot of symbolism there, which I don’t think is insignificant in your music. How do you feel about using symbolic context?

I feel like, as musicians, we’re obsessed with visual art and narrative storytelling.

That’s just the way it is. And as a child, as a kid, I love the text. Like a text is one of the most pure forms of art creation. Like I didn’t know nothing about people but I just found the sound of human beings to be really interesting and I just wanted to understand what’s behind it all. That’s what made me into (snoring): I wanted to get to know someone. That’s why I love reading so much and I love storytelling so much. I was obsessed with all that.

What are you reading now?

I’m read through. I

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