For a long time, no one knew who Thundercat was. When Mr. Granger first sought to make it big in Los Angeles more than two decades ago, he was rejected. Then one day, a mainstream musician told him he was amazing and should get serious about the music he loved. And this is where it gets tricky to explain the budding funk star without glossing over his influence or inadvertently revealing a biographical detail that barely shows him on screen.
As the 2011 documentary Ask the Dust introduces viewers to him, he is a no-name who meets a math teacher at a school in an overcrowded public housing project in Watts. “My homey told me the dude would kill every sweet so and so on the streets of Los Angeles and I said, ‘Odds against that dude?’ Like, odds against a fucking white kid who graduated high school?” he tells the director.
The film briefly explains his pensive upbringing. At that point, Mr. Granger was 23 years old. Back then, he was just one of many black artists who struggled for decades to break through a limited music industry that, at least for about the first decade of its existence, was built around a white record-buying public. “A black musician doesn’t even get promoted to quality A&R,” he says. “And then the A&R man is one in a million.”
The role of a programmer behind the scenes doesn’t even exist.
“It was like there were seven black artists and one white artist on the show,” he says of those early years in Hollywood.
Then the music industry began to change. “Now there are hundreds of white stars, if not thousands.”
To have a shot at making it big, you needed to be more aggressive than just a string of YouTube videos. Those videos helped him gain awareness, and brought him to the attention of Oscar winners Paul Thomas Anderson and Spike Lee. But he never needed to use his own voice.
“I came up being totally selfish,” he says in the film. “Like, ‘Yeah, this is cool, OK. Let’s do my own thing.’”