I'm only five minutes into a Skype call with Thundercat and Zack Fox, and already the duo are cracking each other up. After being asked how they first met, Los Angeles bassist, singer, and producer Thundercat—whose real name is Stephen Bruner—replies matter-of-factly, "We met on an online dating service." "We met at Aleppo," chimes in the Atlanta illustrator, comedian, and meme creator formerly known as Bootymath. "I was feeling up this goat..."
If you don't follow them on Twitter, their stream-of-consciousness, occasionally politically incorrect sense of humour might be difficult to parse, but put them in a room (virtual or otherwise) and you're bound to be laughing in no time. Arguably this makes them the perfect duo to review the most absurd, terrible, and downright close-your-eyes-and-pray-death-comes-swiftly moments of 2016, a year which saw deaths of some of our favourite artists, Brexit, and a xenophobic misogynist elected to the highest position in the free world.
However it wasn't all bleak news—Gucci Mane got out of prison, Lil Yachty put out some great tunes, and the Olympics happened against all possible odds. Before we get too deep in 2017, let's take a walk down memory lane and revisit 2016 through the eyes of two best friends.
January 8: Notorious Mexican drug lord and head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is captured by federal police and marines following a shootout.
THUMP: Do you remember where you were when El Chapo was captured?
Zack Fox: I think I was cheating on my girlfriend.
Thundercat: I was probably inside my girlfriend.
There's a lot of rappers who have referenced him in songs, do you think this will have an impact?
ZF: I think everybody will be alright as long as we keep Lil Yachty alive. I think Lil Yachty is running the game, so far as drug use goes, I'll just buy my drugs from Lil Yachty.
TC: I think the drug thing is going to start phasing out because popular rappers right now are moving away from that.
ZF: Everybody's wearing small jeans and 50 Cent wife-beaters.
TC: People are going to start referencing Elon Musk in raps.
January 10: David Bowie dies at the age of 69, two days after the release of his 25th and final album, Blackstar.
TC: That was the first sign that I was like "Oh shit, this is not going to be a good year." He wasn't the first one, there were two other big people in January who died, and then his death happened. You know that old saying "famous deaths happen in threes"? I was like nah, this is new internet-type shit, we're about to see everybody die this year.
February 2: The acclaimed TV series The People v. O.J. Simpson premieres, revolving around the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder case, and starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as the former NFL player and actor.
Did you watch the show? ZF & TC: [simultaneously] Hell no.
TC: I don't need to watch white people brag about like the reversal of one of the greatest black victories in history.
ZF: Basically O.J. is in jail right now going "Man..." Somebody definitely told O.J. about Lil Yachty.
Stephen, you must have been living in Los Angeles when the trial actually happened, correct?
TC: Yeah and it was corny back then too. Latasha Harlins, the girl who was shot by the Korean chick, was a bit more outstanding to me than the O.J. trial growing up, the thing that started the 1992 riots. I wasn't paying attention to O.J., I was paying attention to my little street on fire.
ZF: Like Stephen said, it's corny America shit. Yeah, O.J. was a big trial, so was the Casey Anthony trial. Y'all gonna make a show out of that? No.
TC: It was not a new story to bring back up. Like why don't you just put Voltron on the same channel? Voltron and the O.J. trial are literally around the same amount of heaviness in my mind.
April 21: Prince dies at the age of 57.
TC: I have several different versions of a Prince story. My older brother used to play drums with Prince, and a girl I was dating used to work with Prince. Prince actually wanted to sing on Kendrick's album [2015's To Pimp a Butterfly] and I was very anti it, because I wanted him to create something himself when it came to Kendrick. I felt very intimidated by Prince and got scared when he wanted to sing on "Complexion (A Zulu Love)."
By the time he died, I had expected the unexpected, but the way he died pissed me off. Like really? He died in the one moment he was by himself in an elevator, that's sad. I feel like in the moment that it happened, I don't think he realized it was going to happen but upon realizing it, there was no one.
ZF: I think Prince dying was less sad for Prince than it was for our time on Earth right now. A marker for like, "Damn we suck so bad, we don't even deserve this guy." But he left behind all this great work and more work that we haven't even heard.
TC: And then you watch people go crazy, the whole thing about the the fight to keep his estate, and where his stuff is going to land becomes global news. It's crazy to think that something as pure as music, the art, could be so tainted by human existence.
May 26: Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane is released from prison.
Zach, what was the mood like in Atlanta when Gucci Mane got out?
ZF: You ever watch Immoral Tales? It was like that but black. It was probably the most important moment for white and black people in Atlanta in 2016. Everybody putting everything aside so they could sexually harass somebody while playing a Gucci Mane song out of their car. It was amazing. He's one of the most important people in my upbringing and most people's upbringing in Atlanta. On top of getting out, he was so positive about life and being healthy, that still people had to ruin it and be corny by saying he was a clone.
I forgot about that. TC: People just want to see you fail.
ZF: Gucci is such a fucking tank to come where he comes from and do what he's done. A lot of that negativity doesn't reach him cosmically. For him to get out and be like "I'm not drinking lean, I'm putting fruit in water" and people are like "No, I want you to harm yourself." I'm just really happy that he's not dead or in prison any more.
June 23: A referendum is held in the UK with 52% of voters voting in favour of Britain leaving the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron resigns and Theresa May replaces him.
I feel like the majority of North Americans had no idea what Brexit was until it happened.
TC: The fact that it got a nickname I thought it was a sandwich for a long time. Like I'm going to go to McDonald's and order a Brexit.
ZF: Nothing for the next couple of years is going to surprise me, the shit that people do, and the shit that people co-sign.
June 24: Parliament-Funkadelic and Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell dies at the age of 72.
Stephen, I know Bernie Worrell's death was a big one for you, can you talk a little about how he influenced your music.
TC: I remember coming to the realization of who he was, and what he's done, during the years I was involved with the Sa-Ra Creative Players. I had a bit of a love affair with Bernie Worrell's music, the moment where I got a chance to meet him, I was so happy that I could let him know how much he meant to me. If someone really did something for you, you have to let them know, especially when they're here in the moment if you can. Otherwise there's just the internet.
When he passed it was very difficult, because I did keep in contact with him after meeting him. I'm from a different generation, but like Prince, he was a guy who was just better than most things. That definitely sucked.
August 5-21: The 2016 Summer Olympics are held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
ZF: Did not give a fuck.
TC: So many levels of no fucks.
ZF: The Olympics are funny because it's like after all these centuries, we're still dumb enough to pit every country against each other in this petty ass competition. It's not even as basically barbaric as it was originally, it's just cosmetic at this point, we're just doing it because we feel like we're supposed to.
How do we fix the Olympics?
TC: Well in 1996 in Atlanta one person tried to and miserably failed.
ZF: You know how you fix the Olympics? If you're in a certain rich tax bracket, then you have to compete in the Olympics. That makes more sense than taking people from the working class. George Bush, he can't throw a fucking javelin, Obama can't fucking...
Obama can play basketball though.
ZF: He would get his ass whooped on that court though. He would get his ankles broken by some little guy from Thailand.
August 23: Thundercat releases single "Bus In These Streets" featuring artwork by Bootymath.
ZF: That was in August?
TC: We are hurtling towards death.
ZF: I deadass thought that was like two weeks ago. God I gotta slow down.
TC: I don't even remember what was happening around that time. I think I was getting feral very slowly, drinking Booker's, and it was really sinking in how everything was terrible. That song was like John Malkovich in the end of Burn After Reading, fully livid, asking, "What the fuck is going on right now?"
Nov. 8: Donald Trump becomes president-elect of the United States.
That brings us to the orange elephant in the room... Do you think it's possible to find humour in the situation or is the reality too dark now to joke about?
TC: I don't think it's ever been funny and that's what makes it seem like it's funny, the bleakness of it all. It's been the darkest part of America's subconscious—for one second we thought we were moving ahead, and it's like no, no we're not.
TC: Not even remotely. It's almost like you're waiting to see what happens next, you see one car crash, and then you're like oh, let's see if the other cars slow down. The messed up reality of what Trump is doing, whatever he's done, has literally socially caused us to fall back 50, maybe 60 years. I do sometimes believe things have to get bad before they get good, I don't know what this dude is capable of, but at the end of the day the threat of you not being able to be who you are, and do what you do has always been looming.
How do you try to stay positive as artists?
ZF: As a person with an audience, I'm only going to reciprocate all of the negativity that I see in the world, obviously at this point it's just sad. I'm happy too because it's objectively the best time in human history to be alive, you can do anything you want if you want to, but we have some of the worst circumstances to get through.
It's like we're old boxy 90s Gateway computers, but we're trying to run on whatever the latest iOS is, we're still fighting our human biology and our monkey dumb shit. And when I say "monkey," I mean like everybody, but mostly white people.
What can we expect from you both in 2017 when it comes to new music, collaborations, etc.?
ZF: I'm making a TV show.
TC: Yeah man, hopefully we have a TV show, and low key we can just take over and hopefully they'll be tons and tons of publicized dick pics from both of us.
ZF: I'm also hosting this game show called The Drop. Basically the whole premise is you get two people who used to date each, and they dropkick each other in public, and people rate the dropkicks. It's like Cheaters but there's no cheating aspect to it.
Will the scoring be like in figure skating when the judges hold up cards?
ZF: Nah, that's kind of archaic, we're building an app where you can rate from home. I'm just the host so I don't really do anything.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Max Mertens is on Twitter.