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Getting his Shining onMeet Buddy

by Catarina Ramalho

Buddy’s far from flawless perspective of the world, fluid cadence and cerebral storytelling indicated this was an artist to keep an eye on from very early on. Signed to Pharrell Williams’s I am OTHER label all the way in 2009, Buddy has been slowly and steadily building a solid blueprint for himself.

Aged 25, the Compton born and raised artist has the unique ability to drop some of the bluntest discharge of one’s consciousness, while his vibrant personality keeps a sort of effortless effort to emanate empathy. To date, the West Coast polymath accounts with two EP releases, a critically acclaimed debut full length and a bunch of features with American heavy-weights such as ‘Way Hii’ on A$AP Mob’s Cozy tapes, Nipsey Hussle’s anthemic ‘Status Symbol’ I to III, Mahalia’s ‘Hold On’, and tours alongside Joey Bada$$, A$AP Ferg and Vince Staples.

In conversation, he describes ‘Shine’, his sonic celebration of being alive and living, as a church song that he would like to perform in ‘a fire ass church’, while his second most streamed record, ‘Black’, would be better fitted to ‘a pep rally, like inauguration. Next inauguration. If Bernie win.’

“I was trying to get beats from Pharrell for some other songs and he was working with Ferg at the same time. Pharrell left the studio, and I asked Ferg if he wanted to rap on it. He understood the importance of the record and we recorded it right there. Shout outs to Ferg. He just went for it.” – he replies as to how ‘Black’ was brought to existence.

The lines between personal and political often blur when one is treated unfairly in the basis of a physical characteristic that one has absolutely no control of. ‘Black’s somber-keys sets an ominous tone to the track from the get-go, while the stories being told on verse – a sobering mesh of historical references with current occurrences – gives this track a unique identity that’s equal parts a protest song and a eulogy.

Firmly grounded in the current social-political American landscape, ‘Black’ poses challenging thoughts and critics to the American’s longstanding police brutality, enrooted classism, and ingrained racism, but it also shares a proud perspective of a young black male as he thrives for enlightenment. Released around this time last year, Buddy performed it extensively from coast to coast, dropping information across the nation culminating in a globally televised performance this year, at James Corden’s Late Late show alongside Ferg.

“It’s really good. It gets better with time, it really doesn’t really hit home till later. Shit has really been fucked up around here.” – he comments on the public perception and reception of the track – “The lyrics, I really make sure that I proper pronunciate all my words when I’m performing, to make sure that people understand all the words that I’m saying. It’s a different feeling that you get. The beat is tight, and the energy that I bring on stage is refreshing and I’m singing something that’s different”.

The second preview of to his body of work came late spring. ‘Trouble on Central’ was the perfect track to cruise downtown as days get longer and temperatures started to rise late-spring, and ‘Hey Up There’ ft Ty Dolla $ign and Kent Jamz premiered on Ebro’s program for Beats 1 radio June past. While the intersection of ‘Ocean and Montana’ is said to have inspired the collaborative EP with Kaytranada, for his debut full-length, Buddy took us back to his childhood home, the crossroads where Harlan Avenue and Alondra Blvd meet.

As hip hop becomes progressively amorphous with pop culture, doors have incessantly opened to sonic experimentation, yet it’s storytelling element seems to fade into the background at times. That’s perhaps what makes this album so special. Because, ”it’s more than the music, I have been going through some real life shit.” – as he states it on the project’s opening track.

Released July last year, ‘Harlan & Alondra’s exceptional songcraft showcases Buddy’s ability to clearly articulate his thoughts on real life shit – love, sex, drugs, and politics – into socially-switched-on rhymes without ever being overbearing. An uplifting sense of unity and positivity permeates throughout the record, while its varied production transcends convention to bring the style forward. From danceable G-funk to R&B croons to rapid bar-for-bar switches, this album is a collaborative effort throughout, that merges South Central Los Angeles rich musical history with Buddy and his extended musical family: Snoop Dogg, Ty Dolla $ign, Khalid, A$AP Ferg, 03 Greedo, Guapdad 4000.

To celebrate the album’s release last summer, Buddy gave free gas at the Arco on LA’s Central Avenue, proudly gave back to the community that has watched him grow. When questioned about the intention behind the unusual activation, he promptly replies:

“I understand the situation around life, be in the ghetto without having money for gas. I was in a position to give back if I wanted to because I used to be broke and there was no one giving money for gas when I was broke. When I got to the position to do that, I just thought – let me do that. Let me be that guy. It was a selfless gesture. It’s always nice to give back.”

‘Harlan and Alondra’ was received with critical praise by tourists, purists and tastemakers alike. Released in the peak of summer, six months later you’d find it in countless ‘Best Records of 2018’ lists. However, “some people think that I only released this album this year” – he comments while asked about the selection process for the newly released deluxe version. During our conversation, Buddy confirms that the deluxe’s version four additional tracks – Cubicle, It’s Love, Link Up and Bad Attitude – were always meant to be an integral part of the project.

“I really wanted people to take the clarity of the 03 Greedo verse on that track. He just sounds hella clean. I think the hood needed that. I wanted them to take a new 03 Greedo verse while that n++++ is still in jail. It’s a rarity at this point.” – Buddy comments on ‘Cubicle’

LA-based rapper 03 Greedo was sentenced to a two-decade prison sentence on charges of drug possession and unlawful possession of a firearm and he’s currently incarcerated. The collaboration between the two was also the first single from the deluxe version to receive visual treatment. Even though the date of when the LouisKnows directed video was shot is uncertain, the video’s personal touch and social relevance leave room to draw analogies parallels between street hustle to an office job, into a juicy full-on re-enactment of Office Space.

“JID and I were trying to figure out whose songs is this, and we just played rock paper scissors for it. And I won.” – he shares on the origins for the ‘Link Up’ – “It was before the Revenge Sessions. JID was staying at an Airbnb not far from my house and we were just hanging out. Ari was there, Bas was there, Flying Lotus was out with Thundercat, and I was just like, what are we doing? My people set up a studio session, and we made that song.”

Featuring JID, Bas, Ari Lennox, Guapdad4000, BJ the Chicago Kid, Kent Jamz and Buddy, the Flying Lotus and Thundercat-assisted ‘Link Up’ defies how many artists you can fit into a 3-minute track, paying homage to their friendship. The artists featured on the ‘Link Up’ were summoned to J.Cole’s Dreamville’s camp in Atlanta earlier this year: The Revenge of the Dreamers session III. Even though the project’s outcomes are still shrouded in a veil of mystery Buddy assured us that “ as soon as that comes out that shit is going to be hard. It’s going to be great.”

Currently on the last leg of Vince Staples ‘Smile, you’re on Camera’ North American tour alongside Armani Blanco, Buddy’s already confirmed to come back to the UK this summer. As for new material: “Unreleased?” – he pauses – “A bunch, and I keep on making more. So many.”

Nina Nagele and Setor Tsikudo
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