Before our interview begins, Buddy practically inhales his chicken burger and fries from Shake Shack. After slurping down an Arnold Palmer and loudly letting out a few belches (which he apologizes profusely for), the Compton rapper is finally ready to tell his life story and talk about his debut album Harlan & Alondra. Born as Simmie Sims III, the 24-year-old grew up on gospel. His father was a director for the men’s choir at church and as a kid, his entry point to music was singing in the children’s choir. When he wasn’t in that type of environment, Buddy listened to whatever was playing on MTV or the local radio stations, specifically calling out Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, DJ Quik, Outkast and Missy Elliott.
When it comes to his roots, Buddy has a lot of pride for Compton. The title of his debut album is named after the cross streets of his parents’ house. The cover art complements this central theme with a photo by Dan Regan of the rapper with his parents, sisters and nephew outside in front of the house. The way Buddy explains it, Harlan & Alondra is about “real life shit” that he’s been through, from sex and drugs to politics and progress. In terms of his personal growth since his Idle Time mixtape dropped back in 2014, Buddy says that he has been “gaining experiences and getting my business in order” as he curates a sound for himself in a lane of his own.
Scroll down and get to know Buddy in our exclusive interview below.
I know you grew up doing acting and musicals, but when did being a rapper come into the picture for you?
I was doing the conservatory thing and then we had a talent show to raise money for costume design and stage set-up. I ended up in a rap group and we made a song about Pro Club’s white tees and we performed it. I thought it was tight and kept making songs.
How did working on the Ocean and Montana EP with Kaytranada enhance your creativity? Or how did it change the way in which you’ve been approaching making music, if it has at all?
Well, I would always try whatever on any type of beat. I was always working with a bunch of random producers and seeing what I can do to any beat. I never really boxed myself into a certain type of beat, I would always just experiment with different sounds. Kaytranada’s so tight. When I met him, he just sent me a bunch of beats and he went and did his thing. He was touring or working overseas or something. I was just rapping on a bunch of his beats by myself, working with an engineer, writing and recording to the beats he sent. I did enough that I was like, “Bro, let’s do a tape.”
The real creativity came from—I had just moved out of my parents’ house so Ocean and Montana was the cross streets to my first apartment, right across the street from the beach in Santa Monica. It was a completely different vibe than waking up every day and going to sleep in Compton, a different energy. I would go to the beach more, ride my bike… I started cooking, hanging out, setting up young adult vibes like grocery shopping, all type of shit. I feel that was more the energy where the creativity stemmed from for that tape.
I know that Compton is a big inspiration for your music in general, could you elaborate on what growing up there has meant to you?
Well, I feel like people growing up in Compton means so much more to everybody else. It’s like they put so much weight behind it so there’s all this expectation and stuff for people, especially rappers, coming out of Compton. For me, it’s more so bringing focus to the location and showing the world that it’s a bunch of different stuff going on because I’m completely different than all of the Compton artists. For real, they all tell me, “Yeah, you different.” I really try to bring the eyes to the city more so than taking the energy from the city because my parents kept me out of the city growing up. I was doing a bunch of activities in mid-city Los Angeles, downtown, the beach, North Hollywood, and it’s a bunch of different energies rather than just Compton, but that’s still where I’m from. More so just bringing the focus to that.
The song that struck me the most on the album was “Black.” Even though it evokes black pride, it reminded me how there’s no such thing as a universal black experience. We’re all different, we have different experiences, and we come from different communities even though we have the same exterior. Coming up into this whole rap scene and being from Compton, have you felt pressured or expected to be a certain way or present a certain image?
I definitely don’t feel the pressure. I’m aware that is around or there, but I don’t really give it energy or pay attention to it. I’m so focused on just being myself and staying genuine and humble, and just doing cool, fun stuff.
Going off of that, what has your experience been like with blackness? Right now we’re living in these very heated times and to be young and black in America is intense in some ways. How have you been dealing with everything?
I be faded. We be smoking weed everywhere we’re not supposed to be smoking weed. Niggas be telling us to stop. We couldn’t get into Canada, because I was on tour with Joey Badass. I shared a Sprinter with Boogie, and then it was just like four black niggas. Looked like I was high. My merch got a weed leaf on it. It was like, “Y’all for sure faded. Y’all not getting in.” So we just kind of keep moving forward, you know? They really didn’t let us in because I got a felony back in 2013… I got to clean my record up. That’s another thing. They just want to get us locked down. It’s all good. I ain’t going back and forth with these niggas. Living my best life.
I really love “The Blue,” it’s such a jam. It made me wonder, what is your relationship like with women in general?
So, I’m getting better at this. I used to lie. Once upon a time, I lied to a girl and it went real south. After that, I started telling the truth. I’ve been super open and honest with the different women that I’ve been dealing with in my life, and it’s been going really nice. Some girls really like me, and I hurt their feelings at times with the decisions that I make, but I am so blessed to be able to communicate those feelings and be honest with myself as well, with what I’m trying to do. I love women.
On the opening track, “Real Life Shit” you touch a little bit on Trump and throw in the lady issues. Why did you decide to pick that track to be the intro for getting everybody into this album?
Because that shit was so tight. It sounded so tight. When I listened to all the songs without any order or track list, that was the one that I felt like really grabs everybody’s attention. It’s like grabbing you by the collar, like, “Sit down. Listen to this.” And then it goes into some other cool stuff. I just felt like it was the first record. That was the first song that I made, too, when I started working on the album. First couple of sessions, I was just working with Brody. Me and him. He had just started making the beat, and I was just singing the lyrics a little bit, trying to figure it out. We worked on it a couple more times, and I wrote all the raps and stuff, and that shit was tight.
How long had you been working on the album?
It’s been like a year and some change, now. Probably started last year around June. End of June, early July. It’s been damn near a year.
You have collaborations with A$AP Ferg, Khalid and Ty Dolla $ign on the record. How did those end up happening? Why those three guys? What did you think they were bringing to the table?
Well, they all tight in they own right, and then I saw the light, so I said, “All right, it might take flight.” And it came out right… No, I’m just kidding. No, Khalid is on RCA with me, and Tunji signed both of us, so he texted me like, “Oh, Khalid got this hook. He wants a rapper on it.” And we kind of stripped the beat. Rufio and Mike and Keith. Brody remade the beat and I wrote some raps and we put it on my album like, “Yeah, this is tight.”
And then Ty Dolla $ign, I always work with Ty Dolla $ign. He’s like the hardest worker right now, in the industry. So he just kind of popped up one day, I pulled the record up, he laid his verse and played me some more beats. Oh my god, we worked on some other stuff. It’s not on my album, but it’s still tight that we working on for the future.
And then A$AP Ferg, I was working with Pharrell at the time, trying to get some beats for the album–I didn’t get any yet, we going to make another album. He was working with A$AP Ferg at the same time, so Pharrell had to go home, because he got kids, and me and Ferg was hanging out. I played him “Black.” He was like, “Oh, send this, I’m about to rap on this right now.” You know? And yeah, it kind of just all happened. Super organic.
I love how you used the “Hey Up There” video to show significant landmarks in Compton. How did that concept come together and what were some of the memories associated with those specific places for you?
Well, the airport is right down the street from Harlan, the street I grew up on, and a lot of people don’t even know it exists. I used to go there as a child and they had pilot classes. They would teach you how to fly helicopters, planes, and we would sit in there and learn how to fly. And I just wanted to show that in a video, and “Hey Up There” was such the perfect song, because airplanes and it be up there. So we got a helicopter, the little kids, and we did it up.
Would you ever try to fly a plane or do you want to own a plane?
Big time. I mean, I’m a little rusty. I haven’t took no pilot class in a minute. I wasn’t really flying the plane, but it sure did look like it, didn’t it? You just got to press the right knob, lean it the right way, and you can’t lift your hands up when you get out the heli, because the propelly will slice your hand off.
You’re only 24, but if you could go back in time and give a younger version of yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell him to embrace it, you know? Just embrace it all. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Speak your mind. And be nice. I used to be mean. I would pants niggas. I got kicked out for pantsing a girl, she had a g-string on.
That happened in my middle school to a girl one time and it’s still ingrained in my memory. It was kind of like that episode of Degrassi when Mannie wears the thong for the first time. Did you ever watch Degrassi?
They had it on TV in Compton. We just turned the channel… Drake tight.
Drake is cool, but I’m not going to even comment on Scorpion… What else have you been doing outside of making music? What keeps you sane and feeling grounded?
I just hang out with my family, really. I’m trying to really learn how to cook right now and building out my house because I got a new crib right around the time I started working on the album, but then I was working on the album all the time. I never got time to really set it up all the way. I need a new couch. Regular shit like that. I’m trying to set up my little patio, get a bean bag, maybe. A projector. And just do regular human stuff. I got my food spots that I be going to, but I’m really trying to cook at home more. I’m really mentally preparing to get a dog come 2020. I’m giving myself until 2020 to stabilize my life to be in a position to own an animal, and shit like that.
What kind of dog are you thinking?
I don’t know. I’m excited to shop and check out all the different breeds. I’mma really dig it.
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- Styling: Corey Stokes