As an extremely gassed crowd exits the venue, I hear a group of teenagers behind me hollering “that was the BEST free show ever”. We have just finished up at the Buddy show at The Shacklewell Arms, tucked away on a side road from the bustle of Dalston’s Kingsland High Street. Reeling off tracks from the past few years, and including a track or two from upcoming album ‘Harlan & Alondra’, Buddy’s stage presence is electric, and his fans are ready to turn up. Buddy’s music has clearly taken hold of the London crowd, and the combined enthusiasm of the audience and his performance has me excited for his future.
Hailing from Compton, Buddy’s music career has already taken a number of interesting turns. As a teenager, he was signed to Pharrell’s I Am Other label, and his first tape ‘Idle Time’ featured the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Miley Cyrus and Pharrell himself. He has also worked closely with internationally renowned producer Kaytranada, who produced his album ‘Ocean & Montana’. Buddy’s new set of features are nothing to be shy about either (though we’ll fill you in on that later).
Meeting with Buddy and his crew in Shoreditch a few days later, his manager confirms the shared excitement, claiming Shacklewell was the “best show he’s ever done”. Buddy himself seemed to enjoy it too, as he explains “it was super intimate – it felt like everybody was getting a private, personal show, and special for the people who were there”. Sitting in the café at Nobu, Buddy seems chilled and in control, feet up as he sips on a green tea. Though he must be tired (his manager mentioned they’d been in the studio until 4am the night before) he is attentive and eloquent. As we talk about his time in London, he explains how busy he’s been. As well as the Shacklewell show, he recorded two tracks for Radio 1’s iconic ‘live lounge’, and opened up for the Wiz Khalifa Kush & Orange Juice show at the Roundhouse. Wiz is “family” to him, Buddy explains; they’ve known each other for years, as his own manager used to look after Khalifa.
We talk about UK artists for a moment, and Buddy immediately tells me who he’s been checking, “Jorja Smith is sexy as fuck, she’s tight. IAMDDB – she hard. She’s super turnt. She’s like a hood b*tch. Everybody keep talking about some dude named Octavian. I heard some of his shit in the club and people were going crazy! I don’t know what he look like though and I’ve never personally listened to his music”
This new album is taking it back to where I grew up.
Moving on to speaking about the upcoming album, Buddy gets reflective, stating that his new work is “looking back on my life and where I’ve been, and how far I’ve come”. Having already been around the music industry for years, Buddy is now reminiscing on how much progress he’s made. The album name itself is based on the cross streets of Harlan and Alondra in Compton, the location of Buddy’s parents’ house where he grew up. This follows the same trend as his other tapes; ‘Magnolia’ was a street name in north Hollywood where he recorded at Nipsey Hussle’s studio, and ‘Ocean & Montana’ was the first apartment that Buddy moved into on his own. “This new album is taking it back to where I grew up” he says.
Touching on how his new work differs from what we’ve heard before, Buddy says there’s “a lot of live instrumentation, and groovy, funky, new, never been heard before sounds from me.” Having heard the album, I would agree. Buddy’s new work seems to align more with funk and RnB than it does with the current homogenized US rap scene. This is where Buddy’s bite is – his sound is both fun and poignant at the same time. Though it’s dance inducing, his tracks are never short of delivering direct social truths. “I feel like Trayvon with this black hoody on” he says on ‘Black’, a hark to 17 year old Trayvon Martin who was shot to death in 2012, whilst the rest of the track continues to comment on structural racism in America.
It’s not so much about the fame, or the recognition, or how cracking or relevant I am.
Interested in the inspiration for the thematic elements of the album, I ask Buddy to elaborate. Looking thoughtful, he tells me it’s about “growing up in the industry and realizing that it’s not so much about the fame, or the recognition, or how cracking or relevant I am”, but about being financially stable and helping his family – a more mature look at what success in the music world means. Having seen the spotlight, and the often fickle nature of it, Buddy is centering himself on longevity and looking after his close ones, and his music reflects “a bunch of stuff I go through with my every day life, all vocalized over instrumentation.”
Family is a key, recurring theme in Buddy’s tracks, and he explains that his kin actually feature in ‘Harlan & Alondra’: “My dad is preaching on there, my mum is talking. My nephew is saying some stuff on there” he says, literally embedding his project with the voices of those close to him. July 20th, the date of the album release, is also fittingly the same date as his nephew’s birthday, “he wants to go to LegoLand”, he says with a smile. On top of this, Buddy shows the extent of his musical family on the album: “I got Snoop Dogg on there, Ty Dolla Sign, Khalid, ASAP FERG, 03 GREEDO, GUAPDAD4000…” casually reeling off some of Hip Hop’s greatest and freshest talents who are peppered across ‘Harlan & Alondra’s twelve tracks.
As well as working on the album, Buddy has kept himself busy creating a single T-shirt and hoodie run with esoteric clothing label Cactus Plant Flea Market. “I’m trying to be like Wu-Tang and Bad Boy” Buddy says, when I ask him whether there will be a fully fledged Buddy clothing brand. The T-Shirt was done in collaboration with Buddy’s friend Cactus (aka Cynthia Lu) who is Pharrell’s personal assistant (this being how the pair met), and depicts a hand drawn ganja leaf with the words “a Buddy with weed… is a Buddy indeed” on the front. Having mentioned Wu and Bad Boy as his reference points, and working in other creative fields Buddy’s aspirations clearly go further than music.
Looking forward, Buddy is ready for more shows – “ I’m doing Lollapalooza, Rolling Loud, and I’m sure when the album’s out I’ll do my own headliner tour for sure…”.
‘Harlan and Alondra’ drops on Friday July 20th. Until then, listen to his new single ‘Trippin’ featuring Khalid, or catch his performance of ‘Young’ on Vevo.