When I think of Compton rapper Buddy, the word that immediately comes to mind is “light.” He doesn’t so much rap within a beat as he breezes across the top of it like a quick current across the surface of a beach. He is both hot and cold, balanced perfectly on the edge of rhythm. This feeling even extends to his name—it’s always a good time when your favorite buddy arrives to hang.
Over the past six years, Buddy has showcased his zeal and pure vocals alongside a litany of industry giants like Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, and Kaytranada, but on his newly-released major-label debut, Harlan & Alondra, the 24-year-old clears the room to take center stage, delivering his personal story as one of Compton’s most versatile artists.
When I ask him over the phone how it feels for his debut album—nine years in the making—to finally be released to the masses, Buddy is quite blunt. “I feel relieved,” he says. “It’s like taking a shit. I had it in me for so long and now it’s just out into the world, just flushed.”
Say what you will about his humor, but Buddy’s style is anything but forced. The album is named for the cross-section where he grew up in Compton, a fitting title for a vocalist Crip walking on the divide between old and new. The ornate funk of opener “Real Life Shit” flows into the synthetic staccato of “Shameless” the same way the digitized lift of “Hey Up There” melts into the sun-baked lowrider bop that is “Trouble on Central.” Every record plays fast and loose with the traditions and reinventions spearheaded by the ghosts of G-funk’s past and future, and Buddy’s light touch is the glue that holds it all together.
“Everything just kinda came out,” he says when I asked about the album’s sequencing. “It was like throwing paint on canvas, really. Took a bunch of different colors and threw ‘em on there to see what came out.”
Against the project’s vast backdrop, those colors are vibrant. “Shameless” is an official blessing count, relishing flights to France with friends and new jewels just for the hell of it. Those friends include Zini, who vamps about selling regs and flying in jets paid for by labels over the track’s intro, and guest Guapdad 4000, whose verse left Buddy stumped during the original recording for a full week:
“He showed up randomly the day we was making 'Shameless'; Mike & Keys were making the beat, I was messing around on the mic with a couple little ideas like the hook (“Shameless, shameless”). I gave him the mic and he freestyled his verse, wrote it out, perfected it, and recorded it. Right then and there, it took me another week to write my own verse because I was still listening to Guapdad, 'cause his shit was immaculate.”
As the album continues, Guapdad’s moneyed vibe rubs off on Buddy. The come-up songs (“Hey Up There,” “Shine”) are aspirational, the result of patience paid off: “Never had it like this, don’t lie / We ain’t have gifts at Christmas time / Now I’m gettin’ mine.” Buddy gets a taste for love and late-night action on his paramour’s mama’s couch on the Snoop Dogg-assisted “The Blue” and is as smooth as the beats he glides over on “Speechless.”
Even the shadows in Buddy’s life pop rather than seethe. He saves his fiercest rapping for the jumpy single “Black,” on which he and guest A$AP Ferg big up the Black Panthers and Trayvon Martin while draped in Dapper Dan-designed Gucci. “Find Me 2” is an inverted sequel to the opener he created alongside Kaytranada on 2017's Ocean & Montana EP, flipping the same refrain (“Lord willin’ we won’t die tonight / We gon’ fly tonight”) through a more introspective lens. Being “the last n*gga to sign to Star Trak” as a former ward of Pharrell may not erase those he’s lost along the way, but it doesn’t hurt.
“Young” balances living in the moment and prepping for the future with a note-perfect interpolation of OutKast’s “Liberation,” one of two overt shout-outs on the album to the legendary Atlanta group, but according to Buddy, this one came with a legal hurdle the pair was more than willing to jump.
“I have the pleasure of being friends with André and Big Boi, they both was real cool," Buddy reveals. “It’s tight for them to even clear ['Liberation'] and allow me to have that on my album. It was a blessing that they listened to it and they liked it. All that Dungeon Family shit is super tight; changed my life listening to those songs because they’re so different and unapologetically themselves and still relatable. It’s like you already knew them through their music even though you’ve never met them and then they’re just as cool as they are on the record."
Whereas the duo who changed Buddy's life would dance on the edge of old funk and new raps throughout the '90s and beyond, Buddy is content with only embracing himself and writing his own book. To celebrate the release of Harlan & Alondra, he shot a short film for a direct-to-Instagram release. “I had five racks and I went to the Arco [gas station] right around the corner from where I grew up in Compton on Central and Alondra, right down the street from Harlan, and I gave away free gas,” he says, explaining the motivation behind the mini-movie.
As for the idea to release a short film on Instagram, Buddy cuts me off before I could even finish asking my question: “We copied Tierra Whack," he says, praising the Philly newcomer who premiered her must-listen 2018 debut, Whack World, in bite-sized one-minute chunks on the social media platform. Artists like Jaden Smith (SYRE: The Electric Album) and Sylvan LaCue (Florida Man) also got the memo, but Buddy is the first act to cite Whack’s direct influence. “We fasho was biting Tierra Whack because she’s so hard,” he chuckles. “She changed the game, we owe her money.”
Buddy's honesty and explorer spirit are the skates that he uses to traverse the worlds of rap and soul, a journey he doesn't plan to abort anytime soon. Following the release of Harlan & Alondra, Buddy plans to begin work on a collaborative project with 03 Greedo, the prolific rapper and fellow Angeleno who began a 20-year prison stint earlier this month.
“That nigga recorded like 300 or 500 something songs before he went in and he told me to rap on some,” Buddy reveals. “We’re gonna do a tape, so I just gotta go talk to a whole bunch of producers with 03 Greedo songs on they computers and try to make ‘em cold-ass songs that can go out to the world while he’s sitting down. He can’t never fall off.”
Buddy's aspirations, both for himself and for his home team, are palpable. If Harlan & Alondra is any indication, Buddy's shine is strong enough to pierce any cloud that dares to rain on his parade.