Collie Buddz on Self-Producing His 'Hybrid' Album & The Benefits of Going Independent: 'In the End, You're Going to Lose'
After returning to the spotlight following the release of 2017's Good Life (his first album in a decade), Collie Buddz has gotten his groove back. The Bermudian dancehall star couldn't wait that long to keep music from his diehard fans again, so he was eager to drop the follow-up right away.
Hybrid, Buddz's third album (released May 24), finds the artist at his strongest. He experiments with previously untapped genres like afrobeat and trap, and masters it as if he's been riding those beats for years. It's quite impressive, seeing how he's actually the one behind them. Hybrid marks the first time the artist -- who is now fully independent -- has self-produced an entire record.
"Yes, the label can promote a lot harder than you," Buddz tells Billboard over the phone. He's calling from his sunny home in Bermuda to be by his wife's side, as the couple recently welcomed their third child. "But in the end, you're going to lose. Trust me, I've been there twice. But never again, fuck that shit!"
Below, Collie Buddz looks back on the journey of creating his own melodies for the first time, the benefits of social media throughout this process and why he'll never return to a major label.
Good Life was your first album in a decade, and this one comes two years after. Why were you ready to drop new music so quickly?
I caught my second wind that brought me in the right direction for this album. [Laughs.] With Good Life, we had to put something out to stay relevant. Could it have been better? Yes. I’m a true believer of quality over quantity. With this album, the feelings are even worse because I'm self-producing it -- so I'm more of a critic. But I'm really happy with the way it turned out. People are saying I could've put more songs, but it's 10 solid tracks. I could've released 20 tracks with half of them being shit!
I wanted to ask you about that. Of course with this streaming era, artists are now putting out lengthy albums. So was your decision to only include 10 songs intentional?
Yeah, it was. I think people's attention spans nowadays are shorter, so it was definitely my intention to have fewer songs. I could've added a couple more -- according to management -- so maybe I'll throw the extra ones out there. That streaming money is doing great nowadays, but I don't think people listen to albums the same way they used to. From top to bottom. That era is going out the window. We were actually selling CDs at my last show and people are still buying them. But I think it's more of a nostalgic thing. I don't even have a CD player anymore!
What was the decision behind self-producing this album?
We just moved into the old Green Day complex in Oakland. So now I'm in Green Day's studio, which inspired me to want to fully produce the next album. I've always been told to focus on being an artist. I actually went to Full Sail [university in Florida] to learn how to produce and engineer. I'm a studio rat -- I love tweaking music. So I said, "You know what? Let me just try it and see what happens, even if it fails." If I could make one beat and sing on it, why can't I just do a whole album that way?
Was this your first time producing on your own?
I did "Mamacita" on the first album [Collie Buddz in 2007], but then [veteran dancehall producer] Tony Kelly took it to the next level with the drums and melody. I don't think I have the original beat anymore, but I based it off a bunch of soca that I heard. I've always dabbled in producing but never really followed through. This album was a mission and I loved every second of it. But damn, it was a lot of work! Hybrid was supposed to be out in November, but it took a lot of time to perfect it.
I think that's a testament to your growth though, because this is your strongest album to date.
Thank you, I just wish I was 10 years younger! Technology has come so far. If I had this technology back when I first start, I probably would've self-produced a majority of my stuff. I like Good Life, or else I wouldn't have put it out. But I felt more prepared for this one.
Was the recording process different this time around?
The majority of Good Life was produced by Supa Dups. Actually, this is the first album where he didn't produce anything on it. So I hope he doesn't feel a way! I remember talking to him the other day and he was like, "Yo Collie, you really throw people away!" [Laughs.] When I started creating Hybrid, I already had a melody in my mind for the vocals. Then I would go lay down the chord progression that followed the vocals. So it was a totally different creative process [compared to] just getting a beat and trying to sing over it. I had to fit my beats around my vocals.
Were there any lessons you learned while going creating this album?
Never do it again! [Laughs.] No, I'm kidding. But it took so much time! Especially because I'm not as quick with technology nowadays. I'll tweak a snare for like 30 minutes. It was an amazing process because I was actually doing everything for it. Finding the lane to be able to do something like this yourself is so satisfying.
Let's get into some of the songs on the album. "Bank" is one of my favorites because it puts a refreshing twist on classic dancehall.
[The song] started all through social media. Someone posted B. Young's "Jumanji" song on Instagram, and it was wicked! I made "Bank" like five days before I saw it, and I thought he might sound good on it. I never met him before but I shot him a message: "Yo, 'Jumanji' is lit. I think I have something for you that you might like." He wrote back and told me to send [the track] to him.
Within two days, he sent me his verse. I thought I already had the song done, but he made me want to go and rearrange my verse! And then Russ came through. He's been a fan for a long time and I got in touch with him through Whatsapp and Instagram. We became good friends after being in the studio for like a day. I played "Bank" for him and he wanted to get on it.
Russ is also on the album's final track, "Time Flies." What makes your musical relationship special?
I met him for the first time when we were in the studio together and I've always been a fan. But I didn't know he was a fan of me! He kept calling me a legend and I was like, "No you're the fucking legend! You just sold out the Staples Center two nights in a row." (laughs) He's a genius and his artistry is sick. And he's a perfectionist like me.
Another highlight for me is “Love & Reggae." It has this one-drop reggae sound that is so universal.
[My band and I] were doing rehearsals, and my bass player Roots started playing the bassline. Everyone started jumping in and adding their instruments. By the end of the day, we had the beat. I thought, "We've got something." So I recorded it but I wasn't sure what the vibe should be like. I was going to make it a weed song, but my boy Tarantula -- he actually co-wrote the track -- came through and helped me switch it up.
It's great to see you collaborating with artists from different genres, like afrobeat star Stonebwoy on "Bounce It."
My first two shows out in Africa were Tanzania and Uganda. I found out that they loved reggae music. They welcomed me into their culture as well. That's also the first time I heard afrobeat. I was like, "Well this is kind of like dancehall with a little swing to it!" I fell in love with it and been listening ever since. Stonebwoy was one of the first [afrobeat] artists I heard that sounded more Jamaican, just the lyrics and the beats he chooses. I never would've thought he was from Ghana.
So again, [our meeting] happened organically through Instagram. I put up a little clip on it and he responded with a bunch of flame emojis. So I hit him up and asked if he wanted to be part of this. Yo, Instagram is the best thing ever; half my album happened because of it.
Your "Callaloo" song with Dizzy Wright has this trap influence to it, which is a bit unusual for you.
Everything on the radio now, like on [New York City station] Hot 97, has a trap beat. So I thought, "Let me try it!" You always gotta stay current or else you fade away. And again, I've always been a fan of music. When I started this, I didn't really want to be an artist. I wanted to be behind the scenes as an engineer or producer. You can always stay current in that way. So expect the unexpected from me! I posted the clip of "Callaloo" on Instagram and Dizzy thought it was lit. We were doing a show in Mexico and he said, "I got something for you." I'll never forget: we were in the hotel room and we didn't have big speakers or anything like that. So we put the iPhone in a cup just to make a speaker so we can hear the verse.
Now that you're an independent artist, what freedom comes with not being with a major label?
I would suggest artists to not sign a deal with any major label -- unless they're dumb! [Laughs.] No but seriously, you get to own everything. Now you have the outlets of social media to promote your own stuff, and you own 100 percent of it. You're signing a contract because you want big money up front? Trust me, it'll come! Know how much talent you have. Know in the next couple of years you'll be taking all the money and not have to worry about a major label owning everything.
The young kids see a million dollars in a contract and of course they're gonna take that. But they don't understand the seriousness of it. Yes, the label can promote a lot harder than you. But in the end, you're going to lose. Trust me, I've been there twice. But never again, fuck that shit! And it took me a good year to fully get off [Sony Music Entertainment]. That's why I don't promote a lot of the stuff I've done in the past because the label owns that. They're making all the money off it. They can only share three years of what they've made. The album [2007's Collie Buddz] has been out for a fucking decade now! And I can't get anything? That shit pisses me off. So I'm telling artists don't do it -- just have faith.
Have you ever thought about your place in the dancehall genre? I think you're a bit underrated.
I don't think I'm underrated -- I think I have my own lane. I'm Bermudian and there's not too many artists [from my country] -- there's only 70,000 people here. We don't have enough people to support what we do and I don't get mentioned as much, which is sad. I don't take it as disrespect or anything. Reggae music is what grew me. I didn't go anywhere without my boom box playing sound systems like Killamanjaro. I try to stay true to reggae music as much as I can because Jamaica gave me my career.
So what’s next on your list now that the album's out?
You know what I want to do? Open an organic and tasty restaurant here in Bermuda. Just something small where the menu changes every day, and we're only open on the weekends. It'll be a nice alternative to all the shit you've been eating all week. Or you ever been to the [chain bar] Wet Willie's in Miami? Tourists come to Bermuda and we don't have a slushie place -- are you crazy? [Laughs.]