Patience. Potential. Pies. Those are the three words that come to mind, as the lanky, confident, and seemingly unbothered Buddy lounges in the Billboard office on July 17, two days before the release of his debut album, Harlan & Alondra. When asked about his signature bake, the Compton rapper rattles off his technique like a future star baker in the making.
“Pie, I’m better at pie than cake,” Buddy says matter-of-factly. “I be switching it up. Like the last time I made a pie we took a bunch of graham crackers, put ‘em in a ziplock, smashed ‘em up and then used that infused in crust. You know, so kinda get that crunch and the flavor from the dough with the graham cracker on top and you cut into it with the pie properly heated up and you gotta make sure you got your air bubbles.”
The process is an apt metaphor for the past six years of his career and the equal parts of love, perseverance, and nurturing it took to get to his debut album. He first came to national attention in the 2011 video for “Awesome Awesome.” In the visual, Pharrell sits next to his then new I Am Other signee on a roof, as a young Buddy stunts in Billionaire Boys Club apparel with the same swag he still carries himself with to this day. In 2014, he’d ultimately release his project Idle Time as a result of being young and, in his words, “super rushing” to have more music out. The tape featured Kendrick Lamar, Robin Thicke, and Miley Cyrus, but didn’t propel Buddy the way it could or should have.
Since then, Buddy’s story has been intertwined with street names. His EP titles are time markers in his life. Ocean & Montana, produced by Kaytranada, is named after the intersection where he lived after he moved out of his parents’ house. Buddy describes it as a period full of cooking, literature, and new experiences. His next release, Magnolia, was based on the North Hollywood street where frequent collaborators, Mike & Key, built a studio.
“I felt like the energy there was just so hard and independent. It was good for me at the time, because I was in a transitional stage, when I was on I Am Other transferring to RCA and trying to figure out a bunch of my management stuff,” Buddy says. “And I was watching how a bunch of other artists, maneuver through the industry…I watched BJ the Chicago Kid make his album. I watched Nipsey make a bunch of mixtapes and albums. I got the opportunity to see Pharrell make [the] N.E.R.D. album and his album.”
Now, it’s Buddy’s time to shine. In an interview with Billboard, he discusses the six-year journey to his debut album, working with Khalid and Ty Dolla $ign, and his ultimate goal for his debut.
The journey to your album has been a long one — by my estimate, it’s been six or more years since you started getting a lot of blog coverage. What was that nearly decade-long process like to get to this point?
Just like learning, curating a sound for myself that is nothing like anybody else’s and still good for everyone. Going through a bunch of different managers, finding proper management, getting my business in order and shit like that.
What would you tell your younger self if you could go back in time?
Embrace it, you know? Embrace it. I would tell myself just to embrace it all. It was like a lot of stuff I would pull back from or do too much of. A lot of times where I just like, didn’t know what to do. I didn’t ask questions. I would tell myself to ask more questions and say how I feel. I feel like I’m just now learning how to communicate with everyone you know what I mean?
Were you in a rush? Being signed to Pharrell at first and being next to him, people have that expectation that everything is going to go. People don’t realize that process to make EPs, to make mixtapes, to make albums is a long one when you’re growing as an artist. As an artist, were you like, “I gotta go now?”
Definitely, yeah. That’s why I put the Idle Time EP out. I was super rushing. I didn’t see a plan for a release or anything and I just had all these records, so I just wanted to put ‘em out and it was just like, “Fuck it,” you know? Super rebellious type vibes. I’m just like I’m gonna put this shit out by my damn self. I mean, I got the records and it’s just a difference from like actually having an album like this, my debut album, rolling it out, tour, music videos, blog coverage, just getting the most out of all the hard work that I put into the music rather than just uploading it on the Internet and tweeting it.
Tell me about the cover for Harlan & Alondra?. What was the thought process behind that for the album?
I just wanted to show them off. I feel like I love my family. It’s beautiful. They really inspire me, make me better, and support me and my music, and they’re still alive, you know? There so many people that don’t know their parents or parents die…dead siblings. I just feel like while they’re still on Earth, like, I just want to show them off to the world.
Who is it? Your mom, your dad?
My sisters and my nephew.
What was that process like, asking, “You’re gonna be on my album cover?”
Well, they’ve got they own lives, so they just kind of wanted to know when, what time, so they could call-in and just get everything squared away and be available. They were completely down.
How did “Trippin’,” the record with Khalid, come about?
He actually sent me that hook and it was a whole ‘nother beat. Mike & Keys and Roofeeo. Brody remade it, and then, I rapped some verses on it and everybody was fucking with it. They were like, “This gotta go on the album.”
Especially with Ty Dolla, or any features on the album, is that something you orchestrate or is that something organic? How do you go about being like, “This is who is going on the album?”
It varies. I always just wanted to work with Ty Dolla $ign. We’ve been working for awhile, so we’ve already got a bunch of records and he’s super busy. He kinda just popped in the studio one day and just laid his first and it’s like, “Alright, cool. We got one.” He works so hard. That was pretty easy.
Khalid sent me the record. We’re both signed to RCA, so it’s more of like a internal label thing. Tunji [Balogun] signed both of us and Tunji was just like, “Oh yeah bloop bloop bloop.” I rapped on it and that was cool.
“Black” is so unapologetically in-your-face. What was the thought process behind creating that one?
It was super random how it came about. It was February, Black History Month. So I was already in a black vibe. Then, Jahaan Sweet came through played the beat and I was just kinda freestyling to the beat and I was just like “black, black, black, black.” It sounded so tight. I recorded it as the hook, rapped the first verse, then I actually had to go do my Googles, research a bunch of black historians, black history, moments in time and just like get some real points for the second verse, bring some intel.
Then, I was working with Pharrell trying to get some beats for the album and he was working with A$AP Ferg at the same time, but then he went home because he got kids. I was hanging out with A$AP Ferg. I played him the record. He’s like, “Oh yeah, send this over I’m gonna rap on this right now.” So that was tight.
On “Hey Up There,” you rap, “Tryna get rich don’t wanna be famous.” Why is it important to make the distinction between fame and wealth?
Because, it’s a difference. There’s so many broke famous n—as that just seem like they so rich, but that’s never been a goal of mine. No matter [how] relevant I am or in the forefront or [a] big superstar, I’m always trying to just be financially stable and be in a position to take care of myself and my loved ones.
You say, “Tell the radio to play us/Blame it on the place I grew up.” Do you think you get enough support locally from radio stations and DJs yet?
No, more recently I have, but no. It’s a slow grind.
What’s the ultimate goal for this album? What do you want people to walk away with?
New music, new vibrations, something they can listen to, ride around with.