The most ghetto situation Buddy has been in was when he got high for the first time as a teenager. He and his DJ at the time, DJ Casanova, were on their way to Buddy’s first warehouse party, where the latter had a set. On their way there, the two and Casanova’s assistant indulged in Grey Goose, cranberry juice, and weed before witnessing a police raid of the house across the street. They finally got to the party, and a fight broke out.
“We wasn’t involved, but it was so crazy,” he recalls over Zoom from his hotel room in NYC. “I walked in the party, and I’m carrying a speaker [and] DJ equipment, so we skipping the whole party line. N—as is rapping, performing, then a fight broke out, chairs is being thrown. It was amazing though! It was the most beautiful ghetto experience I have in my memory.”
Last Friday (March 25), Buddy released his sophomore album Superghetto via Cool Lil Company/RCA. With features from Tinashe, Blxst, T-Pain, and Ari Lennox, the 10-song record adds to his discography of EPs and albums that pay homage to his hometown of Compton and the environment that made him.
The son of a former preacher and choir director, the musician born Simmie Sims was exposed to gospel and soul music early on. The one-time youth choir member was also involved with theater, starring in adaptations of plays like The Wiz and Dreamgirls through his community-based performing arts program, Amazing Grace Conservatory.
In 2009, the then-15-year-old caught the attention of Pharrell and signed to his Star Trak label the same year. Subsequently, he earned a few Pharrell-produced tracks and songs with star-studded features over the years — but after things didn’t take off for him, he carved his own path, dropping two EPs Ocean & Montana and its follow-up Magnolia in 2017.
A year later, the Compton artist released his debut album Harlan & Alondra, named after the intersection where his childhood home is located, via Cool Lil Company/RCA. With standout highlights like “Black” featuring A$AP Ferg and “Trouble on Central,” the album — and his music, in general — has become loaded with themes of home and Blackness. (“Just so good at being in trouble/ Spending my days out in the ghetto/ Papa say that I need to be careful/ Heard a n—a just got popped at the Arco,” he sings on the latter track aforementioned.)
Sonically, Buddy is unintentionally as versatile and unpredictable as can be. With songs like the album’s bouncy hip-hop intro “Hoochie Mama” and the surf rock-inspired “Bad News,” Superghetto is a tale of Buddy’s life as a Black kid from Compton.
Billboard spoke with him about his new album, growing up, adjusting to fame, and acting on Bel-Air.
The album is out. How are you feeling?
I feel great! I haven’t dropped an album in four years. I’m just happy people have new music from me.
I like the cover art. Where was this taken and do you know the people in it?
It was a loose concept that I put together with [photographer Renell Medrano]. It was supposed to be like some Where’s Waldo? thing where I was kinda lost in the commotion of the city. But it ended up just being a bunch of n—as in front of the liquor store. It was at JJ’s in the hood and it was just a bunch of Crips and Bloods and my family there, close friends — just bringing out the community. I knew some of the people, [it was] some strangers and people I had just met. We had a lowrider, my nephew, my mom, dad — and we just went through all the images and that one felt like the cover, especially spinning off the last cover which was just me and my family. My family is still in it, the city is there, and it just seems more current.
Each of your albums so far pay homage to where you are from and grew up. How did you approach making this album differently than Harlan & Alondra?
Once I was done touring Harlan & Alondra, I just went straight in the studio. Working with a bunch of producers, making songs, it wasn’t conceptualized. Superghetto wasn’t at the beginning of the album process. I was focusing on the music, trying to make a bunch of songs, jamming out, trying out ideas over beats.
We probably made like 200 songs? Maybe more. 300? I always lose count, but we consolidated it down to the ones that were undeniable, [and] felt current. Then, the pandemic happened. I put it on ice, then I opened it back up and refurbished it a little bit. Added some new records, spruced up some of the old ones, and it came out great.
Tell me about the process of making Superghetto.
It was a four-year process. We started off in Westlake. We also worked out of Record Plant some. I was at pretty much every studio in LA, just bouncing around, working with everybody, really just trying to collect songs for myself. The process would be beats playing and me trying whatever, literally freestyling whether I’m saying words or not… coming up with different kinds of cadences and hooks, just trying it all and listening back to hour-long jam sessions of mumbles and references. Picking the best parts and arranging it like a puzzle to make it a song with no words, then writing the words like a stencil.
Some days, I would come with a rap ready, hear a beat, write a rap right there, rap it, put a hook on it, maybe think of somebody that would be cool to feature. We went to Hawaii, we was making “Happy Hour,” watching Game of Thrones, making some music.
How would you describe the album?
It’s just a different type of character, you know what I mean? It’s bold and out there. Don’t take no s–t. Vibrant, but still positive, but can get negative, if need be. Definitely not passive and super aggressive. [Laughs.] In the best possible way.
It’s cool how you use different California music elements. You start off with “Hoochie Mama,” this very bouncy, hip-hop song starting out, but then you pivot to songs like “High School Crush” and “Bad News” that have surf rock elements. Was having this variety intentional?
I just make music that I like. I set an intention [to] make a good song when I go into the stu, so I heard the [“Hoochie Mama”] beat and I had an idea and tried it, and I kept listening to it after I wrote the verses, and I put it on the album.
I’m assuming you put “Hoochie Mama” as the intro on purpose so people would expect…
Definitely. Mhm. Definitely wanted to bait [people] in with the ghetto s–t, and then give them everything else I have to offer. I feel like that’s what people expect when they see Superghetto and they see the album cover… just to get into the rest of the music that they don’t expect, but still love and don’t even know that they need in their lives.
On “Coolest Things” you sing about things not being as cool as they seem and about needing alone time. Also on “Ain’t Fair,” you say “now I can’t take a piss without somebody coming taking a pic.” Do you like being famous?
It’s bittersweet, honestly. I don’t resonate that well with strangers, and fans of my music. They already know who I am when they see me in public, but to have someone that I don’t know run up to me — nobody just introduces themselves first, you know what I mean? It’s just crazy moments where it’s just very sporadic fan interaction that I try to avoid or look at differently nowadays, because I’m just a public figure. Swallowing that, accepting that, going out in public knowing that, “OK, people know who I am.” It’s something that I have to adjust to. It’s not like I don’t like it, it’s just something that I notice and spoke about on the record.
But that line, “I can’t take a piss without somebody coming taking a pic,” I got that line from Ab-Soul. He said that in a rap back in the day so that was like a little homage to Ab-Soul but it made sense. Shoutout Ab-Soul.
Off of that, how do you protect your energy and peace through fame and recognition?
Just make time to be by myself. Meditate. I was doing yoga in the gym for a minute. I kinda fell off, but I’m about to start right back up. Dropping the album, press, life’s been crazy but just trying to build an adult routine. I feel like after the first album dropped, I went straight to tour, [then] I went straight to working on the album, and then it wasn’t until the pandemic came around, I was just like “Oh s–t, I am not a teenager. I don’t live with my parents. This is my adult life in Los Angeles. This is my house. Let me go put some s–t in the fridge,’ and I had to build it out.
On “Bad News,” you put a light-hearted spin on the reality of a lot Black peoples’ experience with the police. It’s one of those songs where it sounds great but when you really listen to the lyrics, it’s actually pretty deep. Why did you make this sonic choice?
I don’t know, that’s kinda just what came out that day. They played that beat and I was like, “That’s tight!,” and I went in the booth. It was catchy, and then I wanted to make it theatrical like a jail fight forreal, and somebody being falsely accused of some crime and ending up in a jail fight.
What do you want fans to learn about you from this album? Like if this is some peoples’ entry point to your music.
I just don’t want them to have any set expectations for what I have to offer. I want them to be open-minded to what I feel like in the moment.
Aside from music, I know you act a little bit — and a week before my editor asked if I wanted to interview you, I saw you on Bel-Air!
[Laughs.] How’d I do?
You were good! I was like “Wait, that’s Buddy!” How’d you end up on there?
The director is a fan of my music so he casted me to play myself. [My scene] was super quick, I feel like I’m a natural. I’m putting some films together, I need to be in front of the camera more for sure.
Growing up where you did and seeing where you are now in your career, if you could confront your younger self right now, what would you tell younger Buddy?
I feel like I would sit there and listen to what younger Buddy had to tell me, because my younger self is really proud of me right now. I would tell him to keep doing his thang, but I feel like my younger self would have words for me that I want to hear.