Earlier this year, J. Cole and his label Dreamville embarked on a project more than a decade in the making: Revenge of the Dreamers III. Conceived as a recording session for the ages, it would bring together a who's who of hip-hop producers, rappers, singers, and other creatives in a studio in Atlanta, where they'd create Dreamville’s third epic compilation release. Quickly dubbed "rap camp," the session recruited more than 100 artists — including luminaries such as Ludacris and Akon — and played out over social media to great FOMO-inducing fanfare.
Also in that crew was Buddy, the 25-year-old rapper, singer, dancer, and actor from Compton, California.
"Everyone was trying to call me MVP of the rap camp, but I don't think so," says Buddy, born Simmie Sims III, fresh back home in Los Angeles from the trip. "I feel like I was at the forefront keeping the morale of the team, in there keeping all the good vibes,” he says of his role, collaborating with other up-and-comers such as Guapdad4000, Smino, and Saba. “That shit was great. It's good to be back, though. Atlanta's weed is not as good as L.A.'s.”
Even though he was raised in Crip territory and still hangs with some of the members, he's “never joined a gang,” Buddy clarifies. He got his good vibes growing up in church. "As far back as I remember, I had a suit on and a microphone in my hand."
He spent countless hours practicing in the multipurpose room at the church where his uncle was a pastor and his father organized talent shows. "There's a video somewhere — I'm like digging out a wedgie," he laughs, remembering one of those early talent shows in which he belted out Boys II Men. "
Buddy never really stopped doing it. Even before getting signed at the age of 15 by Pharrell and rapping alongside Kendrick Lamar on the 2012 single "Staircases," he was posing for headshots and getting carted to auditions by his parents. He landed small roles such as a background part in 2004’s Starsky & Hutch. There was never a deciding moment when Buddy resolved that entertainment would be his career. "It was already happening," he says. "I didn't really have a full understanding of what a career was."
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But even though it seems he was destined for show business, things haven't exactly come easy for Buddy, who, a decade into the rap game, still hasn’t garnered the recognition some say he should have earned already. By 2017, he'd dropped a feature-packed mixtape and a handful of buzzy singles and EPs, but he still hadn’t put out a proper album, nor had the multitalented performer carved out a clear lane for himself.
Momentum picked up in 2018 after RCA released his debut full-length, Harlan & Alondra, affectionately named for the street where he grew up. With tracks such as "Hey Up There," a blissed-out R&B joint featuring Ty Dolla $ign, and "Black," a hard-banging anthem with A$AP Ferg, the album shows Buddy’s versatility as both a rapper and singer as well as an artist with his own emerging voice, from a city rife with legacies and new talent alike. He embarked on tours with Joey Badass and A$AP Ferg, including a stop at Lollapalooza, and wound up on numerous lists of best rap albums of 2018.
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“I wanted to show the world that I’m a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky, regular G going through bullshit like everybody else, who just happened to have the opportunity that I took and didn’t look back,” he says of Harlan & Alondra. For an idea of where his sound is headed next, Buddy says listeners can look to that album’s intro track, the chilled-out groove "Real Life S**t," which calls on Compton’s G-funk roots.
On the verge of even bigger things, Buddy isn't in a hurry and hasn't lost sight of his fortunes so far. "I've been so blessed to sit in legendary studio sessions," he says. "If I was hanging out with some other group of people, I probably wouldn't be the same person that I am."
Putting the finishing touches on his first home studio, Buddy is excited to have his own space to do things on his own terms — "sleep there, shower there, work there, whatever, at my leisure" — and "just keep rocking in the free world."
Vince Staples, With Buddy and PNTHN. 8 p.m. Thursday, February 14, at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-449-1025; jointherevolution.net. Tickets cost $28 to $128 via ticketmaster.com.