Rapper, actor, dancer, designer - Buddy can do it all. Compton born and raised, he first shot to prominence after signing with Pharell’s I Am Other collective as a teenager, and has worked alongside some of the greatest names in the game in the following decade, from Kendrick to Kaytranada and Freddie Gibbs. We caught up with Buddy as he prepares to release his new tape Don’t Forget To Breathe (releasing today, on Good Friday, 29th March), a project that seeks to celebrate the joys of being present and living in the moment.
Do you remember your first time in the studio?
Back when I was still living at my parents' house in Compton, I used to record myself on a mini Mac connected to a desktop, and I used to use garage band. So I've always been recording, but my first time in the actual studio was around the time I started studio hopping when I was in high school. I had this DJ (DJ Casanova) and he was my first DJ ever, he used to DJ parties, and he introduced me to a couple of producers, took me to a studio session in North Hollywood. It was when I was with Audio Push, the Homie Price Tag, and Octane. It was probably one of my first studio sessions, walking in there was music playing loud, rappers hopping out the booth, playing back what they just recorded and I was like: okay! So that was probably my first time in the studio.
How did it feel?
Yeah, it was kind of dark and smoky, but it all seemed so necessary, you know what I mean? When I walked in there it was bright outside and, you know, you go in and it's just all very low lighting, music playing loud, a lot of smoke and then - I don't know, magic. It seemed like magic was happening, like in movies when you open the magic door, it'd be just smoke and dark light. That’s what it felt like. You’ve got to make the ambiance, you’ve got to get the right kind of feeling in the room.
You’ve spoken about the desire to create work that's that's timeless - are there any songs or artists that that have that kind of like everlasting feel?
When I think timeless music I think of Snoop Dogg, Outkast, Dr. Dre. And stuff that's been here forever like Gil Scott Heron, Miles Davis, Al Green - timeless music that you could play today and it would sound like the first time you ever heard it, or you remember the first time you ever heard it because it's just that good. It lasts forever, but it encapsulates a moment.
Do you find yourself trying to write out of the present moment in that way?
I've definitely been deeply rooted in the moment and just in my own awareness through all the adversity of my life experience. I try to convey my personality onto the record, so the listener gets the feel of who I am, so then when they listen to my music it kind of feels like I'm there with them and we're kicking it.
Is that something you find easy to do - to write from that feeling of presence? Or are is there something specific you try and do to get into that zone?
It’s just friends, you know? I have my friends and my producers who I be in the studio with, energy, conversations, in the moment. Thinking about something that may have just happened today, it could be a venting session, I’m just expressing myself. Then there goes the song topic, you just got to be present in that moment. Because every second passing is life happening, you can have an idea for the future, or you can talk about something that happened in the past, but the present moment of expression, that’s what we try to capture in the studio. That's why you just got to be there for that magic to happen.
Do you feel like your approach to the recording process has changed as you've released more tapes, and your career has progressed?
I feel like I used to write a lot more verses down, or try and complete them before I hopped in the studio. But as of late, I've kind of just been jamming out, letting the mic roll and kind of free-styling a bunch of different unorthodox ways to approach the beat or the verse, and using that as a stencil to flesh out the rest of the record. It always turns out being something that I didn't expect to make. I find myself constantly surprising myself as of late in the studio. Some songs are better than others but you miss every shot you don’t take 100%.
So you're kind of letting the process guide you, rather than trying to be too restrictive?
Yeah, very cool. I'm just a vessel for real.
The recent tape you've been released features a video that was filmed with L.A fashion label Born and Raised, and pays tribute obviously to the late Santo. Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between you guys?
Man, Santo man, I miss that dude. He was awesome. Back when I used to kick it, after I moved out of my parents house in Compton, I moved to Santa Monica but I used to ride my bike and hang out with the homie Rufio in Venice. And Rufio actually produced the beat to the song, You Da Tank, that we shot at the Sadie Hawkins dance. It was just so special because that was the first Sadie Hawkins winter formal since Spanto passed away. It was the first one without him there, so there was a lot of high energy in the room with his absence but everybody still showed up as if like, you know, it's still a thing. I made it a point to build a stronger relationship with Two-Tone who kind of took over the business in his absence. He really showed me love and helped me set up that video shoot. It was supposed to be a one-take walkthrough, but it still was beautiful. I was able to get that Cinderella fucking blazer with the duck tail, I was suited up! I felt like, if the clock strike 12 I was going to turn into a pumpkin or something.
Did you get to keep it?
I mean, shit, I still got some of that shit, yeah, Dolce, a little vintage Christian, you know what I'm saying?
Is there anything particular that excites you about fashion coming out of LA right now, something you think is different to other cities?
I'm super excited, I'm actually putting a boutique together called Buddy's Boutique. It's going to lead up into the album release, and I'm very happy to be working with basic space who's giving me an opportunity to use a new pop-up and Silver Lake to out a bunch of cool brands in there that I think are tight and have marketplace available for my fans. We’re going to be doing cool activities around it. And I'm really excited to just get into that marketplace of commerce and just having shit to sell: “Yeah, that's some Buddy merch”, you know? And a bunch of cool different brands like the Homie Jaleel, the Homie Barter, Fonny, July, Asics is down to give some products. Just cool like up-and-coming streetwear brands, a couple like high fashion brands, big houses, and everything in between. We’re going to be doing cool little activation for a whole week with activities like a movie night, chess tournament, table tennis tournament, yoga, guided meditations. Like wine tasting, all stuff to do while people shop. There’s this other company, they make cool clothes and stuff, it’s called little Tokyo Table Tennis. They play table tennis in little Tokyo on Tuesday. Try saying that five times fast, it’s a difficult thing to fucking do.
How do you feel about mixing music and fashion, combining different art forms?
Outside of music it's just culture, different aspects and components of the culture. I feel like I'm at a point in my career where I'm trying to expand my likeness and visibility and lean in to the light that shines for me. It could be in TV and film, it could be in fashion and runway, you know, it could be in music and entertainment at every level. I can do a Broadway play if need be, make a couch or design a lamp or make a toy or throw pillow. So it's just really leaning into that ecosystem and community and the culture. I’ve been acting since I was probably like six or seven. My parents heard about the AGC (Amazing Grace Conservatory, a performing arts school in Compton), thought it was tight and yeah they drove me there and left me there.
Do you feel like you bring different things across to your music when you've been acting, or vice versa?
How you do anything is how you do everything, so I try to just give whatever I'm currently involved in my full attention and just move into it out of love and confidence. I’m a natural, I feel like well before I was rapping I was acting. We were doing live theatre plays at AGC, so I was really breaded in the stage space. I just recently got a role on Rap Shit with Issa Rae, and on set she reminded me that I was one of the first people she worked with on some director stuff. One of her first shows that she was working on was called the Fly Guys. And it was like some of my homies from back in the day, still homies to this day. I was kicking it with them last night, just closing out Black history month. The Fly Guys is Issa Rae's brother or cousin or something, and they were filming the show back in the day, so they asked me to be in the episode. Issa Rae's behind the camera, so I'm not really looking at her face, I'm just acting into the camera. But she reminded of a lot of full-circle moments, or the origin story to success, being a part of that and doing it together. Which is just really, really nice.
You cut your first tape with Kaytranada, how did you guys meet?
I met Kaytranda at a video shoot he had with Anderson.Paak I forget what song it was, but him and Andy got a song and I was in the video, and then he was at the video shoot to see I made the beat, and I was like "Hey yo, yo beats is super tight, you tight!” And he was like “You rap hella good, you tight!” So I was like man, let's make some songs. He sent me some beats and then we did a whole tape. That was my first EP for real, Ocean & Montana. I jumped off the porch with that for real.
How does it feel different playing live, compared to writing in the studio?
I love performing. I flourish on the stage, I’ve done consecutive tours all around the world. I've been direct support for some of my close friends and big artists like Amine, Joey Badass, Sid, A$AP Ferg, and I've been running against Omi and Blas on tour last year. So yeah, I thrive on the stage, I really kill it. But I'm excited for what's to come because I'm putting the band together and I never toured with the band, so. I'm really excited. I feel like this next album really deserves live instrumentation.
Do you do you feel like there's a different vibe in the crowds when you're playing in Europe compared to the States?
I feel like it's just a different energy because you're in a different continent, you know, a different part of the world. I don't get to go there often, it's not like I can just wake up and just walk out my door and be in Europe, it’s not 20 minutes away, you got to get on the plane. And the listeners who appreciate my music from over there, they don't get to see me walking around, run into me at a bar or party, or see me at a restaurant they’re eating at. So it's more of a built-up anticipation to see your favourite artists when they're finally in town. It's felt on both sides, like, I'm happy to be in town, this is the really tight, it feels like that's the magnitude of the energy combined. I’m happy being on a different side of the planet because of my creativity and because of people wanting to see me, that combination of energy makes for a really good show.
Are you planning a tour for this album?
Yeah, I make a point to: we’ll play the classics, lead up to the new shit, try and give everybody what they want. We’re scaling down, probably going to do some intimate cities. I'm checking to see where I should go, should I pull up to Europe? What part of Europe is the magazine in?
Well, METAL’s head offices are in Barcelona. Have you ever been to Spain?
I don't think so, nah.
It's a vibe man, I think you'd like it. Barcelona's a beach city, everything’s right there.
I got to pull up to Spain. I'm definitely trying to route a tour, though, in the States and over there in Europe as well.
How are you approaching things with the band, do you who you’d want to work with?
I've been talking to a couple of music directors that I really trust and they've been pointing me in the right direction, introducing me to some dope instrumentalists and I'm just kind of hand-picking who I want to travel the world with, kick it with all the time, who I want to look at. The best part about being an adult is you get to choose your family.
As a lyricist are there any people that you draw inspiration from in particular?
I woke up and I was listening to ScHoolboy Q’s album, Blue Lips. I’m like man, see, I need to be rapping like this, this is tight! I like the way he stacks his vocals and makes a sonic experience, but with quality bars and rap verse. The hooks be catchy but a little unorthodox, and it all sits on like a nice bed of a beat so perfectly. But my sister been DJing this poetry lounge, and people be doing spoken word, it'll just be random poets going up on the mic and doing poetry. That stuff is tight. And then just reading, I've been trying to get through Nipsey Hussle's book list. I'm nowhere near close, but yeah, I'm skimming through a couple of the books on there.
Is there anyone you'd like to work with in the future, in terms of producers?
Man, I was hanging out with Smino and we ended up at a session with Bad Bad Not Good, I'm trying to work with them some more. I think I would love to hear what that sounds like, the Buddy Bad Bad Not Good song. I've been listening to Jungle as well lately, Jungle is hard. They got that Back on 74. I'm trying to go all over here with it because like I feel like I exist in so many different realms of music - I just made a ratchet song with O3 Geeto and some some niggas from Watts.
Is there an overarching vision or message behind the new tape that you'd like to sort of bring to the listeners?
The album's called Don't Forget To Breathe,  and before I finished the album I took a trip to Portugal. It was like a personal retreat, to set some new intentions. I did a bunch of activities and practices that were all centred around the breath, like guided meditations, yoga sound baths, a lot of journaling and just like going inward for real. And then I came back and finished the album. So the overall sentiment is just like about self-awareness, the moment of stillness and just being present. We were twenty minutes out from Lisbon in Sintra I had my own little villa, had a little koi pond in the back, a yoga studio, I had a little private chef. I was going up, it was really tight. I wasn't smoking or drinking at the time, really took a break and was sober. And just like that, just being present, living in the moment, kind of like tapping in with my inner child and planning ahead for the future.
What’s next for Buddy in 2024?
I'm dropping the album on Good Friday, March 29th. Don’t Forget To Breathe.