It’s hard to view Harlan & Alondra, the excellent debut album from Compton singer and rapper Buddy (born Simmie Sims III), as a true introduction to the artist, at least by traditional measure. He’s been dropping singles and mixtapes since the early 2010s, though many might have first caught the 24-year old’s name after last year’s standout collaborative EP with producer Kaytranada, Ocean & Montana. And though he’ll be sharing the bill with A$AP Ferg at House of Blues this Friday, Buddy already scored a co-sign from one of the biggest producers in the industry years before signing his solo deal with RCA Records.
Rather than an intro, Harlan is an opportunity to distill those years of both gaining experience and facing challenges into a dynamic sound steeped deep in LA. culture. More importantly, it’s Buddy’s biggest step thus far towards defining a solo career under his own terms.
“This is a whole new thing,” Buddy told DigBoston on the phone from New York. “This sounds way bigger, it’s on a higher platform, it’s doing way more than when I dropped any kind of project.”
To give that claim some scale, you have to consider that by age 18 Buddy was already signed as an artist to super producer Pharrell Williams’s i am Other label, having dropped out of college to pursue his break in music. During his time with the imprint, he racked up credits that included collaborations with Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, and Kendrick Lamar, as well as hitmaking producers Boi-1da and Pharrell himself. But despite star-studded mixtapes like 2014’s Idle Time, audiences didn’t immediately respond. After a period, he eventually cut ties with Williams in 2016 (“We shriveled up the contract and still keep in contact,” he raps on “Find Me 2”) to make a go on his own.
The departure was on good terms, and the experience has only ended up adding to the emotional texture of Harlan & Alondra, which dropped last Friday. From the opening cut, “Real Life Shit,” Buddy is thoughtfully reflects on his career thus far, as the songs capture a gifted young artist standing on the precipice of breaking through to a wide audience. The aforementioned “Find Me 2” finds his vocals wandering between singing and rhyming, as he meditates over “the good, the bad and the tragic” over a sparse beat. The breezy Ty Dolla $ign collaboration “Hey Up There,” meanwhile, uses past struggles as fuel for future aspirations, while “Young” has Buddy confidently embracing his artistic freedom (“can’t worry about what another n***** think, now that’s liberation”).
“I was really trying to curate my own sound and push my own career further on my own time,” said Buddy of going independent. “Growing up, the people you hang around, things you do, decisions you make are all life changing experiences. It’s more about how you react and maneuver as a human being on this earth and I feel blessed to just be myself.”
The album’s sound also captures Buddy shaking off inhibitions. While he notes the influence of Compton legends like DJ Quik, Dr. Dre, and Kendrick (“the best Compton rapper ever,” he says about the latter), Buddy’s canvas extends beyond hip-hop into upbeat electro-funk on the Snoop Dogg-assisted “The Blue,” as well as into hazy soul groove on “Speechless.” Verses on “Black” and the murky bass of “Trippin’” highlight his rap prowess, while mid-album centerpiece “Trouble on Central” maybe best captures Buddy’s hybrid skills at their most effective as he glides over an understated g-funk track painting a scene from everyday life in Compton. The ease in shifting between rapping and singing recalls the likes of Anderson.Paak and Aloe Blacc, though Buddy said showcasing his range of talents wasn’t necessarily a motivating factor.
“It’s not so much that it was important [to showcase range]; that’s just what came out while doing the album,” Buddy said. “I was working with [producers] Brody Brown, Mike & Keys, and Roofeeo, they were just jamming out on a bunch of instruments. The music that they were making inspired me to the melodies and singing that I did.”
Besides the music itself, Buddy’s years of music industry experience has put him ahead of the learning curve for an artist fresh off their debut album. Should Harlan push his career to the next level, he’ll go into it with a sense of knowing the difference between buzz and relevance, between fame and success. Both those topics are the subject of “Shameless.”
“When I was writing that song I was thinking about being so famous and popular and broke and how I wasn’t trying to be that at all,” he said. “I’m trying to be like on the forefront, super relevant and be financially stable and in a position to take care of my loved ones.
“That’s more important than being on TV or being on the radio.”
BUDDY w/ A$AP FERG, IDK at House of Blues. FRI 7.27. 7pm/$29-$55