The uncommon rap artist recently released his debut album.

From birth, rapper Buddy was looking skywards: He grew up near the Compton Woodley Airport in south Los Angeles, learning to fly as part of its aeronautical museum’s youth initiative—a theme he revisits in 2018’s high-altitude “Hey Up There” video, with the help of some adorable fellow alums.

“That [youth] program is still there, [teaching] kids how to fly planes,” he says warmly. “And I think that’s fire.”

Despite originating from the birthplace of epoch-defining rappers like Dr. Dre, YG and Kendrick Lamar, Buddy’s music sounds miles away from tough-talking rap. While his state-of-the-nation anthems (“Black”) may echo the message of Compton’s forefathers, they deliver it over breezy hooks as inviting as an Indian summer. “People expect a certain type of vibe from Compton artists, and I’m not like that at all,” says Buddy, explaining that the city’s reputation for “gangster shit” is reductive and outdated. “I’m trying to show the city in a different light,” he adds.

Raised by a preacher father, Buddy, born Simmie Sims III, was singing in the choir before hitting middle school, and later starred in musicals like Dreamgirls as a member of L.A.’s Amazing Grace Conservatory. “I’ve been in front of an audience all my life,” he says. Though he’s graduated from local Motown revivals, his infectious showmanship endures: “I’m used to just killing the crowd.”

Today the 25-year-old’s entourage resembles a modern-day Motown, including label founder Pharrell Williams, who introduced him to Miley Cyrus, a co-feature on Buddy’s hazy slapper “Smoke Signals.”

“She [and I] were working in Miami with Pharrell at the same time,” he says. “She had a bunch of weed [and] I was trying to smoke. We just really got along over the kush.”

Now at work on his debut album, Buddy’s thoughts often drift back to his roots, even more since the passing of friend and Compton pillar Nipsey Hussle. After paying tribute to Hussle at his Coachella set, Buddy is continuing to invoke the late rapper’s inspiring example. “Nipsey was just so self-made and independent,” he says. “That’s the vibe I try to send: Anybody can do it.”



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