The artist on how his single 'Black 2' came to be adopted as an unofficial Black Lives Matter anthem
Artist and rapper Buddy, born Simmie Sims III in Compton, California, is already an industry veteran at the age of 26. The artist signed to Pharrell’s Star Trak at just 15 years old, and a little over a decade later, has collaborations with Pharrell, Kendrick Lamar, and Snoop Dogg under his belt.
Buddy walked into our shoot with a burrito in hand and an immediate sense of positivity. This carefree attitude permeates his approach to both music and life. With his second album delayed due to COVID-19, Buddy channeled his easygoing energy alongside collaborator Kent Jamz, culminating into their project Jank Tape Vol. 1, which was released in April during the height of quarantine. After the shoot, Buddy explained the intention of Jank Tapes Vol. 1 stating, “we wanted to put out something a little more lighthearted to just give people something to smile about during a crazy pandemic, especially in isolation.”
For Document, Buddy and photographer Lea Winkler discuss what it means to be ‘janky,’ finding inner-peace, and his collaborations with Kent Jamz.
Lea Winkler: I wanted to go back to our shoot because you were bumping OutKast a lot—you were playing them nearly all day, and we paid deep homage to them. Can you tell me a bit about their influence on you and your music?
Buddy: I just remember growing up and watching ‘Bombs Over Baghdad (B.O.B.)’ and ‘Sorry Ms. Jackson (Ms. Jackson)’ on TV, all the timeless classics that allowed me to be exactly who I wanted to be, unapologetically. Through all adversity, to just be an independent individual in my music. I remember making music for fun, but then I shifted into a career where I had to find my sound. Once I found my sound, it was definitely influenced by all the legends, like OutKast.
Lea: Since you have been around so many top industry legends through Pharrell, what do you think it means to be legendary in music? Is that a personal goal for your own practice?
Buddy: At first, I feel like I had an initial goal to be legendary, but what makes stuff so legendary is just that time is removed. From just the sound of the music—it sounds fresh. Like all that OutKast music I was playing the other day, it sounds like it could have come out yesterday, tomorrow, or it has been out for countless years. It just stays as good as it did when they made it and put it out. I feel like that timelessness is what makes it legendary because it is just eternal.
Lea: So, how do you go about making something that feels timeless? In your music, what elements do you look for so your work can go on and live beyond you?
Buddy: I try not to think. I just try to feel and do and just move from the heart and get out of my own head. Because I already have everything I need to make a timeless, legendary record, but once I start overthinking then it will never happen. So, I kind of just make sure I am in the best mood possible, and just have fun and make songs. Whatever comes to my mind—just keep it loose, free, fun, and just be honest.
Lea: Do you think you have always had this sense of inner peace, or it is something that you have grown into as you have been in the industry?
Buddy: It definitely developed over time. Growing up in Compton, and in my parents’ house, I was a little antsy. I never really knew what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do something. So, I would just do whatever. Then when I started to get real specific, then I just found inner peace.
Lea: It seems like a lot of people have been stressed out during quarantine, and a lot of projects have been put on pause, how was quarantine for you?
Buddy: My album was supposed to be out already. I was supposed to be on tour already. When the pandemic struck, everything got postponed. It was a blessing and a curse because I feel like it gave me more time to properly package up my album to be released with a rollout. I feel like prior to the pandemic everything was kind of rushed, largely because of scheduling. Now I just feel more confident about the music—I just know it is going to last.
Lea: While you were in quarantine you put out Jank Tape Vol. 1 with Kent Jamz. Do you think that would have happened had you guys not been in quarantine?
Buddy: Me and Kent make music all the time, so we have songs ready for whatever situation presented to us. When the pandemic struck, we went through the folder, dug in the vault, and just pulled out the best records for the time. We also wanted to put out something a little more lighthearted to just give people something to smile about during a crazy pandemic, especially in isolation.
Lea: How far does your relationship with Kent go back?
Buddy: We have probably been kicking it for about seven years or so.
Lea: What does Kent bring to the table, that you don’t get when you are functioning as a solo artist?
Buddy: Kent is a couple of years older than me. There is music that he is into or vibes that he was shown at a younger age. For example, he put me onto Chaka Kan, he will throw Prince on; he will just give me an alternate vibe that I initially wouldn’t press play on myself. Outside of the studio, just in life, we catch vibes and listen to music.
Lea: Do you see him as more of a mentor or as more of an equal partner?
Buddy: It’s a little bit of both. We are all equal partners and each other’s mentors simultaneously. Nobody is above anybody; everyone is learning from each other.
Lea: That seems like a good environment to foster collaboration. I just wanted to go back to Jank Tapes—can you explain what janky is?
Buddy: Janky is [laughs] is a state of mind. It is a way of life, and it is what we are. It is sad, but it is true. We are honestly just trying to push the narrative to make it more acceptable to be janky because people really like it. The initial definition is to be led astray or be bamboozled or sketchy vibes for being janky. But we kind of grew up in that environment, so to have that on us without actually excreting that energy into the world. It’s just the definition of our group.
Lea: Is there more music that is coming out of the Janky world?
Buddy: We definitely have more music, but we aren’t going to drop anything anytime soon. I am about to put my album out. Kent has a solo album of his own. Then we are just going to take it from there, one project at a time.
Lea: It seems like there is just an intuition between you guys; are there other people that you often collaborate with?
Buddy: We work with the homie Roofeeo, the homie Ricky, and Brody Bown. All our friends really. We have a crazy friend group of musicians and instrumentalists. We just be making songs with our friends.
Lea: You have also been releasing singles, recently ‘Black 2,’ as a sequel to the 2018 song ‘Black’ you put out with A$AP Ferg. Did that come out as a response to what is going on right now?
Buddy: The original ‘Black’ song with Ferg sort of happened sporadically, because when I am working, I kind of just say whatever while on the mic then turn it into a song. So, it was February, and I had a studio session scheduled with a producer I had never met. I am more so thinking about meeting the person and interacting with a human being, rather than being African American, being Black in America, and trying to be a prolific ‘woke’ writer/musician. But he came in and he started playing beats—the beats were tight. I’m in the studio, he is playing the beats, and I have the engineer recording everything that is coming out of the auxiliary cord and the microphone. We must have been talking about Black History Month or something, so I just started going ‘Black, black, black’ in the mic, on some freestyle, not even that serious. Then I did a flow reference/cadence for the verse; I had to then step back and do some research. In the studio it just kind of happened, especially with Trayvon [Martin] at the time, just shining the light on how we have been treated and oppressed over the years.
‘Black 2’ was kind of the same thing. We were setting up the new studio, and the homie Roofeeo was in there just making beats with the fresh equipment. He probably made about three or four beats, then me and Kent stumble in, just from a great day. I feel like we had just got some good weed and some good food, and then just pulled up to the studio with good vibes. The beat is playing, and I’m freestyling on the mic [rapping] ‘everybody want to be an athlete, everybody want to rap on beats, ba ba baaa.’
It wasn’t geared towards the social climate, so we were sitting on it for a while with the original hook that Kent had. Then we had to revisit it and make it more of a Black song. It was going to be called ‘Black Thing’ at first but then we just decided to make it the sequel to the original, because George Floyd died. Everybody was protesting, and they are tagging me at the protest just playing the original ‘Black’ song. I didn’t see the video of George or see the protest then go into the studio and start rapping. I’m Black every day, and I woke up Black again today, praise God. I just be on that shit, so it wasn’t inspired by George Floyd’s death, but we definitely activated it around the protests to boost morale for our people.
Lea: How does it make you feel when your song becomes an anthem to a really important movement that is going on right now?
Buddy: I think it is tight! I can’t wait to drop the album. [When ‘Black’ came out] stuff was happening then, but it was less publicized, and no one was protesting yet. It was just an ongoing thing of niggas dying online and nothing happening. Initially, a group of Black people, who I don’t even know or hang out with, heard the song and got inspired, and then decided to put out a dance video. So, they are dancing and dressed up like Black historical figures like [Colin] Kaepernick, Obama, and they made a whole Instagram dance ensemble video dancing to the original ‘Black.’ It got a whole new life to it, and the same thing kind of happened with the protests. It is just exciting to see support that I don’t have to ask for. For the people to just genuinely gravitate towards the song and just want to do something for themselves, without getting paid or me having to ask them to do anything. For it to just reach a level where everybody is appreciating it, it definitely feels great.
Lea: What was the inspiration for cover art for ‘Black 2?’ You are wearing the grey suit we also shot.
Buddy: It is a blatant rip of the Malcolm X pic, when he had the grey suit on with the gun peeking out the window. I just recreated that image because it is super powerful. They were burning down houses and trying to kill him that whole week. I think he died soon after that photo was taken. He was assassinated. So, to think about the crazy times we are in where people are finally trying to legally own weaponry and just protect themselves all the way, and it isn’t a gimmick. That is the seriousness that I tried to put on the cover art of the song, because it is a serious time and even though the beat is tight, I rap hella good, and I am super lighthearted sounding, it is still a very heavy situation. I just wanted to pay homage to the legend Malcolm X.
Lea: Is there a transition between creating songs like ‘Black 2’ and your newest single ‘Faces’ with Lucky Daye?
Buddy: There is no real transition. I am not even trying to make it seem like I am one type of artist, or I make one type of music. Every song that I have, that hasn’t been released, I am about to just start releasing them. So however the people accept it is on them. I am not really trying to transition from being a prolific ‘woke’ artist to some like sex deviant, where I am just having sex and being sexy. I do both. I’m human. I be having sex sometimes, and I can then look on my phone to see there is a protest happening. I woke up one day and there was a protest at my front door. Everyone was just walking down the street protesting for Black Lives Matter. [I] coexist with all of these different energies of life; I am not ever trying to pretend that I just live one way.
Lea: So, what is in store for the rest of the summer? Where will we find you in 2021?
Buddy: I am just about to drop a bunch of music and videos. We have a ‘Black 2’ video and I am about to drop some loose records to just get everybody excited for the album. Hopefully in 2021, we can tour the world again, and not get sick or die!
Styling Mackenzie & Alexandra Grandquist