Once upon a time, Pharrell Williams had a mustache. He was a half of the Neptunes and a third of N.E.R.D., the funk master behind damn near every song you liked in the 2000s. Along with Chad Hugo, he formed Star Trak Entertainment in 2001, a spaced-out subsidiary of Interscope best known for its classic Clipse and Kelis releases (as well as albums by Snoop, Robin Thicke, Slim Thug, and Pharrell himself).
But Star Trak was more notorious for what it didn’t put out. Artists like Natasha Ramos, Fam-Lay, and Teyana Taylor have all bubbled and fizzed under the label’s watch; even the most hardcore Neptunes groupies came to expect push backs and shelvings whenever an artist signed. These days, some of the ex-Trakkies are on to bigger and better things (i.e. Pusha T), while some have all but disappeared (i.e. Chester French). Pharrell and Chad, too, share production credits less and less.
Meanwhile, Pharrell has become a man of extracurriculars, an eccentric entrepreneur in his own right. Just this year, he designed a glass sculpture of a skeletal angel, spoke on behalf of an eco-friendly textile company, and has been touring the country promoting a new milky liqueur called Qream. Quietly, he’s launched a new music venture called I Am Other. It’s described rather nebulously as “a content-driven property that spotlights new musicians, filmmakers, designers, artists and innovators through online, mobile and retail channels, TV shows and films.” Supposedly, YouTube stars Alyssa Bernal, Maxine Ashley, and Cris Cab are signed — an unexpected repertoire considering Pharrell’s hip-hop legacy.
That’s where Buddy comes in. The heavy-hitting “Awesome Awesome” recently popped up on a promo mixtape for HBO’s “How to Make It in America,” backed by a Neptunes beat that sounds like a leftover from Already Platinum. “Jordan Twelve’s my shoes / BBC’s my clothes” — he bounds onto the track like the excited 18-year-old that he is. “The way he thinks, and his ability to articulate that is just — I hadn’t seen anything like it,” quipped Skateboard P to XXL. “I was like, man, this guy, he is I Am Other. He’s not some ordinary child. He’s a kid that thinks outside of the box. He’s on his way to being one of those super special artists.”
He hails from California (Compton, to be specific), which is ostensibly the nucleus of hip-hop nowadays. Pharrell was “mad as shit” about missing out on signing the West Coast’s Tyler, the Creator; could Buddy be the next best thing? With such powerful backing, we’re expecting nothing less.
How did you get into rapping?
Entertainment in general has always been a passion of mine. I’ve always liked to entertain, be in front of people, and have them laughing, smiling, whatever. Just acting out pretty much. I started getting heavy into the music around sixth grade. I really wanted a laptop. I was begging my mom for a laptop. She didn’t think I was ready so instead she got me a little mini Mac. I hooked it up to a computer screen and got on Garage Band and just let my fingers do the talking. Started fiddling with it, had a little mike set up, record, and it was kind of raw, unedited, but I got my point across. I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
You sing, you dance, you act. Why do we know you for rapping right now?
I can’t be hitting everybody with everything all at once. We try to just sprinkle a little bit of things here and there so they can get the gist of it, and then we’ll hit ’em with all the rest of it later.
How did you start putting your music out there?
Back when MySpace was hip, I had a MySpace page with photos on there, and then just showing them to my friends and them telling their friends that they liked it. Just showing my friends, pretty much.
By the way, you’re 18, right?
So are you still in high school?
No, I graduated in July. I’m in college, actually, right now. I go to the College of Santa Monica.
How are you balancing your school and your bubbling rap career right now?
We definitely work around it. I got all morning classes, so I try to get to sleep as early as I can and then just go to school, finish my classes, and then just get straight to the music after that.
Any idea what you wanna study?
Not at the moment. I’m still kinda doing my general ed, but I’m kinda leaning towards business ’cause rapping is gonna be my business from now on, and I just wanna get to know it a little bit better.
How did you link up with Pharrell?
My manager, Andrew Shack, actually is my main manager. He brought Scott [Vener] along to the team and he thought it would be a great fit. They both came aboard as my manager, so I got the best of both worlds. Shack, he was from Priority Records, back with N.W.A. and all that, so I’m well-rounded right now.
How did you link up with them in the first place?
Just friends of friends, just word of mouth pretty much. He got a hold to it, he liked it, and we started working. Scott and Pharrell are friends. They were hanging out one day, just played him some of my songs and some of my old videos. We used to shoot some videos back in those days. I’d have my dad on the camera and I would just edit it on iMovie. He saw those and he liked it. Next thing I know, I’m shaking Pharrell’s hand. Next thing I know, I’m signing a contract to I Am Other. Next thing I know, I’m in Miami in the studio, putting down “Awesome Awesome.”
There were pictures that came out of you in the studio with Snoop and Kendrick Lamar. What was that all about?
We been working for a while. I think it’s been almost two years now. In the course of the two years, I’ve worked with Snoop Dogg and Kendrick so far.
So you’ve been working with Pharrell for two years?
Yeah, just about. Roughly two years.
What has your relationship been with him in the past two years? Have you been making music together the whole time, or laying low?
We’ve definitely been working, but under the table. We don’t wanna hit ’em with everything all at once. We dropped the “Awesome Awesome” song, we just dropped “Bell Ring” last night. We’re just kinda letting people get the feel of who I am.
When did you record “Awesome Awesome”? How did that track come together?
That’s the first song that I dropped. That’s actually the first song that me and Pharrell did together. Right after the contract was signed, he flew me out to Miami. When I got there, to the studio, he already had that beat. He was finishing up that beat, he already had the whole idea planned out. He had a melody, he already had the flow that he wanted me to use, and I just put the words to it and it came together like magic. We decided that since it was the first song that we did together, it would be even better to be the first song that the world gets to hear.
When did that all go down? When did you sign with I Am Other and go out to Miami?
So “Awesome Awesome” is two years old?
No, that’s when I signed the contract. “Awesome Awesome,” probably like six months ago.
We just started hearing about I Am Other. Before that, Pharrell was all about Star Trak. What is the difference between I Am Other and Star Trak?
I Am Other is Pharrell’s own label. That guy has amazing plans. He’s pretty much just creating a platform for his artists to build their own music. He was telling me that back when he was doing it, he had a lot of ideas but nobody was really helping him out. He had to get there on his own. Now that he’s there, he’s setting up a platform so kids like me can build.
You have a mixtape coming up — is it done? Is it a wrap?
It’s not done, we’re still working. I’m a perfectionist; that’s one thing you need to know about me. I’m picky. We’re still working on the mixtape, and once it’s perfect, we’ll release it. Until then we’re just gonna drop songs just to make sure people get a feel of who I am.
How many other records do you have that are produced by Pharrell or produced by the Neptunes on there?
On the mixtape? This is my own personal mixtape, so I don’t know if I’m gonna have any from Pharrell on there. Save all the good ones for the album.
Any idea when the album will drop?
No idea at the moment. Right now we’re pretty focused on “Awesome Awesome.” I just don’t feel like the world knows me good enough for me to drop an album. I just want people to get a feel of who I am before I drop a big project like that.
What is the sound that you’re aiming for? Is it something similar to “Awesome Awesome,” or are you still finding yourself as an artist, exploring?
I’m building. Right now I’m perfecting my craft, so we’re working towards finding the sound. I just gotta work on it, just getting these songs out. I’m just taking the beats and seeing what my mind does to it.
There’s a lot of artists from California right now. They talk about the “New West Coast;” what is the feel in the hip-hop scene in Cali right now?
The West side is definitely coming back. It’s a lot of good things happening on this side. Kendrick, I’ve actually worked with Kendrick. That’s the homie. Everything is just going good for the West side right now.
You’ve got the skateboard scene with the whole Odd Future movement, then you’ve got Dom Kennedy, Kendrick Lamar… How do you plan to find your niche among this wide array of artists that we got?
It’s gonna take some time and some hard work, but I’m willing to put in the work, and hopefully we’ll find it. I don’t really wanna force it. I kinda just want it to come on its own, and then once it’s here, I feel like I’ll know, for sure.
Who are your influences? Who would you say you look up to in the industry and are inspired by?
A lot of West Coast artists. I grew up listening to a lot of Snoop Dogg, N.W.A. I was also real mainstream as a child, like a lot of radio songs. Like Chris Brown — just more mainstream. I didn’t get too into underground music until around my teen years.
Could you see yourself becoming like a mainstream Chris Brown type artist, especially since you already sing, dance, and act?
We’re definitely working towards that, but I’m still gon’ keep it as Compton as I can.
So no singing on records for now.
No, I totally don’t have a problem singing on a record, but I just need a couple voice lessons, if you know what I’m talking about.
One last question: your real name is Simmie Sims. When did you get the moniker Buddy?
I’m actually Simmie Sims the third. My dad’s junior, and my grandpa is senior, so as a child, when I was young, my family members always called me Buddy because I was very friendly, it was easy for me to make friends, very outgoing. It just stuck since a child, and they’ve been calling me that ever since. But a lot of people don’t even know — people at the schools, they know me as Simmie because roll call, they would call Simmie, that’s my real name, but anybody who knows me personally calls me Buddy.
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