Buddy doesn’t just walk the line between hip-hop and politics. He jumps rope with it. “Look,” says the young rapper by phone from Texas, where he’s on tour. “You gotta make that energy. I don’t think I’d get the right conversation going with people if I [approached] rapping as, like, standing at a podium.” The Californian rapper—born Simmie Sims III—speaks with unstudied sincerity and a relaxed self-awareness, wise beyond his 24 years. “My rap [is] a bridge from where I’m coming from, to the rest of the world,” he says, before pausing. “Take your facts, but put them over a tight beat. Then you get their attention.”

LANVIN

Nowhere is that call to action more present, or catchy, than on the rapper’s last track with A$AP Ferg, “Black.” It’s a full-throttle history lesson on racism in America, tackling everything from Garveyism to immigration with the kind of beat you can’t wait to get under your skin. It’s a beast of a single, and proof that he’s no rookie to the rap game. “I was in high school when Pharrell [Williams] signed me,” Buddy says about becoming the hip-hop mogul’s protégé at Star Trak records. “I got pulled in so fast to this industry, but by the best people. I’m lucky.” He hit the ground running with his debut mixtape, 2014’s Idle Time, a collaboration with Miley Cyrus, Kendrick Lamar, and Williams himself—and he hasn’t lost momentum since.

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“Kendrick’s [philosophy] is so on it,” Buddy says when asked about Damn, Lamar’s latest, Pulitzer Prize–winning album. It’s an honest, unflinching portrait of racial injustice in America, and “Black” emerges as both a powerful reprise and an anthem for marginalized communities in its own right. “Of course you wanna see your [people] saying, ‘These are things that need to be talked about in our country.’ But [Lamar and I are] also about listening.” When asked about Williams, the tone becomes much lighter, “Oh man, Pharrell,” he laughs. “He’s wild. You never know what you’re gonna get with that dude. He’s like Skittles.”

So is Buddy, whose sound lives somewhere between the rainbow energy of Williams and the staunch character of Lamar. Then there’s the inimitable Buddy Factor: the buoyancy with which he writes and delivers borderline-absurd lyrics like “Pull up in a limousine/ Lookin’ like a guillotine” without ever feeling fussy. In the few years he’s been in the industry, he’s seamlessly dressed up his rhymes in everything from his current, politically charged trap to the sun-soaked, relaxed electro of Ocean & Montana (2017), an EP whose name pays homage to the Santa Monica intersection where he first set up house away from his parents. “California is super important to my sound,” says the Compton native. “I grew up there. Moving around L.A. has had a big influence on me. That place is never-ending.”

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That L.A. influence continues to anchor his style as it evolves, and if anything, he says, the dynamism of his city is “definitely a part of why my sound changes. And being out here on the road [in Texas], seeing different parts of our country, hearing all these new accents, voices—I’m getting so inspired.”

VALENTINO

When asked what we can expect from him in the future, Buddy remains happily enigmatic, telling us to expect “dope features” and “super-tight beats.” Above all, he’s optimistic that his work will get through to anyone skeptical of hip-hop’s power to become a bridge toward social change. “You know, it just don’t sound like [anything] you’ve ever heard,” he says, “But it feels like everything. I can’t wait.”

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