When Buddy, a preacher’s son from Compton, turns to me with eyebrows raised on the elevator ride inside NPR’s corporate headquarters, it’s hard to tell if the question that comes next is in preparation for his performance or pure provocation.
“Can we smoke in here?!” he asks with a grin that elicits stifled laughter from his bandmates and a few newsroom journalists along for the ride. It’s a blunt request, even from a self-professed “weed connoisseur,” and it kicks off one of the most dramatic Tiny Desks in recent memory.
If 2018 signaled the year of disruption in rap — with a shortlist of vets and newcomers trolling their way to the top of the charts — it was dominated by a groundswell of emerging voices who found more creative means to make their mark. Buddy’s anticipated full-length debut Harlan & Alondra, named for the cross streets where he lived as a child, placed him among the better company (and on NPR’s Best Rap Albums Of 2018). The same soulful hybrid of rapping and singing that compelled Pharrell to sign him as a teenager found Buddy stretching L.A. hip-hop beyond its typical gangsta narrative, while dancing with his dreams and shaking off his demons.