I f you haven't heard of Compton-born rapper Buddy, you haven't been listening to the right playlists. At 15, Buddy's musical talent caught the attention of Pharrell Williams; Williams subsequently signed the rapper to his label i am OTHER. Over the next decade, Buddy collaborated with Kendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hussle, Chance the Rapper, Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky – the list goes on. Last year, Buddy released his debut album, entitled Harlan & Alondra, with Cool Lil Company/RCA Records. Today, Buddy's music has more than 1.7 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
But music isn't Buddy's only artistic interest: he's got some opinions about contemporary art as well. Harrison Tenzer, Sotheby's Head of Contemporary Art Online auctions, sat down with the rapper to learn what he looks for in an artwork, and the pieces that inspire him.
Harrison Tenzer: Tell me about an early moment in your life when you felt drawn to visual art – in a museum, in the world, wherever.
Buddy: I remember going to a museum as a child and being like, “Ooh, that’s tight.” When I started acting – I went to AGC, the Amazing Grace Conservatory in LA – that really broadened my horizons. Later, because my parents could no longer afford the AGC tuition, they put me in a performing arts high school. And that’s where I began really learning about different mediums of art. I took drawing classes and I experimented with drawing on my own, learning to shade correctly, that type of stuff. I really liked it, but I didn’t keep it up – other things, rapping and life, got in the way. In my room growing up, though, one of the walls was a blackboard. It was tight. I would just draw and erase, draw and erase.
HT: And did your experience with drawing affect your relationship with producing and performing music in any way? Or do you see them as separate aspects of your process?
B: They’re different outlets, but they’re reflective of the same thing, you know. I use both as outlets to express and capture how I feel in a moment in time.
HT: In your music videos, I see that you incorporate a lot of artwork and visuals that are specific to your life. And for the Harlan & Alondra album art, you chose a family picture. What inspired these decisions?
B: I'm trying to shine a light on my city and my family. I want to show people where I come from and who I grew up with. I want my art to represent me, who I am as an individual.
“I want my art to represent me, who I am as an individual.”
HT: Also, I want to wish you a happy birthday – I know you just turned 26, on September 10th.
B: Thank you, yeah we had a good celebration here in LA.
HT: You’ve been in the industry for just over a decade now, and you’ve been an artist forever, really. I’m wondering, over the past years, have you found that your tastes have changed? Aesthetically, visually or musically?
B: No, I’ve been pretty consistent all my life. I feel like, because of what I do, with touring and everything, I’ve had the great opportunity to experience more of what the art world has to offer. I’ve been to museums abroad and have a better idea of what I like, and what I don't.
HT: So what draws you to certain art, would you say?
B: I like...details. Beyond that, I’d say with art, in the moment I see it, I know whether or not I like it. I love art that I can just stare at, and just go line by line, all the way down, just like 'wow, wow,' like the Futura 2000. And I'll just try to think of what the artist was thinking in the moment they made it, or think about how they made it, because who's to say I'm done drawing, and making art myself? Maybe I'll draw something one of these days. Imitation is flattery.
HT: Yeah, imitation being the highest form of flattery.
B: I think I can implement little different styles of things that I like into stuff that I might do later. Or talk about it in a rap, or just anything. When art looks doable, not just super crisp, or clean, I feel more excited by it, like with the Tala Madani.
HT: You trust your instincts. At this point, do you collect art at all?
B: Not yet, but I’d like to. I recently went to a party and the entire house was like a work of art – I’m not just talking about normal art on the walls, I mean there was this crazy zodiac rug, a cloud chandelier, wallpaper that matches the drapes – even this big boulder in the middle of the living room. They had to reinforce the floor, to support this boulder, this work of art. I was astonished. I’m trying to blow people’s minds like that, eventually, you know what I mean? I like detailed, tangible art that people can get right up close to, not just look at from a distance. I want people to feel like they're supposed to touch stuff, like a couch that's also a piece of art, that people can actually sit on, and a crazy art blanket that people can cuddle under and watch a movie. For me, I just want to put the Invade work on top of an old Atari arcade game in my house and have the Futura work there as well, and I can look at them while I’m chilling under a blanket.
“I like detailed, tangible art that people can get right up close to, not just look at from a distance.”
But to your question, I’ve been gifted some art pieces from artist friends of mine, so in that sense, you could say I’ve begun collecting. I’m friends with Sam from FriendsWithYou, and he drew me an art piece that's super dope. I had a blank canvas at the crib, hanging up, and he took a Sharpie and just drew all over it. It’s tight. In my room, I have two framed posters that I've had for a while, and I still love: one is of Bill Murray from the movie Stripes, and the other is of N.W.A. They're the first things I see when I wake up in the morning.
Browse and Bid on Buddy's Picks
Check out Buddy's picks in Sotheby's Contemporary Art Online auction, running from 19 September to 2 October. Artworks from the auction will be on exhibition at Sotheby's New York headquarters starting 20 September.
Buddy was styled in jewelry from the upcoming Sotheby's Fine Jewels auction, which will take place on 25 September at 10:00 AM EDT in New York.