There’s no bigger myth in the music industry than that of overnight success. Ask any musician making headway in the mainstream, and they’ll highlight the years of hard graft in their bedrooms, shitty backroom tours, and bombing on-stage. The incubation period varies, of course, but for some it lasts much longer than expected.
For hip-hop artist Simmie Sims, better known by his stage name Buddy, it took eight drawn-out years to finally drop two high-profile EPs. While that might seem like a long time to be waiting in the wings, the rapper and singer saw the benefit of having the chance to develop at his own pace. His mom might agree. Signed by Pharrell Williams to his label at just 15 years old, Sims was taken under the wing of the 10-time Grammy winner while still in high school, and given the chance to perfect his sound outside of the spotlight.
“No one challenged me more than Pharrell,” Sims tells the Straight on the line from his home in West Hollywood. “He’s just so different from everybody else. Of all the producers, he had me make the most attempts on records. We tried so many different types of songs working together, and sometimes it was just harder than others to keep up with the swag. We did a bunch of different ideas, like singing different parts, or trying new cadences or melodies, or getting different kinds of beats to try to rap on. That’s not the norm.”
Between 2009 and 2014—with the exception of single “Awesome Awesome” in 2011—Sims wrote numerous songs that were never released. Growing up in Compton but avoiding the pitfalls of the notorious neighbourhood by attending the nonprofit Amazing Grace Conservatory, a performing-arts program, Sims spent those years figuring out, as he puts it, how to move.
“I was learning who to trust, who not to trust, and what the untrustworthy people look like,” he says. “Working out the vibes. I learned the etiquette of the studio, how to act outside the studio, and interacting with different personalities all at once. The whole game, really.”
That’s not to say Sims wasn’t impatient to get his music heard. 2014 was an explosive year for the rapper, who, eager to release his creations, compiled his favourites into a collection he called Idle Time: a diverse group of 13 songs with features from superstars including Miley Cyrus, Kendrick Lamar, and Robin Thicke. Without a marketing plan, though, the record failed to generate much buzz beyond the music blogs.
“I put that mixtape together myself, and put it out,” he recalls. “There wasn’t any big rollout strategy. I just leaked my own mixtape early on. That’s why there weren’t any music videos or nothing, and I didn’t go on tour after that mixtape. It was just on the Internet, really. That was a big lesson too: to take time, have patience, and work with a team.”
Finally, Sims’s waiting game has paid off. The rapper this year dropped Kaytranada-produced EP Ocean & Montana—a record that runs the gamut from chilled reggae to off-kilter funk—and Magnolia, a five-track effort that showcases his impassioned singing and tight flow over trap beats courtesy of duo Mike & Keys. It’s a huge step up in quality from Idle Time, and a development that the artist is proud of.
“I had to figure out myself and my management, my team around me, and really focus on my craft and my sound,” he says. “I was working with a bunch of different producers and living life, getting a bunch of life experience. That definitely comes out in these songs.”
Buddy plays the Vogue Theatre on Friday (November 24).
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays