With ‘Ocean & Montana’ Buddy And Kaytranada Show A Brighter Side Of Compton

Compton is in the middle of a rap renaissance, so you could be forgiven for missing out on the release of Compton rapper Buddy’s latest EP, Ocean & Montana, a joint effort with Polaris Prize-winning, on-the-make Canadian producer Kaytranada. In fact, you might even get a pass for not really checking for it in the first place, considering his debut release on I Am Other, Idle Time, was interminably delayed until all its momentum was gone.

When Idle Time finally was released, it was almost three whole years after its initial announcement, and the album came for free and with new cover art. The original Dali-inspired version was so much better. (Though I might be biased because I grew up around the corner from that donut shop and got two glaze twists every morning waiting on the bus to middle school.) Then, there’s Buddy’s insistence on using such a common word as a moniker, which lends itself to speedy search engine delivery about as well as McDonald’s serves up steak and ribs.

But soon — very soon — continuing to sleep on Simmie Sims is going to become one of those things that leaves Johnny-come-lately bandwagon fans kicking themselves as they frantically rush to catch up, because this kid is way too cool not to move units when the mainstream finally catches on. Ocean & Montana is all the proof you need.

Signed by Pharrell Williams in 2011, Buddy made a bunch of noise out of the gate with the stomping, boisterous “Awesome, Awesome.” Rapping energetically over Williams’ signature outer-space synths and pounding marching band drums, Buddy brought the skater sensibility and fun of late-00’s Billionaire Boys Club to the streets of sunny California, garnering a short press run that seemed like the headway needed to create another Clipse-sized footprint in the rap game. Unfortunately, due to disputes with parent label Colombia Records and Pharrell’s sadly also-signature tendency to have a short attention span when it comes to promoting his artists, Buddy’s buzz fizzled out and left him looking more like Fam-Lay: Lots of potential, but no product.

While Idle Time did eventually see wide release early in 2014, it was with significantly less fanfare than his outsize talent warranted. For an debut album that featured big name production from Cardo Got Wings and big names guests like Miley Cyrus, Pharrell, Kendrick Lamar, the overall reception of the project was a disappointing, resounding silence.

It’s even more disappointing considering that while Compton pushed out enough rappers to fill out an NBA roster in the past few years, Buddy doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page to himself, and only a dated, currently-inaccurate reference on the page for I Am Other. The diminutive rapper kept popping up though, making a cameo appearance in Inglewood director Rick Famuyiwa’s 2015 indie coming-of-age flick, Dope (by the way, if you haven’t seen it, I really recommend it — especially for all you youngbloods out there who love hip-hop music and culture from before you were born), and contributing to accompanying soundtrack, which also featured Kap, Watch The Duck, and Lolawolf.

Meanwhile, Canadian producer of eclectic, electronic hip-hop beats Kaytranada made a huge splash in 2016 with the release of his debut 99.9%. Funky and soulful and supremely danceable, the LP was stacked from top to bottom with some of the biggest names and most talented collaborators in hip-hop and R&B, from Phonte Coleman, Syd The Kid, and GoldLink, to Anderson Paak and Little Dragon. It was so good, it resuscitated British garage singer Craig David’s buzz in U.S., and turned Kaytranada into a damn near household name almost overnight. He’s been all over the festival circuit ever since, off the strength of just how good 99.9% is. So when Buddy announced the decision to collaborate with Kaytranada on the 5-song EP Ocean & Montana in March, it seemed like just the kind of name recognition that could finally shine the spotlight back on him where it belongs.

The two work well together; the unfiltered, yet velvety vocals Buddy displays on the hook of “Love Or Something?” blend with the funky, drink-and-two-step, live band keys and snares Kay provides to burn up hipster lounge dance floors. A perfect example of Buddy’s ability to switch effortlessly from sing-song cadences to a skittery double time staccato with his flows: “Guillotine,” which sounds like Curtis Mayfield and Twista got high together on the Santa Monica pier before hopping in DJ Quik’s drop top Cadillac for a leisurely cruise up the coast, with Bun B passed out on the backseat. Kaytranada has a gift for finding weird, trippy ways to redirect familiar sounds. “World Of Wonders” infuses a tropical vibe into hip-hop’s four-bar loop format to create a track that wouldn’t be completely out of place at the local bashment jam, over which Buddy flirts with his West Indian paramour with lines like “Wonder Woman, take me to your world of wonders,” and “I like Rihanna,” delivered with just enough sincerity to be taken seriously and just enough of a wink not to be too earnest and veer into cheesy territory.

The thing that makes the records work so well, even amid the log jam of Hub City wordsmiths, is that Buddy uses the clear influences of old school West Coast rap — he references staple gangsta funk vocalist Kokane, a truly deep cut that any real Angeleno will appreciate, on “A Lite” — but largely stays away from the hood tales that pervade recent releases from Kendrick Lamar, Boogie, and Problem (with DJ Quik). Kaytranada keeps the vibe fun and eclectic, which pairs perfectly with Buddy’s upbeat persona and easygoing charm. It’s funky, but light fare that feels best on a quick dip around the corner to the store or the neighborhood kickback. It’s house party music that’s all about having fun, informed by Compton’s environment without the direct references to the city’s somewhat checkered reputation. By showing a different side of his hometown, he creates his own lane, and shows that he’s a true original.