2016 saw Anderson .Paak drop Malibu – a love letter to Californian surf culture that crafted something outstanding from songs about fake titties and earnest ‘60s soul. 2017 was eclipsed by SZA’s powerfully self-conscious and defiant Ctrl. And in 2018, Buddy has achieved the same level of eclectic prowess, with the bonus of having some of rap’s biggest hitters along for his debut album.
Buddy is an LA baby, and Harlan & Alondra acts as a whistle-stop tour through the sounds of his home turf. Opening with "Real Life Shit", he starts out exploring the vertigo of success and the reality of growing up in a spotlight, paring a lazy snare with a flow that's at once remarkably precise and all-too-effortless. Then, at the risk of the listener thinking they've stumbled upon something purely introspective, "Shameless" rolls in – the kind of baller anthem you expect to hear shaking beer-sticky speakers at a block party. Track four, "Hey Up There", takes another swerve into trap. The mixture of sincerity from Buddy's letter to God, coupled with a muted piano, makes even Ty Dollar $ign's trademark 'vocoder and chill' vibe sound pensive. (Incidentally, this song has what is fast becoming my favourite punchline-rap ever – 'Now it's getting scary: Freddy Kruger'. Just brilliant.)
This signifies the end of the first act, with Buddy using the disco-funk of instrumental "Legend" as a transistor into more old-school territory. But remarkably, the zig-zag through genre doesn't let up. You want jazz? "Young" snaps open with some of the best chops you'll hear this year. You want straight up sex-music? See the rolling hats and cathedral reverb of "Trippin'", featuring Khalid. You want g-funk? Snoop Dogg just turned up.
As ever, this much variety is a risk. But there's a delicacy in the approach that ties everything together. Where other sample-based producers might just loop up and check out, the team here – from Bruno Mars collaborator Brody Brown to master sticksman Roofeeo – craft arrangements that are intricate and deliberate. A barely-there string quartet closes "Real Life Shit"; a Wurlitzer purrs in the background of Young; every bit of close harmony and double-tracking is crisp and considered.
And the rapper cum singer has the vocal equipment to join the dots. Spitting 'Dear Diary' scrawl or political polemic, singing gospel or R 'n' B, Buddy leans into each style without losing a thread of idiosyncrasy. There are simply no duds.
Even more exciting is the amount of industry support behind him. 2018 is barely halfway through, but Harlan & Alondra will have to be crowbarred out of end-of-year lists come December. An absolute triumph.