Bun B Talks Upholding UGK's Legacy In His Travels, Teachings & Relationships
Exclusive: Bun B backs up his claim as "The best that ever did it" and why his new food blog and coloring book fit in perfectly with the rest of his catalogue.
Bun B knows how to pull off the remarkable. In a genre that disposes of its one-time heroes with breakneck speed, the Port Arthur, Texas rapper has excelled throughout a robust two decade-plus career that started with his role as one-half of seminal rap group UGK and continues with his work as a solo artist.
Along the way, the big Southern Rap impresario has adroitly worked with some of music’s biggest stars, collaborating in 1999 with Jay Z on “Big Pimpin’” and Beyonce multiple times (2006’s “Check On It” and 2013’s “I Been On Remix”) while never losing his clout among acts from his region. That, of course, is thanks in part to his steady work with them throughout his tenure, one that includes unofficial cameo king status in the 2000s via to his rhyme slinging with Webbie, Slim Thug and dozens of others.
So as Pimp C’s partner prepares for the November 11 release of Trill O.G.: The Epilogue, realize that his tenure as a Distinguished Lecturer at Rice University, his status as co-author of Bun B’s Rap Coloring And Activity Book and his role as co-owner of the YouGottaEatThis.com food blog represent only a portion of the evolution of one of rap’s true underground kingz. Anyone who thinks otherwise is simply cramping his style.
Why Bun B Calls Himself The Best That Ever Did It
HipHopDX: You always put a lot of care into your work. So if these songs aren't ones that you thought were right for the other projects, what makes them worth bundling together?
Bun B: Well it’s not that they weren’t right for the other projects in particular; it’s not like random songs. These are songs from the Trill O.G. project. It’s just that I didn’t want to double-up on anything. We recorded like 30-plus songs, and you can’t put them all out in one time. And I didn’t want to put songs on the album that seemed kind of familiar. If we’d already touched on them topics or dabbled in that territory, then I didn’t see the need to double-up on it. And it wasn’t that the songs weren’t good, it’s just that, you can only put so much music on one album.
DX: So why not just do a double album?
Bun B: Well that was basically the last album of my deal, and I wasn’t going to give any music away that I wasn’t getting paid for.
DX: That’s a good reason.
Bun B: We were able to work terms out, and at this point, do a one-off release with the music. But I had a three-album deal, and [Trill O.G.] was my third album. At that point, I felt I didn’t want to give away extra music.
DX: Speaking of your album, on the song “Church,” you refer to yourself as “The best that ever did it.” Throughout Rap history that’s always been an interesting touchpoint for artists. So why do you think it sometimes matters when people say it, and sometimes it doesn’t?
Bun B: I guess it just depends on where you feel you stand in the line of that kind of thing. If a person says they’re the best that ever did it, and you feel that you’re better than them, then you’re probably going to say something about that. I don’t think a lot of people feel they’re better than me at what I do, and I don’t feel that they are either, to be quite honest. I’m not saying that they aren’t good at what they do; they’re just not better than me at what I do. I don’t think anybody is a better me than me.
DX: So do you think that’s why no one would’ve come at you or said anything to you?
Bun B: I’m not saying I’m impenetrable or that nobody’s willing to take a shot. It’s just that I shoot back.
DX: Well a lot of people do, so what do you think separates you in that regard?
Bun B: I’m probably better than most when it comes to shooting. It’s no joke, and I’m really good at what I do. I’ve always wanted to only be good at what I do, and everything else is built off the fact of how good I am at what I do. I don’t take myself too seriously, but I do take what I do very seriously. And I don’t think—regardless of where you are in your career, your life and how hungry you say you are—I don’t think people want to be good as much as I do. That’s all I want to do is be the coldest with this shit. It’s not just about getting paid, because if you’re good at what you do, you get paid anyway. So I don’t have to worry about that type of shit. I just concentrate on being good with no extracurricular bullshit.
And I don’t fuck around—if that answers your question better. I don't fuck around. If you come at me, I’m going to approach you, and it probably won’t be on a record. I won’t make the record until after I see you. In that kind of a sense, and at that point, I may not even need to make the record. I’m going to make my opinion known in different ways. But getting back to music and lyricism, I don’t play when it come to lyrics. I’m all about that. I’ve always been about that, and I probably was more concentrated on being a lyricist than you were before you even picked up the pen. So I’m just not that dude to fuck with on that level, and I think most people know that.
Bun B On Bonds With Chino XL & Talib Kweli Praise For A$AP Mob
DX: That interestingly leads me to something else. Chino XL and Talib Kweli have told me how much they respect you and how much you guys have talked over the years over different times. How and why do you think relationships with those two developed?
Bun B: I think we all got a lot in common. Even though we come from different areas and different backgrounds, I think our individual struggles and our individual travels are aligned the same. And as far as mannerisms and personality traits—we got a lot of shit in common as far as individuals, family, and as far as being an emcee is concerned. We never closed ourselves off to other people. What Chino represents, what I represent, what Kweli represents—on a surface level it may seem very different, but when you get to the heart of why we do what we do, that’s pretty much the same across the board.
DX: That being said, and given that there has been such a false perception as far as Southern rappers as lyricists, what are those lyric conversations like with those guys?
Bun B: It’s just about how we notice how some people can be keeping it realer than they normally keep it. In spite of everything, we learned to figure out how to make connections to our core. And really, we just talk about feeding the core. We don’t worry ourselves with trying to gain new fans. We just want to reassure our positions with our existing fan base. It’s not about letting new people know that we’re nice, or about letting the old people know that we still got it.
DX: Well then, for you though—since you do want to be the best—how do you think you’ve been able to sustain your fan base by not trying to overtly reach for them?
Bun B: Well just by not being afraid to work with new talent. The problem that most young fans have with older fans is that they feel older fans are stuck in the past. We’ve just been trying to lyrically let people know that we’re still here. We’re still valid, and these voices still matter. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that. It just comes by due process of keeping it real. Because of the fact that I’m not going out of my way to earn fans, it puts me in a more relaxed state to do the things I need to do. And it doesn’t seem like I’m trying to force myself on the new fans. So when they feel it, it feels real to them.
DX: One of the things that you and other veterans have done is align yourself with younger artists, and I think a great example of this right now is Juicy J with Mike Will. When you’re around younger artists, what type of things are you getting from them?
Bun B: What kind of things have I picked up?
DX: Yeah. You’ve obviously worked with a lot of artists that are younger than you. So what have you picked up from them? What type of things have they shown you that have impacted the way you do things?
Bun B: That’s a little different, ‘cause I'm usually the mentor, but I will say the new generation is more business oriented. They’re in a much better position to take advantage of corporate subsidies and merchandising. They’re more in tune with that type of thing and making the money off of the music. But they still need to know how to maintain and make sure they’re a mainstay in the industry. So I look at the new wave, and the new generation is taking advantage of social media and these different outlets that are available. And at the same time, I show them how to make sure you’ve got a good stage show, that you maintain a good relationship with home, and different things like that. So, it’s been reciprocal. And it’s not like I’m just giving them all the game, then I just walk away like that. I still just watch how different cats handle different situations, and it gives me a little bit of insight how the younger generation interacts with each other.
DX: And is there a specific example that you want to cite? Are there any artists you thought were really impressive?
Bun B: I think maybe the A$AP Mob. I think that a lot of people thought that when they first started using some of the terminology—like using the word “Trill” to describe themselves— people thought they would be the guys trying to make “Trill” shirts and trying to capitalize off of the term. But they didn’t do anything like that. They were very, very insistent on really strengthening the A$AP brand. And when it comes to merch and things like that, that’s what they’re selling. They’re selling A$AP Mob clothing and things like that. So I was just really impressed by how quick they were able to take advantage of what their buzz was and how to align it in order to move their merch.
Another situation kind of like that is Odd Future. They’ve been able to do the same thing and really make the merch go as far as the music. They’re innovative with different designs as far as merch is concerned and just making things they know their fan base would really, really love. And even with their music situation, they’ve been keeping creative control. At the same time, none of these younger cats that I’ve noticed are really running around acting like they’re better than the next generation. Most of these cats are giving as far as I’ve seen. I don’t know how they’re treating other cats, but they show love and they show respect. They give it up. And you know I do the same.
Bun B Calls His International Touring “A Cultural Exchange Program”
DX: You were talking about social media with the younger artists. One thing that impressed me that ties into your food blog is that people may not appreciate how much you’re traveling—especially overseas. How, when and why did you start going overseas so much?
Bun B: I think most of the overseas traveling that people see me doing nowadays is probably centered around the “Gumball 3000” rally. That’s probably one of the reasons that’s kept me overseas extensively. But we have been doing different shows in different places. You know, we’ve had different people like the Substance Group up in Canada books us for shows. And we’re not the kind of people to just want to go over because somebody says, “We want to book you,” then go, get that money and sit around and wait for someone else. We kind of like to extend the trip. So it’s like, if someone calls for a show in London, then we're like, “Let’s see if we can book something in Amsterdam around the same time. And then let’s try to book something in Paris, Finland and then Stockholm.” We’ve taken significant price cuts just for the opportunity to go and see a lot of these different countries.
We don’t necessarily get what we would normally get as far as a performance fee. But just the opportunity to go and spend two or three days in Oslo, Norway—to go to the opera house, and go to the Rose Garden and see the Angry Baby [Sinnataggen Statue] and things like that—is a big deal for myself and my family. It gives me and my wife an opportunity to go out and see places that we normally wouldn’t see. We do things that we normally wouldn't do and meet people we normally wouldn’t meet. So I’ve used that kind of as a cultural exchange program. We go over with our music and our culture, bring that to the city, and we try to take time to stay in the city, and take some of that culture back with us.
I remember going to Amsterdam twice, but it was literally fly in one day, get in late at night, check into a hotel, go do the show the next day and then you’re out the next morning. You go to press, sound check and stuff like that, so you never see the full city. I’ve been to Amsterdam twice and didn’t even know the Vincent Van Gogh Museum or the Anne Frank House was there, because we never take time to stay in those cities. We always were just like, “Let’s get this money and go home.” My friend Matt was telling me, “Man, you’re missing the city. You’re going to these great places, but you’re not really getting the history of these places.” So we made a conscious change to see these things in different cities. We’ve been to Barcelona and actually got to stay in Barcelona for three days doing Red Bull Music Academy and went to the Gaudi House and see all this beautiful architecture and things like that. We got a taste of some good, paella and stuff like that. When in Rome, as they say. We just got to take more advantage of life and the beauty of the world that we live in.
DX: Coming from P.A., did you ever dream or think that you would want to travel to the extent you do now? Or is that something that you never really considered?
Bun B: Well yeah, because my dad was never really an educated person. My dad dropped out in the sixth grade to help my family. My dad and my mom both grew up in rural Louisiana. As children, they either had to go work in the fields as my dad did. In the sixth grade, he had to quit school and go work in the field with my grandfather to help support the family. My mom dropped out in the tenth grade, because she was the oldest, and she had to help take care of the younger brothers and sister at home while people went to work in the family.
So it’s always been that strong sense of not missing opportunities. A lot of people in my life have sacrificed for me to be able to be who I am today. So I try not to misuse that time, ability and that effort. I try to absorb the most of the world that I can, and go back and inspire different people and make my family proud. But then also, being from a small town like Port Arthur—where a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to actually leave the city or the state and go out and see the world—I kind of feel obligated to experience these things and let them know, “Hey man, just ‘cause you from Port Arthur doesn’t mean that you can’t do this or be a part of that.” This entire world is available to you. Don’t let television, media or race relations in your particular community or this class system in your particular community stop you from wanting or feeling that you aren’t a part of certain things in life. I used to read a lot of encyclopedias when I was young, and I would see places like Niagara Falls and the Eiffel Tower and stuff like that…even like, Times Square. I never thought I would’ve seen or stood in the middle of Times Square or Broadway. I’ve done that and much, much more in my life.
DX: Yeah, a friend of mine ended up being a teacher on the south side of Chicago. And he was telling me on the South Side in the ‘40s, only one or two of the students he ever taught in three or four years had ever even been to Downtown Chicago.
Bun B: Yeah. I mean, I live in Houston, Texas, and there are people here who live on the South, North and Southwest sides of town who have never been to the Galleria Mall. And they don’t have any plans of going to the Galleria Mall. They’ve never felt welcome in the Galleria Mall. For them, Red Lobster is still a big date night.
How Bun B’s Coloring Book Encourages UGK Fans To Grow With Him
DX: The first time I met you in person about 15 years ago, in Houston—I think it was before we were going to eat at Pappadeaux—you were holding a copy of The New York Times. There’s so many more layers and levels to you than you often put in your music. So how do you balance that as a person and as someone that is trying to inspire someone from P.A. to say, “You know what, I want to go to Yosemite?”
Bun B: You just got to show them that you don’t have to change who you are just to go to these different places. When I travel around the world, I try to show them that, “Hey man, I may be in Stockholm, Sweden, but I still got my J’s on, still got my 501 Levi’s, I still got my black tee on and my New Era hat.” I don’t have to dress like everyone else is dressed to be in this room or to be around these people. The big misconception is that in order to do these things that other people are doing and be where these other people are, you have to change who you are. And that’s not true. People want you to be yourself. That’s all that I’ve ever seen, being around all these different people. They’re very interested in my story, my struggle, where I come from, what I’ve seen and what I’ve done. They don’t want me to go there and act like them. When you go to London, they don’t want you to affect the London accent. And that’s something that’s carried on with me even with Hip Hop. When you go to New York, New York rappers don’t want you to sound like the New Yorkers. They want you to be who you are.
DX: Well that leads nicely into the coloring book, because listening to “Pocket Full Of Stones” or any other early classics, I never would’ve imagined you doing a coloring book. What made that something you wanted to do and something comfortable with your legacy to do?
Bun B: As far as my legacy is concerned, I don’t really feel... You know, as long I’m being true to myself, then I can’t compromise my legacy, as long as I'm being honest. The reality is that, Bun B at 18, 19, or 21, who was making “Pocket Full Of Stones,” is maybe not the same guy that I am today. A part of that is still me, but then there are other parts of me as well. And with so many people having followed UGK for 20-plus years—we taught people how to hustle, and we taught them how to grind. We taught people how to love and embrace different things. But we got to teach people how to grow up, too. And the same way that we shared all the good stuff, you got to share all the bad stuff, too. We showed the professional stuff; you got to show the personal stuff too. So we always wanted to show both sides of the game and both sides of dealing with shit, ‘cause everyone only talks about how good it is. Nobody wants to talk about how bad it is. Nobody wants to talk about how it affected them. People don’t want to talk about how the actions affect the people you love.
DX: I think that’s why, at least for me, there’s such a connection with the artists. It means something to them, and it’s not disposable music. It actually matters.
Bun B: Yeah, we felt invested in everybody. We didn’t want to just be like the guys that made it. We wanted to go back and let people know that we understood how hard it is to make it from where we made it. We’re not special. We're blessed to make it. And if you don’t give up and you stay true, you stay focused—and don’t be out here treating people like shit—giving God his just due, eventually sooner or later, a door is going to open up for you, too. Our door just happened to open up a lot earlier than other people’s doors. But just because your door opens early, it can close early, too, if you don’t respect the opportunity. That was just something that we felt—anything that we learned professionally, personally, life lessons—we just felt obligated to share that shit. We were able to find our way through this, and we were able to see the light. So let’s make sure that the next cat doesn’t get tripped up when he comes this way.
DX: What’s the latest in the status of your scholarly pursuits at Rice?
Bun B: I’m actually in the process of teaching now. We just had midterm exams yesterday.
DX: What’s been the evolution of your role as a teacher? When I spoke to you about Religion and Hip-Hop Culture courses in 2011 for Redbullusa.com, you basically said you were doing as much learning as the students at that point. So how has that evolved?
Bun B: Well, now I’ve gotten over that first-year anxiety, and it was all really based on not wanting to drop the ball with these kids, because it was a great opportunity for Hip Hop. I don’t want to be a black mark, so to speak, in Hip Hop history. So knowing that it can be done, have been done and accomplished it and been successful at it, there’s not really that pressure there anymore. So now I can give myself over a little bit more to the class, but it’s really about the students as well. The first-year students didn’t really know what the course was and how serious it was—it was just a fad or something. The second-year students understand now that it’s a real course; people going to take it serious. They can fail it, but if people do take it serious, then not only is it a class that they can get a good grade in, but there are also things to be learned and appreciated in this course.
DX: What’s the title of the course now?
Bun B: It’s the same title. Nothing has really changed in the course, but this group of kids is different because of the dialogue. It’s really about the back-and-forth, and it’s not just a class where you come in and take in a bunch of information. I don’t want to say we demand it, but we really, really push interaction and asking questions. So that’s how this class really takes off when students ask questions about things and offer a different perspective and outlook based on who they are and what their particular struggle is…what their personal background is, you know?
DX: And then—as far as your food—I know, obviously from, chilling with you a couple times, that you are into food tremendously. So what do you think is the difference with YouGottaEatThis.com versus any other food blog, other than your involvement?
Bun B: Well, we’re not there like a corporate brand or anything. This is just about us sharing the food that we love and giving other people a platform to share the food that they love. It’s not about being on the journalistic side or anything like that. It’s really just, kind of like a food chat room, so to speak.