Bun B On Janis Joplin, UGK's Label Struggles And His Voice
This month Bun B, one half of the Underground Kingz, of Port Arthur, Texas, released his fourth solo project and celebrated the 21st anniversary of his group's first album, Too Hard To Swallow. The road Bun has walked over those years hasn't always been smooth. In 2007 his partner Pimp C died, and, in their early days, the duo's musical and critical success wasn't hitting their wallets.
"I had literally the No. 1 record in the city and was delivering soul food dinners. Because we were making absolutely no money from the record company," says Bun about the period between 1992 and 1995. "We went to the radio station — KBXX 97.9 The Box in Houston, Texas — asked them could we go on the air, and told the public we were broke. Our record company had us in a crazy contract, management had us in a crazy contract, so if they see us and we don't look a certain way, don't think it's a misuse of funds on our part. We're not getting it. If you're paying the record company for this music, the money's not getting to us."
Bun B also spoke with Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about Lil Boosie, Ed O.G. and the real meaning of trill.
FRANNIE KELLEY: You got a lot going on.
BUN B: Well, that usually happens for whether you're an artist or your album's releasing or — whatever it is your field is. If you've gotta sell the product to the masses, you gotta get out there and be about the business of selling.
KELLEY: Well, you got more going on than most.
BUN B: Yeah. I feel a certain way when I'm not busy, you know. I feel a certain way if I'm not actively pursuing something that can better my situation. So if, like — if I'm sitting home for too long, I get very antsy. I get very anxious, and I get very irritable. So my wife is always like, "You stay gone too much, you need to come home." And then when I'm home for a while she's like, "You need to get out of here." But it works, you know.
And I've always been the person that goes out, sees the world and brings the information back. So I'm like Indiana Jones of my hood, you know what I'm saying? Go out and find the things that they probably would never see cause I just try to open people's minds and enlighten people's minds. I'm from a very small town and most of the people that live where I'm from ...
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD:Tell people where you're from.
BUN B: Port Arthur, Texas. It's a small town about 90 miles outside of Houston. And it's a refinery town, so if you don't work at the refinery, life is not the best life for you. Like I said, most of them never have the opportunity to leave that small town and go out into the world and see things. So I feel kind of obligated to go out and explore the world for their sake.
MUHAMMAD: When you were growing up, was that a dream or was it like you kind of thought that that would be your life?
It wasn't just like they felt a certain way on Friday and made a song about it. They felt like they felt every day and they stood tall on their convictions.
BUN B: I wasn't sure that music was gonna be what I was gonna do, but I did know that whatever it was that I wanted to do, I probably couldn't do it in that town. I mean, if I wanted to have — could I make a living in that town? Yeah. Would it be the kind of living that I wanted? No.
So for me I kind of had to go out into the world, and we actually had — the precedent was already set because Janis Joplin is also from my town. And when she tried to do her music at home, she wasn't received at all. Like people really were against her because she was trying to do soul music, collaborating with black artists, and my town — the town I grew up in in those days was very racist. The outlaying areas are still very racist. And she left and went out in the world and made her bones and came back as a legend, you know.
So I was like, "If I'mma do it, that's probably how I'mma have to do it. I'mma have to leave here — I can bring it back here, but I'mma have to leave this city to make my bones, so to speak."
MUHAMMAD: What were your influences at that time?
BUN B: Musically, being in Port Arthur, Texas, we didn't really have a connection with pop culture, per se, outside of — the only two famous people, we had three famous people from where I'm from and that's Janis Joplin, Bubba Smith, football player, and I can't remember his name right now, he's such a good person but the Police Academy movies, the guy that was the bad guy.
MUHAMMAD: Who was the bad guy?
BUN B: The sergeant, the older sergeant dude. Cause it was — Steve Guttenberg was the head guy and then they had Tackleberry and all those, you know, the blonde chick with the big breasts. But then there was this sergeant that wouldn't let them do everything when they were trying to whatever — so he was the bad guy in all of those movies. But he was actually a classically trained actor.
When he came to our school and he actually spoke at my graduation, I was like, "Wow, this dude is eloquent and he's very professional." I thought I knew who he was based on who he had played. But I was like, "OK, if he can make it, she can make it, I can make it."
And even when I didn't really believe in myself, I believe in Pimp. I believe in Pimp C, in my brother.We just made it in our minds that we wanted to be something that this town couldn't make us, you know what I'm saying? At that time the town had given us what we needed to become who we needed to become, we just couldn't become those people in that city. We had to leave and go out into the world.
KELLEY: So what were you listening to in high school?
BUN B: Oh, wow. I graduated in '91, so my high school years are '88 through '91. So I listened to a lot of music that people, artists that people don't even talk about nowadays. Big influences on me during my high school years were, of course KRS-One. Boogie Down Productions was a big influence on me just in the fact that how he presented himself and his intellect and his ideals. I was really taken aback by how strong he was — how strong he felt and how strong he held onto his convictions. That was a big thing for me.
Three Times Dope was a very — EST was a very big influence on me. Ed O.G., people like that guy. Def Jef — he was a cat that was a great producer, did some great songs as well. But I think in my high school years, out of all the MCs I listened to, the one that had the most impact on me was probably Brother J from X Clan.
MUHAMMAD: Wow, that's crazy.
BUN B: The confidence in his delivery, the eloquence in his voice and just the passion for what he believed in. But I think the voice was key, because I couldn't really pin where he was from by listening to him speak. I wanted to be that kind of person because I didn't necessarily want my voice to box me out. Because hip-hop in the late '80s, early '90s, was still very regional, you know, and music from other regions was having a hard time because people didn't understand the culture of those cities.
Unless you had been to New York City and you had friends that knew a Five Percenter, there was a lot of hip-hop terminology that you didn't know, didn't understand. You had to kind of do your research. Same thing, if you look at L.A. hip-hop and you didn't understand the gang culture, then there were things that they were talking about, terminology that they used, that you didn't understand. And the same thing happened with us, so.
MUHAMMAD: I'm surprised that you coming from a small town — I didn't expect, I mean KRS, definitely made an impact, but Ed O.G., like there are even certain part of New Yorkers that just don't know Ed O.G. or even Three Times Dope. So to hear you mention Brother J,who I've known ever since we were 12 years old — went to high school with him, shouts out to Brother J — he definitely had a commanding voice and everything that they presented was very strong and gave a sense of pride, so it's crazy to hear that — that that influenced you.
BUN B: I didn't take the typical influences that most people did because I never considered myself a typical person, and I always wanted to approach situations differently than everybody else was approaching them. So I looked for people like that in hip-hop.
MUHAMMAD: Were you looking for something that gave more of a sense of pride and a sense of strength and, you know, a political drive?
BUN B: Yeah, that and then also maturity, you know what I'm saying? Cause hip-hop for the most part was very immature in its early years. Well, as far as being presented to the masses, but if you really looked inside the culture, the Chuck Ds, the KRS-Ones, the Brother Js — these were very educated people and whatever it was they were choosing to speak on, they knew their argument. So it wasn't just like they felt a certain way on Friday and made a song about it. They felt like they felt every day and they stood tall on their convictions. Daddy-O's another person.
And all of these people — to me the one thing that they all had in common was the voice, the confidence and the authority in the voice. So I figured if I commanded that — and it's not about changing your voice, it's about knowing how to use your voice, to me, vocally. Just stick to that and everything else should work out.
KELLEY: So to be clear, you're not talking about terminology or accent or diction or anything like that. You're really talking about your voice as an instrument.
BUN B: Absolutely.
KELLEY: How do you — what do you do to your voice, to your throat, to your body, to make your voice do what you want it to do?
BUN B: I relax.
BUN B: Cause I'm normally a very anxious person. So, for me, when I get in the booth, it's another level of comfort that I don't normally have. In life, as far as business and family, I'm always trying to figure out what can I do to better this situation, what can I do to make things easier on myself and my family. And I'm always trying — I'm moving a million miles an hour trying to figure out the next thing that I can involve myself in.
But when I'm recording and I'm in the booth, it's in and of that moment and I'm kind of locked into that moment. It separates that moment from everything else that's happening. It's one of the few places where everything comes through very clear and concise, and all I have to do is take my time and spit it out. And it works.
KELLEY: Do you choose beats based on if they will compliment your voice or not?
If you were a quarterback, you wouldn't treat your throwing arm this way. So don't treat your voice this way.
BUN B: I choose beats that will challenge me as far as, like, "OK, this beat, the BPM's a little bit faster, I'm probably gonna rap faster, so I gotta make sure that even if I'm rapping fast, and I'm using more words, that they're still clearly enunciated." Because I think the biggest problem that artists have is being misunderstood. I don't want anyone to twist my words or to think that I'm saying something that I'm not.
And then, again, hip-hop is regional so some terminology, people may not even know what that word or those words mean, but if you say it in a certain way, people will kind of get the gist of what you mean even if they don't know the full definition.
KELLEY: Do you take care of your voice?
BUN B: Yeah, I do now. I treated my — not just my voice but my body — terribly for years. I smoked cigarettes, drank a lot of hard liquor. Luckily my voice — I didn't lose my voice but I got kind of close to losing the, I guess, the force behind it. Like, I was starting to do a little damage to my stomach lining as well as my lung capacity, so I just had to kind of back off a little bit and realize, like, "Look, if you were a quarterback, you wouldn't treat your throwing arm this way, you know, so don't treat your voice this way."
Spending more time around, as I got older in my career, spending more time around singers — people who take their voices very, very seriously. They don't eat certain foods, you know, it's a whole process as to why — like Michael Jackson I think is a great example. As bad as he might have treated his body, I don't think anyone treated their voice better than a Michael Jackson or a Mariah Carey — they're people who their whole life is based around making sure that no matter what else gets damaged, the voice is intact.
KELLEY: Do you remember the moment that you realized your voice was different?
BUN B: I don't remember the exact moment. It would have been during, I did debate in school, so it would have been probably during that time.
KELLEY: Like that kind of debate where you have to talk real, real fast?
BUN B: Absolutely.
KELLEY: Oh, man. That's a crazy world.
BUN B: Yeah, and I was the only one that got even like — he always told me, "Don't talk fast because it takes away from — you have a strong voice. Take your time, make your arguments very clear, very concise, pronunciate your words carefully. And your voice and the authority in your voice will carry your words farther." It's kind of worked for me outside of debate.
MUHAMMAD: You mentioned defining certain things. And I definitely wanted to ask you for the people, some of the people who are listening to Microphone Check, they're just now checking into hip-hop, from the NPR side of things so I actually had a couple of words that I wanted you to define for those people.
BUN B: I'd love to.
BUN B: That's the hardest one. I'm glad we started there. Trill has always been more than a state of mind, or a state of being, as opposed to just something that was easily definable. The people that I learned the word from never really gave a definition for it. But it was always about how you carried — being trill was always about how you carried yourself; it was about how you related to people; it was about how you moved amongst people; and most importantly how you — I want to make sure I say it correctly — it's more about how you interact with people on a continuous basis. Like, being trill means if I see you in '92 or I see you in 2002, I'm talking to the same person.
MUHAMMAD: So like in an honorable sort of a way?
BUN B: Absolutely, absolutely. Being trill means you stand on your — you have principles, you stand on them, you don't waver in your beliefs and if people need you, they can always count on you. Not count on you "as long as" — there's no determining factors as to when. I'm there for you; I'm always there for you. And that's kind of what trill meant for us, cause we were in a small town. We didn't really have an identity, you know, trying to craft an identity being that close to Houston, we like, "Well, how do we separate ourselves from Houston? How do we separate ourselves from these other towns around us?" Being trill and representing trill was something that we had, for us and that was how we were able to distinguish ourselves from everyone else.
KELLEY: Who are the people that brought that word into your life?
BUN B: Trill came initially from the Texas penitentiaries; it came from the penal system. A couple guys came home from prison and were using the word. We were young guys looking up to them. We didn't know what trill meant but we wanted to be that. So we just kind of mirrored the way they carried themselves — gangster and a gentleman so to speak.
MUHAMMAD: A matter of survival. I suppose depending on the environment that you're in, being consistent is important to survival on all planes. It doesn't matter what world you're in.
BUN B: Some environments being able to change, being a chameleon works. And in some environments, being that one factor that everyone can count on is another way. And that's kind of been who I kind of wanted to be, just somebody that — cause a lot of the people in my life and people I've come across, you know, we have damaged backgrounds, come from divorce and drugs and alcoholism and violence and all these different things and very unstable backgrounds.You look for stability in people, in activities and whatnot, and I understand that, I've been through some of that. So I try to offer myself as a walking, talking bit of stability for people to kind of see how to carry yourself, in case you don't know.
MUHAMMAD: Is it because the culture of where the word comes from maybe seemed like it's a street culture, street way of life, is there something for you that's defined by coming from hustling and having to have a code of honors amongst the street, just amongst that community? Or for you is it something that evolved into something that's greater and that may not encompass that or maybe it does?
BUN B: Well, I think it's a bit of both. I think it has its street credibility, which kind of entices people into wanting to be apart of the whole trill movement, but then as you really start to look and see how people who call themselves trill really carry themselves, you realize that it's not just about — keeping it trill does not mean keeping it hood, does not mean keeping it gangster or anything like that.
If you're gangster, then always be that, you know. If you're not a gangster, if you're square or whatever you want to call it, then always be that. And I can respect you for admitting that you're not a gangster and you're not about that life. I can respect that more than people who aren't but choose to propose themselves as being gangster or hardcore. Being trill really just means being true to who you are. You don't have to be a gangster to be trill. So you could be trill right now.
KELLEY: I am trill right now.
BUN B: See, that's what I'm talking about.
KELLEY: What I really appreciate about the way that you defined that right there, that it wasn't masculine or feminine. It really was open.
BUN B: Oh, no, it's definitely open to anyone and all who stays true to who they are. You don't have to be a man or a woman to be trill — either one works. It's just really about knowing who you are, knowing what it really is you want people to see you as, and staying true to that, regardless of whether it's the popular thing to do or not.
We knew exactly how to make music. We had no idea how to sell it and profit off of it.
KELLEY: And what does that do for — if more and more people live like that, what does that do for hip-hop culture, for rap music and for society in general? Those three being separate things.
BUN B: Hip-hop has always been about, you know, braggadocio and that kind of thing, and there's always been room for exaggeration, sometimes, in entertainment. The problem becomes flat out lying in hip-hop, and that's been a big problem of what's wrong with some of hip-hop.
And the other side of that is that sometimes in popular culture, we relate too many things to hip-hop culture just because they seem to be alike. Just because you're a rapper doesn't necessarily mean you embody the hip-hop culture as a whole as what hip-hop was initially created to represent. Just because a person raps — and then a lot of the bad things we see from rap music gets attributed to hip-hop because certain people don't understand the distinction between the two.
Rap is a part of hip-hop but every rapper doesn't represent the hip-hop culture. Every DJ does not represent the hip-hop culture. Most people think hip-hop is music. They don't really understand that hip-hop is a culture; it's a lifestyle. It's much more than just the songs you hear on the radio, or on your favorite commercial or a movie trailer. It's much more deeper than that. The principles behind the culture of hip-hop are much more deeper than that. But we see these things and we see religion getting — people twist religion to make it mean what they want it to mean and we see that in hip-hop as well.
MUHAMMAD: Alright, another one of your words: draped up.
BUN B: Draped up. Initially draped up is your clothing. Make sure that you're fresh. But then, if you're really into your car and you want your car to be fresh — so the same way you want your car to have a new pair of shoes, that's the wheels. Everything that you would want yourself to stand out with, you want other elements of your life to stand out with — the house you live in, the car you drive, the man or woman you date, you want all these things to reflect you in the highest form. That's what draped up is.
My car is draped up, that means my car looks good. I'm draped up, I look good. My woman's draped up, she looks good. You come in my house, my house is draped up. I got some nice furniture, a couple of pieces on the wall — my house is draped up.
KELLEY: We need to drape up this studio. I'm sick of it.
BUN B: That's that New York construction. Those things don't happen overnight, I'm sure.
MUHAMMAD: One of my favorite words from Texas: throwed.
BUN B: Throwed. Wow. Throwed is like, "I'm in my zone right now," you know what I'm saying? If you're drinking, you're throwed — that mean you got a nice little buzz going. If you're smoking, and you're throwed, again — you got a nice little buzz going. But even if you're at work and you brought that TP report in on time or whatever, you know, "Man, it's supposed to be due Friday and I turned it in Thursday. Man, I'm throwed with this. You can't see me in this PR game, I'm throwed with it."
If you're good at something and you work hard to be good at it, there's nothing wrong with acknowledging it and being defined by it. I mean, this is a throwed show that we're doing right now.
MUHAMMAD: This one, I'm pretty sure people know, but I'll throw it in there: self-made.
BUN B: Self-made is a term that's thrown around very loosely. Because it's very few people that are actually doing anything just by themselves — there's always somebody else that kind of comes in. But self-made means that there may have been other ways that you could have taken to get to where you were trying to go, but you may have either compromised yourself or put yourself in a position where you don't get credit, maybe, for what you're doing. And there's pride to be taken from that.
It's really about just establishing the pride that you have in the work that you've accomplished and the way that you accomplished that work. You didn't take the easy route. You didn't have Dad fund the project, you went out and got a real job and did it yourself. And, again, it instills that kind of pride in you, it instills a work ethic that I think is lacking in the world nowadays. It's very easy to let Google do the hard work for you nowadays.
MUHAMMAD: Can you talk about some of the adversities you've had to overcome in UGK's — maybe label-related or you spoke about even having to overcome where you're from to begin your art.
BUN B: I think that initially that was the hardest part — trying to figure out how to get on. There was no music scene. The music scene was Pimp C's bedroom in Houston. So we realized that we were gonna have to leave that city and go out and make our bones and we did.
And then it became an issue of education. We knew exactly how to make music. We had no idea how to sell it and profit off of it. So other people who were, you know, more in the know of that kind of thing ended up making a lot more money than we did off of our music. We thought we were slick when we signed our deal. We hired an attorney that previously worked for the label, so we thought she would have taken this inside information and used it to our advantage. Instead she ended up using it against us to the label's advantage. So that became an issue.
As money came involved, the guy that started the independent label that we were signed with got carried away with the money, got a little frivolous and stopped concentrating on the music industry. So we ended up leaving him, going with a guy who ended up directing one of our videos that convinced us that we needed to leave our label and let him manage us. I mean, he talked the good talk. He was an incredible conversationalist, and he sold the dream to us, lock, stock, and barrel. And we ended up jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. This guy withheld all of our legal paperwork as well as tax paperwork so we ended up in the red with the IRS, with no way to rectify it because he had all the receipts, all the paperwork — that was a ditch to dig out for sure.
MUHAMMAD: Was this like, beginning, beginning?
BUN B: Yeah, all of this is going on from '90 — this is all between '92 and '95.
MUHAMMAD: Wow! So you guys had hits out at this point.
BUN B: I had literally the No. 1 record in the city and was delivering soul food dinners. Because we were making absolutely no money from the record company, and we hadn't yet learned how to start selling beats, you know, doing features. I started ghost writing before we had — like I said, education ended up having to be the key. We had to really understand the business of music, which we didn't have any understanding. We had always kept trying to pass it off to someone — that responsibility. So it wasn't until we took it upon ourselves to educate ourselves about the business that we really started to profit.
I wanted to be as close to these people as possible because I felt that if they could look me in my eye and listen to me talk, they would feel me. It was just a matter of getting in front of them.
MUHAMMAD: What steps did you take to educate yourself? And I ask that because there are people listening who maybe will be in that same situation. They may not know which way to go.
BUN B: The first thing you've got to do is you've got to be vocal about it. You've got to let people know that there's a problem. You can't solve a problem that no one knows you need help solving. So that's the first thing. Like, we literally went to the radio station — KBXX 97.9 The Box in Houston, Texas — asked them could we go on the air, and told the public we were broke. Our record company had us in a crazy contract, management had us in a crazy contract, so if they see us and we don't look a certain way, don't think it's a misuse of funds on our part. We're not getting it. If you're paying the record company for this music, the money's not getting to us.
So we made that a concern at first, let people know that s--- wasn't right, excuse my language. We just had to let people know that things weren't right. We started going to people whose opinions we respected and started asking them questions that for the longest time we had been trying to solve ourselves. We went to people like James Prince, the founder of Rap-A-Lot Records, people like Too Short, people like E-40, people like Scarface, who had been in the music industry and understood how things worked. Asking them very real questions about publishing.
I didn't know I needed a publicist for my first three albums. I didn't even understand that that was something that I needed to help further my career. It took a few years for the business, the education and the talent to all catch up. That happened in I want to say '99 with the Ridin' Dirtyalbum, our third album.
And then another thing was was that we would get upset with the label and, like, curse Barry [Weiss] out, curse Jeff [Fenster] and those guys out — so then nobody answers the phone in New York for six months. And then I'm in Texas. Proximity is a problem, cause they'll tell me anything over the phone and then nothing happens cause I'm not in their face. So then, literally, I gotta get on a plane, fly to New York, scream and b---- about some things. "OK, we're gonna do it," but then once I leave, again, it's about proximity; out of sight, out of mind.
It took a long time to work through that kind of a situation and we realized, you know what? You need proper representation in order to make this kind of thing happen in the way that you want it to happen. And not giving up. There were times when I did not want to be involved with the music industry at all anymore. Luckily Pimp was there to kind of pick me up, and vice versa. There would be times where he would get just totally done with our situation, and I'm like, "We have to just keep moving forward believing that once there's no more bad, there has to be all good."
BUN B: It's a matter of taking time and trying to work yourself through these situations. Hopefully everything comes out the way you want it to come out. In our case, we were blessed enough for it to come out the way we wanted it to come out, and the key to it was making good music.
MUHAMMAD: What were some of the things that kept you going? Because I know for me, it's often just going on the road. Inside of America, definitely, but when you go to the corner of the world, like Budapest or something like that, that you just was like, "Why do you even know what we're doing or can relate?" But they connect with the music so much. What was it that kept you guys going?
BUN B: I think for us, we were small town guys. Because of the fact that we never had a lot of big videos, never had a lot of big media pushes, the only time people really saw us was in person or live on stage — couldn't see us on TV, couldn't really see us in the magazines or whatever. And we not only did Atlanta — say we were gonna do a show in Atlanta, then we were also gonna do a show in Birmingham, we're also gonna do Montgomery, we're gonna do Columbus, we're gonna do Savannah, we're gonna do all these other smaller markets as well because we know what it's like to be from these second tier, third tier markets that never get anyone.
Like, being in Port Arthur, Texas, nobody ever came to my city for concerts before we got out there and really kind of put our talent on the map. Seeing that reciprocation from small town to small town, really understanding each other and supporting each other, that helped a lot. It made me like, "OK, this isn't as bad as you think it is. Because if you get out here and you really touch the people, you will see who you're relating to."
We had the best fans in the world, we had the best supporters in the world, man. And these people, they live and breathe UGK. They've always gone out of their way to let us know that they had love for us. And for me, that was key, because this game can be very cold. You can feel very distant and separated from everybody involved. You can go on a million radio stations, do interviews and feel like you don't know these DJs at all. You can go to a million cities, do shows and sometimes feel like you're not making that connection that you really want to make if you're on this big stage that's 10 feet tall and the barricades have you 40 feet away from people. Then there's this distance that you didn't want — I didn't want.
I don't know how many people in this world that I've heard complain about having a thankless job. ... They go to work and it's just another day at work. I go to work and thousands of people stand up and cheer.
I wanted to be as close to these people as possible because I felt that if they could look me in my eye and listen to me talk, they would feel me. It was just a matter of getting in front of them. Like I said, the best fans and supporters in the world, when — because you know, there was always issues with UGK and Jive to where we only dropped albums maybe every two-and-a-half, three years. And I'm sure you understand.
MUHAMMAD: Oh yeah, I know.
BUN B: And so we had to figure out like, how do we still stay hot? And the key is stay on the road. So we toured extensively like for — probably the majority of our career was built on touring because that was where people made that connection. I wish I would have thought to sell a T-shirt back then. I'd be a rich man if I'd have thought to sell a T-shirt back then.
MUHAMMAD: You're selling T-shirts now, I hope?
BUN B: Yeah, I'm selling T-shirts now, 20 years later. I missed 19 years of that good merch money.
MUHAMMAD: You know what though, but then there's a huge anniversary series. I only say that because you guys started around the same time we started so, we just come up on the 20 year. I'm like, "I never would have thought back then." But I actually just had to make a decision on a 20-year anniversary shirt and I'm like, "That's crazy."
BUN B: 20 years, because you guys were November 8th I think for Midnight Marauders. And that was in '93. We dropped our first album on November 9th in '92. I literally did a post about Midnight Marauderson my Instagram about it being the 20 year anniversary. And then the next day I woke up and somebody was like, "Yo, it's your 21st anniversary." And that was the 21st anniversary of my first album on the Sunday before my next album was gonna drop. It just really just put this 25-year career in real perspective for me.
Because people talk — you know, we had the 20 year anniversary of the album last year and that was cool. We did the 15 year anniversary of Super Tight and all these different things and that's cool, but to look at what you've done and then realize, "I'm still doing it" — like, if I never got to drop another album ever again, I got a crazy track record. I got an extensive discography that any artist would be proud of. But the fact that I'm still actually viable as an artist, and I still get to go out and do it now, and I'm still doing it at a high level and it's appreciated? It just really kind of blew my mind.
MUHAMMAD: It's true.
BUN B: I love it, I love it. That was throwed; that was throwed right there.
MUHAMMAD: I was thinking about that when we were talking about having you here. Not a lot of people can say that they've been in the music business for 25 years consistently and relevant. That's a major accomplishment.
BUN B: I'm a blessed individual because very few people get to work anywhere for 20 years, much less doing what they love for 20 years and being appreciated at work for 20 years. I don't know how many people in this world that I've heard complain about having a thankless job. Where they go to work and they give just as much effort as I do at my job but they don't get celebrated when they go to work. They go to work and it's just another day at work. I go to work and thousands of people stand up and cheer. It's something to be desired. I respect the struggle because it's all proportional, at the end of the day. You get what you give out of it and I've been very lucky that I wasn't lazy for the majority of my career. I was never scared to give of myself and now it's all coming back.
KELLEY: I just want to touch on all of the other stuff that you do in addition to the straight industry. You mentioned you're gonna play with the Houston Symphony in a couple days.
BUN B: Yes, that's Thursday.
KELLEY: I want you to sign my Rap Coloring Book, please.
BUN B: Without question. This is a beautiful thing. I have a rap coloring activity book. I partnered with a local writer — he's locally based in Houston but he writes for LA Times, New York Times, Village Voice, all of that. He's also a middle school science teacher and football coach. And we had talked about partnering and doing some different things over hip-hop but the first idea we came up with was very extensive and it takes a lot more research.
I also realized that this guy and I had the same sense of humor, so I was like, "We should be able to put together something really creative and fun for hip-hop." Cause hip-hop is always so stoic, you know? We never let them take our cool coat off. We need to be able to do something where we can take our cool coat off that everybody can agree is cool and fun but doesn't compromise anybody as an artist or whatever their artistic integrity or street credibility may be. Shea came up with the idea for a coloring book — it initially started as a coloring book — and then he came up with an even more genius idea of adding activities like word searches, mazes, color by number.
And I still teach at Rice University. I teach a course on religion and hip-hop culture and post-slavery America. I'm doing sports commentary now, working with Comcast Sports Network. Potentially looking at a radio talk show again. I had one on AM radio last year and looking like I may be moving over to another radio station this year. So just trying to branch out and show people, man, don't box yourself in.
KELLEY: What about You Gotta Eat This?
BUN B: Yougottaeatthis.com, that's a food blog that I started with my friend Premium Pete Gibaldi. He's most notably known for sneakertube.tv, he's a sneaker aficionado. But he and I both have heavy and healthy appetites and you know we bonded over shoes, we met over shoes but we really bonded over food. And food to us is something that — everybody dresses differently, wears different clothes, different shoes, but we all eat.
MUHAMMAD: What's your favorite dish of all time?
BUN B: My favorite dish of all time is what my mom would make for me. It's, I guess British people would call it bangers and mash but it's just sausage and mashed potatoes. She'll cut up sausages and fry it up real quick and put it in mashed potatoes. And I'm a meat and potatoes man in the most literal sense of the term. That's all I wanna do is eat meat and potatoes, maybe cheese.
KELLEY: How did that Boosie verse [on Trill OG: The Epilogue] come about?
BUN B: That was something that we initially recorded for my last album, Trill OG, and we ended up not using that song. The beat leaked out and one of the verses leaked out so I pulled the song off the album.
Ever since then I've just been thinking about what a waste that is to have this incredible Lil' Boosie verse that nobody ever heard. And then when he went to prison, it became to me more adamant that people hear it. I didn't have any projects on the horizon at the time, so I just thought it was best to just leave that verse where it was for the time being. And when this situation with the album came up, it presented the perfect opportunity to include that song.
Before he went in I told him I needed him on the record and he turned it around in no time. He's a great kid. I've known Boosie probably since he was about 12 years old. Now he's come a long way, and I wish him a safe return home in spite of his situation.
KELLEY: "No Competition" sounds very different from the rest of the album.
BUN B: Yes, "No Competition" is different. That's why initially it didn't make the last album. Produced by DJ Khalil, an incredible producer, hook sung by Kobe, a great singer, and I wanted to put a great MC that I had a lot of admiration for on the record and that was Raekwon.
KELLEY: Another guy with a voice.
BUN B: Yeah, no doubt. Him and Ghostface, man, have incredible voices, incredible strength behind it. We've known each other for years and the opportunity I guess never really presented itself until then. But once we did it, it made all the sense in the world.
MUHAMMAD: One of my favorite sounds on this new album, I have to say it, is when I heard the little scratches, I was like, "See what I'm saying?" You kept the element of hip-hop alive on the album.
BUN B: Yes. Statik Selektah I think did most of the scratches.
MUHAMMAD: Could you just talk about that song and the title of the song and just what it means to ...
BUN B: Well, there's two of them with scratches. There's "The Best is Back," the opening song where the hook is composed of scratches, of different scratch edits. And that's something that a lot of early hip-hop used to have. There also was something that you had to give your DJ or producer credit for knowing all of these different elements. I think in terms of that kind of hook of course DJ Premier is the best to ever do it, but that's because he has this incredible encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop lyrics and knows so many different places where so many different MCs said that or said something to that.
Statik Selektah of course is a great student of DJ Premier, as a DJ and a producer, so it's only right that he would have that same sensibility to bring in that element to a hook and I saw him do it many times on his albums. And even though he didn't produce that track, I was like, "Yo, I need you to scratch how you scratch. Bring that element to this song." He was like, "What's the song called?" I was like, "'Stop Playing.'" So it took him like a day to go through hip-hop and think of different elements where they said, "Stop playing." He found enough of 'em, put 'em in the hook and made it incredible, man.
MUHAMMAD: I was happy because you don't hear a lot of artists from the south really encompass that element. That's another element of hip-hop and it just is a lost art form for some people so hearing that, I was all smiles.
BUN B: In the hip-hop family the South is probably — I look at it as being like four children of hip-hop: East coast, West coast, down South and Midwest. We're, like, the third born, so we're still kind of young in the game in that sense — hip-hop still for a lot of Southern people hasn't reached a nostalgia stage yet. That's really just starting to happen with a Pimp C and people really having to go back and look at the history of everything. Kind of bring everything full circle and really look at the full career as opposed to present day.
So now we look back and remember DJ Screw, we look back and remember Pimp C, we look back and remember Hawk and Pat and all these great people. It helps you put not just their career in perspective but our culture regionally in perspective. And people get a much deeper understanding of what's actually happened in the South in hip-hop. Took a while but now it's come full circle, they get it.
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