Bun B: The Underground King

By Arnold T. Pants  |  06/13/2007

Since the release of The Southern Way, Bun B has slowly built a reputation as one of hip-hop's elite. He and partner Pimp C have been spreading the Underground King name from Port Arthur, Texas, across the globe, and as a group they are responsible for some of the most entertaining and engaging songs in the genre's history. Paving the way for and guiding a slew of rappers that followed in their path, UGK are some of the most accessible legends in rap. This summer UGK drops a double album of new material, the self-titled U.G.K., featuring Marly Marl, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Slim Thugg, 3 6 Mafia, Swizz Beats and may more. Reaching out to artists past, present and future is nothing new to UGK, and it doesn't stop with simply promoting their brand name.

Outside of the group, Bun delivered a stellar solo album, Trill, in 2005 and has more lauded guest appearances than I can easily count. Recently, he has also been making waves in the world of street wear. Fresh of a powerful performance at Alife and with some really exclusive material on the way with the Soul Assassins and Grey One team, Bun continues to rep the underground in every aspect of life. He also made news recently with an appearance at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts. Needless to say, whatever Bun is doing, he is doing it big, and with an eye to helping others grow, learn and develop.

Recently, Bun shared some time with Ballerstatus to talk about the album, musical influences and, of course, a little streetwear.

Ballerstatus.com: New UGK album on the way, what can we expect?

Bun B: The return of the trill, basically. It's a double album, looking at least 24 to 26 songs on it. It is really more of what you've been waiting for. That is the reason we did the double album, 'cause we knew we had to hit people with that UGK sound like they hadn't been warned, so we went at it like that. We broke bread with a lot of people we respect from the generation before, you know our peers, and the people coming after us. We got a good mix of people on there, a good mix of sounds, but it's still that trill, you know?

Ballerstatus.com: A collaboration I have been interested in is the one with Dizzee Rascal. How did that come through?

Bun B: Dizzee's a good friend of mine. I met Dizzee about three or four years ago at South By South West (SXSW) in Austin and we had recorded a few mixtape joints and songs just to be...

Phone cuts out. Several days later we reconnect...

Ballerstatus.com: Last time we were talking about Dizzee Rascal and you mentioned meeting him at SXSW.

Bun B: Yeah, we met at SXSW, through Matt So Real who runs HoustonSoReal.blogspot. We've done a lot of stuff with each other, some underground stuff with him. We definetly wanted to show the connection between him and us, with us being homies, and show this international collaboration thing fully, so we ended up recording on each others' albums. He is actually in Houston right now. We're going to shoot a video for the song we did for his album. But, he's just a young cat. I like to reach out to some of the young cats in the game that I feel are going to have real effects in the game. Just make sure I can maybe give them a couple of words of advice that people weren't able to give me when I was coming up.

Ballerstatus.com: Is that something that motivates you at this stage in your career, having been recording for 20 years?

Bun B: I haven't been recording for that long actually. It's kinda crazy, 17 years more like. People tend to date us longer than we actually are. When do you think UGK's first album came out?

Ballerstatus.com: '89 or '91.

Bun B: It was '91. I don't know who dropped that '89, I keep seeing it.

Ballerstatus.com: That's what I'm saying. I like to think I do my research right, and that my questions are on point, and actually I thought that seemed a little off.

Bun B: That all being said; I do get a kick out of watching the young cats do it. It does inspire me to a certain extent. It's the sh-- that I do in the world daily that has more effect on my records, but I do get a kick out of watching some of these cats. Knowing that some of these cats are going to be real forces in the game and they don't even know it.

Ballerstatus.com: One thing about Houston, from an outsider's perspective, is that people seem willing work together. I think that has produced some really interesting records. Could you comment on that?

Bun B: Well, we understand that we could sit out here and knock each other, but we won't get anywhere like that and that it is a whole lot better to work together to get what you want. The piggy back effect definetly works well. You could rap on my record, and I could rap on your record and we both go forward. I'm blessed to be able to tell these cats, you know in our day, it was all about looking out for your fellow man, and guys took heed to that advice.

Ballerstatus.com: Another thing is, from the mainstream perspective, Houston is mainly rappers, and we don't get to know much about the producers. Who are some of the producers on your record, and who else is worth looking for out of Houston?

Bun B: Well, as far as this album is concerned a lot of stuff was done with Pimp. Then we reached out to people, that as far as the rap industry is concerned, we respect like Swizz Beats, Jazze Pha, Mannie Fresh, Three 6 mafia, Marley Marl. But then, we also have other people, not just from Houston, but from the Texas area in general that are making good music. We also work with a cat out of Dallas named Steven Belo, another producer doing a lot of good work right now. Then also, of course, Cory Mo, an up-and-coming artist in Houston, not just on the production side, but rapping as well. He produced a track on the album and he definitely one to look around for. Mr. Lee, who didn't produce on this UGK record, but produced on my record as well as Pimp C's solo record, is definitely a force to be reckoned with in Houston right now. There are definetly a lot of people not just from Houston, but the Texas area making great music.

Ballerstatus.com: Aside from hip-hop, what are your major musical influences?

Bun B: Being from the generation I come from, you know, I picked up a lot of hard rock influences and punk influences. Watching MTV in the mid 80s and late 80s, Friday night videos and crazy sh-- like that. So we know, we saw the Run DMCs, the LLs, and we saw Metalica and Megadeth. Then we saw the punk scene with the Ramones and Black Flag and sh-- like that. I was privy to a lot of sh--. Looking for music, you don't always find the music you are looking for, but you still find good music.

Ballerstatus.com: Given the geographical location of Port Arthur, any zydeco influence?

Bun B: Not necessarily in the music. We grew up listening to a lot of zydeco and blues, but it's really still so far removed from, I think, rap, its not the measures and its not the tempo, but I think it's the method of how the record is done. Like zydeco records don't stick to the basic four, four structures and stuff like that. If you got a zydeco song that's three minutes long, you got 60 seconds of actual singing and the other two minutes is just music. There is a lot of bridges and interludes and sh-- like that in zydeco. But, as far as wanting everyone to be a part of what you doing and the whole family spirit and southern hospitality of inviting people into your world, that kinda does come from the zydeco.

Ballerstatus.com: You know, and I know, that hip-hop has been getting a lot of bad press recently, and I wanted to touch on something positive, that being your appearance at the MFA Houston. That was really interesting to me, and I wanted you to talk a little about how it came about and what that meant to you.

Bun B: Well that was something that the museum wanted to reach out to someone they thought would open up the urban community to know more about what was going on at the museum. They reached out to Master Zola, who is a very key figure in Houston's hip-hop scene, and they asked who he thought would be a good candidate, and he told them he thought I would be. So we sat down with them and they explained what they wanted to do, and what the series was about really -- getting prominent members of Houston society to pick films that were important to them and that represented something that kind of represented what the person themselves stands for, do small presentation of the film and hopefully bring some of their fans that normally come to the museum in.

Ballerstatus.com: I heard that was the first time they ever sold something out.

Bun B: Yeah, it actually was. They have been doing the series for a couple years now, and some pretty prominent people come in. This was actually the first time they sold anything out at the theater at the museum. They had a Basquiat instillation that did real well, but as far as the film series, that was the first sell out.

Ballerstatus.com: The other thing that has been driving a lot of publicity for you is that you are representing street wear more so than any other rapper right now. I've talked to people at Crooked Tongues, and obviously you were on Weekly Drop. How did you get into some of the brands that you've been rocking and what it means to continually represent underground culture?

Bun B: Well, with me being an underground king, it is really important to focus on all aspects of the underground. When we speak on the underground, we basically mean the underdog, the cats that are not heard from or spoken for or represented for. It is always important to try and speak for those people. That being said, we stand for so many other things. But as far as streetwear right now, a lot of these cats come from the same areas I come from, they got the same struggle, and are just really trying to express themselves and represent themselves a certain way, and a lot of people aren't showing them love on that sh--. I know how hard it is to be a small fish in a big pond and try and make waves. I know how frustrating it can be when it feels like nobody is out there to support you. So, I started going to Magic about three and a half years ago. I went with Miskeen. And, it gave me the sense for the first time of seeing the whole process, not just for the clothing industry itself, but especially for the streetwear brands and how hand to hand it was. It reminded me of early days of selling cds out of trunks, you just go in and try and shoot your shot and I respected that from a lot of these cats. So I just started, you know, going by some of the booths. Initially a lot of stuff I liked, the Stussys and the Supremes, I'm a big dude, I couldn't wear a lot of that stuff. I just started scouting around, scouting around and eventually I found that Crooks was carrying 3's and the hundreds too, which was just big enough to fit me. Eventually I could branch out and get some of the larger stuff, like LRG and Artful Dodger, because they are in a position to cater to different people. But at the same time, I try to support the underground street brands as much as I can, and every know and then I would rock the stuff that everybody rocks for some video, but also switch it up to some independent street brands. Just trying to get kids a good look. I'm not the most powerful person in the industry, I can't make people start wearing sh--, but if people see me wearing things people will take notice.

Ballerstatus.com: They certainly have.

Bun B: My whole thing was not just so people in the South would start rocking Crooks or Grey One stuff. My thing was to ensure that however you wanted to come, if you wanted to wear 10 Deep or Lemar and Dauley, however you want to do it, just do you. Don't do it because you think you should, just rock what you want to rock. It's all about individuality. Just because you see a lot of cats wearing LRG, doesn't mean you have to. LRG makes great clothing, if you look at my closet most of the sh-- I got is LRG, but sometimes if I want to express myself personally, LRG or Artful Dodger may not have that for me. I have to reach for different things. It's all to everyone's taste. Some days I may rock Artful Dodger from head to toe. Some days, I may just wear a hoodie with an Alife tee. It's all about expressing yourself individually.

Ballerstatus.com: I know you did a shoe for the Houston All-Star game with Pro-Keds, but I wondered, given the climate of rappers getting shoe deals, if there was a Bun B shoe on the horizon?

Bun B: We have been talking about doing some stuff, and we had some styles that we initially did. We did a limited run All-Star Weekend, but we didn't really go too far. The reality is, two of the shoes we did were Free Pimp C shoes, and by the time we had got the production ready for them, Pimp C was home. So, it kind of almost defeated the purpose of doing the Free Pimp C shoe. It threw everything in a loop, and we didn't have a chance to go back and rework and put something new together.

Ballerstatus.com: You've done an enormous amount of collaborations, and I wanted to know if, over the course of your career, any particular moment in recording stands out.

Bun B: A lot of times it's not the songs you do, it's the songs you don't do with people. I have enjoyed watching people record more than anything else. Like watching Snoop Dogg say "LBC" on the mic, to hear Too Short say "Bitch" on the mic, to watch Twista actually chop those words up. That to me was the greatest sh--, to watch other people in their zone. Watching Jay-Z sit there and write a rhyme in his head while you're having conversation, and then go in the booth and spit it, that was always my thing. Not so much the actual song collaboration, but watching people's creative energies form. That sh-- was always ill to me. The people you think are the most confident are still second guessing themselves every now and then. They still want to make sure they get it right. A lot of times the people you think are just going in and killing it, there are still moments when they like "Is this the way its supposed to be?," and thank God they have real cats around them that will say, "Yeah, you good," or "Nah, that's not what I thought you were going to do with it."

Ballerstatus.com: That's interesting. It's refreshing to hear someone talk about progression over a career, especially in rap music it seems when a lot of people are one album and out.

Bun B: The great ones want to be great; there is no other way to put it. You can want to make a great song and a great album and want to be a great artist.

Ballerstatus.com: Any last shout outs?

Bun B: All the kids out there just do you. Just be true to whatever you doing. That is pretty much what UGK and Trill is, just being real to your self and real with everyone else.