Videographer: Brian MappVideo Editor: Quadre OwensEven though UGKs latest double-disc LP is entitled Underground Kingz, Bun B is well within reach of the streets, the industry, and all points above and between. For over a decade since, Pimp C and Bun B have positioned themselves as kings of Texas Hip-Hop from an unlikely Port Arthur station.Judging from the video for the hit International Players Anthem, UGK manages to showcase a trill wedding, while pimping at the reception. Donning a fresh and crispy Alife graphic tee, Bun B is doing less reinventing and more investing in todays current market. Moments before speaking with AllHipHop.com, Bun B is speaking with a Jive Records executive about future projects. Apparently, he is partnering up in a venture to design skateboards, and on that note, what better way to begin chopping it up with Hip-Hop’s number one chopper?AllHipHop.com: Bun B of UGK involved with the skate culture? Tell me a little bit about that Bun B: Were bringing the skate community together with the Hip-Hop community. I know that no one has catered to anything remotely Houston in the urban skate world. Its just me broadening the basis of what can be done as an artist.AllHipHop.com: Whats the Houstons skating scene like?Bun B: Its a younger thing, so it wouldnt be something for you and me. We got a couple a skate parks: a few big ones, and a few smaller Southside skate parks. The community is there, just like the Hip-Hop and art community is there. Like anything else, you’ve got to go out and venture to find some of these things, but its available.AllHipHop.com: Earlier this year, you were the first rapper to present a film at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. What were some of your reasons for selecting Style Wars?Bun B: Its because of the timing. For one, its a documentary. I didnt want to use a feature type film or fictional story because a lot of people were being introduced [to Hip-Hop] formally for the first time. I thought it was more important to use real life s**t, something that people could have a better sense of relating to. And then the fact that with Style Wars, no one had really got to the point of making money. You see Crazy Legs before breakdancing was really profitable for him, and you see all these artists in their prime, but it was before the movement itself was in its prime. It was before you knew being a DJ can make you rich- it was when you were doing s**t for the love of doing it. AllHipHop.com: Definitely. In the movie, you see the progression for the murals on brick walls to the paintings and museum exhibits. Youve seen the transition to the mainstream first hand. Overall, has the culture made a turn for the better or worse?
Bun B: It has its pros and cons. For an artist whos worked hard, paid their dues, went on the road, represented themselves, whatever- youre in a position now to capitalize off of that. Now on the other hand, you got those who care nothing about the movement, nothing about the respect or paying their dues… its just about the money in that market. Theres the problem. I cant get mad at money being there. I cant get mad at nobody getting money. But, if you call yourself part of this, have some respect for it. Otherwise, dont lie to me and dont lie to yourself. If you know youre trying to get money, then say that: Im not a rapper, Im this and Im trying to get money. AllHipHop.com: It seems that when you do youre in it for the art, the money doesnt come. Immensely talented artists like Little Brother dominate the purist market, but cant translate that into mainstream success. What could help those types of artists get to the forefront?
Bun B: Normally, when you come into this game, youre looking at it from the outside in: you can see what it is- its a business. Most rap labels were started by individuals who love rap. The head of your company cared about rap, wanted to see your rappers be nurtured, and see rappers come into themselves as artists. Nowadays, these same companies that used to be owned by individuals are nothing more than subsidiaries to corporations. They have to answer to the bottom line. Its not about morals, its not about a persons instincts, its not about how a person feels about someones talent- its all about crunching numbers. And you cant get mad at that because thats how that is, but once you try to work into that corporate structure, thats whats gonna be there for you. For the underground cats that are trying to make good music not so much from a commercial standpoint, its better to keep that entity in your own hands and do s**t yourself. Keep it independent and grassroots as possible. The corporate structure is going to discourage you from making good music; and you wont be about to put out music as freely as youd want. And, your subject matter might be subject to change. For a group like Little Brother, who I respect a lot, I think its just a sign of the times. You got to understand that 15 years ago, the tables would be turned: Little Brother would be the group youd be interviewing and discussing What about groups like UGK? Everybody kind of has their time and their turn, and I think its a little unfortunate for everybody involved, but you just got to stick it out. Everything in life is a cycle and it works its way back around. Just stick to your guns and hope that s**t comes back to you.AllHipHop.com: True. But even with looking back, sharing music has exchanged. The Internet is playing a major role. Even when UGK started, companies werent checking for the various regions. Now, you have everyone with a Myspace page, everybodys a rap I dont even want to say it Bun B: No man, go head and say it! [Laughs] Everybodys a rapper. I mean seriously. S**t, the weedman, the car service, the valet, the guy carrying the luggage to the room. Every restaurant I go to, every clothing store, every sneaker store, every hat store everywhere I go to, everybodys an artist. Theres always somebody trying to get in. The problem is that theres so much of an influx coming in that its hard to differentiate between whats good and whats bad for certain people. You can only listen to new music for so long. For a new consumer, its like potpourri: they got a whole variety of s**t they could be listening to. Theyve come to embrace it because thats all theyve known. At first we knew this was positive rap and this was party rap. You have artists like Big Daddy Kane whod make his “Words to the Mother (Land)” [from 1988's Long Live the Kane] but still make a club record. Whereas nowadays for some artists, it’s all club [records] and people dont understand that. AllHipHop.com: On the music side, there are two versions of “International Players Anthem”: one with OutKast, the other Three-6-Mafia. What was the reasoning behind the single choice?Bun B: Both will be on the album. Were going with OutKast simply because you just dont get to do records with people like OutKast. That is no disrespect to [DJ] Paul or Juicy [J]. On a personal level, were much closer friends with Three-6-Mafia and we kind of know that were gonna keep doing music with them. I think they understand the fact that people like Andre 3000 dont give people singles like that that often. Then again, OutKast doesnt have an album out that they need to promote, like Three-6 does, and the TV show. To be honest, certain things come up not between artists because UGK, Three-6-Mafia and OutKast are cool between Jive and Sony. Sometimes these heads aint on the same page and it takes a while to get things from the artist through lawyers to the executives. With OutKast already being on Jive and being in-house, it was just a lot smoother to get it done. The video and single was easier to get together than the album version.AllHipHop.com: It’s a great record, particularly because its not State specific. It doesnt sound like a typical Memphis record or Houston record or Atlanta record. Bun B: I do think the walls are falling down. The lines are a hell of a lot thinner than they were a long time ago. Im going to say this specifically, its not just with New York. Sometimes the South, West, Midwest, whatever want to link up and do a lot more s**t together than we can feasibly do. You got to look at a Talib Kweli, [who] Ive known personally for four years, and it took that long just to get the first record done. You look at the people like the Camron’s that Ive know for 10 years now- weve only done one record together. You know what Im saying? But, thats a good friend of mine. People like 50 [Cent], Ive know for 10 years and Ive only done one record with him. Its not that we dont want to do music together, but hes got his career and I got mine. Hes here, Im there. Sometimes when you want to do s**t you can only control your intentions in the world. I aint [got] that kind of power, I cant just make everything happen. Theres a lot of s**t I want to do, a lot of s**t I try to make happen, but in the end sometimes the s**t just dont work like that. I think now with the Pro Tools, Internet, people with studios on the laptop and in the bus, I think well see a lot more cross-regional collaborations. If we could get the label politics out of it, you would see more cross-collaborations like albums. AllHipHop.com: Youve seen the mainstream treatment. You got your fanbase. Would you say, “Forget it, Ill go independent”?
Bun B: Its getting harder to even consider a major label at this point in UGKs career. We got the library, we got the fanbase, and the track record. Its like you’re giving someone free money at this stage in your career. With that being said, we definitely have to be more than just a group. We cant just be two MCs and some beats. When you start talking about taking the company out the equation, you better be the f**king company. You better have you some n***as down with you thats ready to sit down and get on them phones to bother motherf**kers. Thats what I like to say makes these big companies different: Theyll bother motherf**kers. They got people that they pay to get here, get on the phones, and call that motherf**ker until five [o'clock]. So on my dime, you get a lunch break, but, your job is to make this happen. When you got these smaller companies and its homeboys its a different situation. [Imitating boss] I need you to call and make this happen. [Imitating worker] Oh, I got to pick up my gal at two. That type of bulls**t. S**t they tell you but not the Man or whatever you want to call it. But if you got your s**t tight and your s**t focused, you can make it happen, man. Its almost no reason [not to go independent] but, you got to put your own money into it and thats what n***as dont like playing with.AllHipHop.com: But you got to have faith in yourselfBun B: Nah, Im not talking about me! [All Laugh]AllHipHop.com: You did take a leap of faith by following rap head-on. If you had decided to stay in school, where would Bun be?Bun B: Me and my wife laugh about this all the time. I would have went to college for Electrical Engineering and I probably would have been working for Enron. The same neighborhood I moved into [the year Enron collapsed], three families moved out. I told my wife that if I had went to college – which is no detriment to college, but because of the choice that Ive made – we would have been moving out of this house instead of into that house.AllHipHop.com: Instead of Bun B, the King, youd have been Bun, the Electrical Engineer Bun B: Yeah. Numbers and hands I can f**k with that. [Laughs] I have like a mental obsession with numbers and it’s kind of f**ked up. Its hard to explain. Its a medical condition. Every time I see numbers, I add em up, find the sum, lowest common denominator, and mean average.AllHipHop.com: So how about this, if you did decide to quit rap one day, would you write a book?Bun B: If I did anything, Id like to do an Oral History of Hip-Hop. Theres a lot of people who arent going to be here anymore. We got some n***as out here thats been smoking blunts for 30 years and the reason we dont have lung cancer is by the grace of God. Honestly. the ramifications of the dust and the weed, and the cats in the early ’80s that might have been doing preemos, and Im [guilty of] sipping syrup all this s**t is gonna come back to get us. In a minute I hate to say it cause it might sound f**ked up but, a lot of the great legends of Hip-Hop are going start dropping off like flies. If we dont hear it from the horses mouth, we gonna start doing a lot of assuming in rap. I think its already starting to happen. You already hear that, Hip-Hop wasnt started on that bulls**t. Hip-Hop was started on [Mele Mels trademark] “Rah!” Hip-Hop is the after-thought of Disco in the hood. Hip-Hop is what happened when the hood went to Studio 54, and they wouldnt let them n***as in. Hip-Hop started with [Afrika] Bambaataa and Cold Crush [Brothers]. That s**t was about partying in the park, having a good time, and just expressing yourself. Then, it went into education because people said This s**t is really reaching people. Maybe we should be talking about something. But dont get it twisted, at the very least it should entertain people. AllHipHop.com: In the meantime, how would you say the media get involved?Bun B: The blogs and the publications are going to start reeducating these people. You cant keep putting the new guys on the cover. Take one month out of the year and do a nostalgic issue. Bring some new guys in and have them speak on somebody that needs to be spoken about. Its time for the people that the kids respect to talk about the people they respect. If you dont do that, its lost in the sauce.