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Bun B: I Choose You, Hip-Hop

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Videographer: Brian MappVideo Editor: Quadre OwensEven though UGK’s 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 today’s 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: We’re 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. It’s just me broadening the basis of what can be done as an artist.AllHipHop.com: What’s the Houston’s skating scene like?Bun B: It’s a younger thing, so it wouldn’t 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 it’s 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: It’s because of the timing. For one, it’s a documentary. I didn’t 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. You’ve 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 who’s worked hard, paid their dues, went on the road, represented themselves, whatever- you’re 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… it’s just about the money in that market. There’s the problem. I can’t get mad at money being there. I can’t get mad at nobody getting money. But, if you call yourself part of this, have some respect for it. Otherwise, don’t lie to me and don’t lie to yourself. If you know you’re trying to get money, then say that: “I’m not a rapper, I’m this and I’m trying to get money.” AllHipHop.com: It seems that when you do you’re in it for the art, the money doesn’t come. Immensely talented artists like Little Brother dominate the “purist” market, but can’t 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, you’re looking at it from the outside in: you can see what it is- it’s 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. It’s not about morals, it’s not about a person’s instincts, its not about how a person feels about someone’s talent- it’s all about crunching numbers. And you can’t get mad at that because that’s how that is, but once you try to work into that corporate structure, that’s what’s 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 won’t be about to put out music as freely as you’d want. And, your subject matter might be subject to change. For a group like Little Brother, who I respect a lot, I think it’s 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 you’d be interviewing and discussing “What about groups like UGK?” Everybody kind of has their time and their turn, and I think it’s 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 weren’t checking for the various regions. Now, you have everyone with a Myspace page, everybody’s a rap… I don’t even want to say it…Bun B: No man, go ‘head and say it! [Laughs] Everybody’s 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, everybody’s an artist. There’s always somebody trying to get in. The problem is that there’s so much of an influx coming in that it’s hard to differentiate between what’s good and what’s bad for certain people. You can only listen to new music for so long. For a new consumer, it’s like potpourri: they got a whole variety of s**t they could be listening to. They’ve come to embrace it because that’s all they’ve known. At first we knew “this was positive rap and this was party rap.” You have artists like Big Daddy Kane who’d 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 don’t 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. We’re going with OutKast simply because you just don’t get to do records with people like OutKast. That is no disrespect to [DJ] Paul or Juicy [J]. On a personal level, we’re much closer friends with Three-6-Mafia and we kind of know that we’re gonna keep doing music with them. I think they understand the fact that people like Andre 3000 don’t give people singles like that that often. Then again, OutKast doesn’t 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 ain’t 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 it’s not State specific. It doesn’t 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. I’m going to say this specifically, it’s 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] I’ve known personally for four years, and it took that long just to get the first record done. You look at the people like the Cam’ron’s that I’ve know for 10 years now- we’ve only done one record together. You know what I’m saying? But, that’s a good friend of mine. People like 50 [Cent], I’ve know for 10 years and I’ve only done one record with him. It’s not that we don’t  want to do music together, but he’s got his career and I got mine. He’s here, I’m there. Sometimes when you want to do s**t… you can only control your intentions in the world. I ain’t [got] that kind of power, I can’t just make everything happen. There’s 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 don’t work like that. I think now with the Pro Tools, Internet, people with studios on the laptop and in the bus, I think we’ll 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: You’ve seen the mainstream treatment. You got your fanbase. Would you say, “Forget it, I’ll go independent”?

Bun B: It’s getting harder to even consider a major label at this point in UGK’s career. We got the library, we got the fanbase, and the track record. It’s 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 can’t 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 that’s ready to sit down and get on them phones to bother motherf**kers. That’s what I like to say makes these big companies different: They’ll 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 – it’s 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. It’s almost no reason [not to go independent] but, you got to put your own money into it – and that’s what n***as don’t like playing with.AllHipHop.com: But you got to have faith in yourself—Bun B: Nah, I’m 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 I’ve made – we would have been moving out of this house instead of into that house.AllHipHop.com: Instead of Bun B, the King, you’d 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. It’s hard to explain. It’s 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, I’d like to do an Oral History of Hip-Hop. There’s a lot of people who aren’t going to be here anymore. We got some n***as out here that’s been smoking blunts for 30 years and the reason we don’t 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 I’m [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 don’t hear it from the horse’s mouth, we gonna start doing a lot of assuming in rap. I think it’s already starting to happen. You already hear that, “Hip-Hop wasn’t started on that” bulls**t. Hip-Hop was started on [Mele Mel’s 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 wouldn’t 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 don’t 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 can’t 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. It’s time for the people that the kids respect to talk about the people they respect. If you don’t do that, it’s lost in the sauce.

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