Bun B “Old To The New” (HipHopDX, 07/15/2008)

By William E. Ketchum III

A mid-life crisis in Hip Hop is just like a mid-life crisis outside of it. Uncertain of where their life is headed next, older people often have varying symptoms in terms of how they deal with it. Some of them desperately (and often, unsuccessfully) try to keep up with what younger people are doing, while others bitterly, abstractly ostracize their proceeding generation. In general, it’s usually best when those people can embrace their growth, and use it to actually help others instead of trying to make them be something they’re not.

While Bun B certainly isn’t “old,” he’s definitely a veteran in a genre dominated by youngsters. But he’s aged like wine and gotten better with time. As a soloist and as half of the duo UGK, he and deceased partner-in-rhyme Pimp C have dominated the south with their virtually infallible catalog, which has consistently maintained the balance of updating to match the competition but maintain its timeless elements to satisfy die-hard fans. Bun has also made it a point to mentor the new crop of Hip Hop superstars, talking to the likes of Lupe Fiasco and Yung Joc on a regular basis. In an interview with HipHopDX, Bun B talks about his new album Trill II, the importance of identifying with younger emcees, and getting better with time.

HipHopDX: Much like your last album, Trill II has a lot of features. Is there any specific reason that you formatted both solo albums that way?
Bun B: No, not really. I just put people on songs that I feel would sound good on songs in particular. Apparently a lot of people are telling me I guess there’s some kind of rule to how many features you’re supposed to use on a solo album. I’m not a solo artist by nature. I don’t consider myself to be a solo artist, I just make solo albums. I consider myself a group member, so I probably don’t approach a solo album the way I guess most solo artists would approach an album.

HipHopDX: What would you say are your favorite songs from Trill II?
Bun B: I don’t have any favorites, to be honest. “Angel In The Sky” is closer to my heart than some of the other stuff, but all of the songs on the album are important for one reason or another, to me. I leave it up to the fans to pick their favorites.

HipHopDX: “Swang On Em” features Lupe Fiasco. How did that song happen?
Lupe’s a good friend of mine. Like-minded person, very talented cat, I feel like one of the most underrated in the game right now. I had a song that I thought would be a good fit for him, and that it would be an interesting combination. I didn’t have any hindrances to whether he could do it or pull it off, I was just curious as to what people would think about the combination. I, for one, thought it was going to be a great combination, and it looks like everybody agrees.

HipHopDX: Lupe has talked about how you showed up in the video of “Hip Hop Saved My Life,” and how you had taken him on a tour of Houston when he visited. What made you decide to do that?
Bun B: I pretty much do most artists like that when they come to Houston, I try to let them see the city in a right way and give them a proper tour. You hear different things and there’s certain stuff on TV about Houston, and I wanted them to see. I wanted them to go to Fifth Ward, I wanted them to go to Third Ward, I wanted them to go to South Park in the Southwest side of Houston. There are things that I felt you need to see when you come to Houston.

HipHopDX: Do you think that that’s something that’s missing between the older generation and the new one?
Bun B: I think so, to a certain extent. It was the way that I was brought in. I was blessed to have people like J Prince and Scarface, and the Too Short’s of the world embrace me and give me a couple of pointers. I’m just doing what I kind of feel is my obligation in this music industry. There’s not unity and loyalty in this game right now, and that’s why it’s falling apart. Everybody’s looking for self.

HipHopDX: You mentioned “Angel In The Sky.” What was it like putting that song together in a post-Pimp C state of mind?
Bun B: It’s hard to put a finger on exactly how I felt, it’s not something you can really describe. Just something that we knew we had to do, and I felt [it was] the best way to get a lot of things off my chest and release a lot of the pressure and tension based on what was going on. Cozmo made an incredible track, and I was really able to express myself.

HipHopDX: Recently, Trae and Devin the Dude left Rap-A-Lot Records. How did you feel about that?
Bun B: Well, they left because their contracts were up, basically. It’s not like they demanded to be released from their contracts or anything. They did their time on the label, and they decided it was time for them to move on and do different things. Both of them had the option to resign, and they chose not to. I think that’s a personal decision for an artist to decide where you want to go and what you want to do. I don’t think it’s a reflection on the label, because quite honestly, there’s an artist on every label leaving or trying to leave. Somebody’s left every label, ya know? Jay-Z just signed a $150 million deal to Live Nation, and I don’t think anybody looks at that as a reflection on Def Jam the label. You have to field the offer, J Prince is not a person to hold you back if you have a better situation, so if you feel like you can do something better somewhere else, feel free. It’s a record label, not a concentration camp. When you fulfill your contract, you’re more than free to go on.

But we’re doing a lot of major things with Rap-A-Lot Records this year. We’re going to be looking for a lot of talent. Especially on the West Coast, I’m getting ready to put up II Trill West with my man Nino Cap from Paper Chase Entertainment. We’re trying to find some great West Coast artists and bring the West Coast back.

HipHopDX: On “Wood Wheel” from Dirty Money, you rhymed, “Pro smoke, pro choke, Anti-broke, conservative liberal, Left-wing slangin’, right-wing hangin’.” Would you still consider yourself a conservative liberal? If so, what does that mean?
Bun B: No, not really. It was really more of wordplay than anything, trying to interject political terminology into a rap song. Just trying to start dialogue about that type of thing in the hood, you know? Lot of brothers in the hood wouldn’t know what a conservative or a liberal was, because they don’t explain politics to us like that. All of us have a lot of preconceived notions about what the political system is all about, based on the way they’ve been treated with the judicial system. It’s really just a way of injecting some terminology, to raise a little bit more awareness. On Trill II, I did a little bit more, I went in deeper with political situations and spoke on how different things that people do reflect on the inner city. The decisions that these people make for us affect us tremendously.

When I say “conservative liberal,” there are a lot of people who consider themselves “conservative liberals.” I think a lot of people would agree nowadays that the way things are going in the world, a lot of people are probably conservative on some issues, and liberal on others.

HipHopDX: Yeah, you go off on a little bit of everything on “Getcha Issue.” Is there anything specific that really tipped off that song? The way that it seems, even though you cover different things, it sounds like the type of song that’s spurred by one event but ends up being something bigger.
Bun B: Definitely police brutality, and the terminology on that. Speaking on that situation right now in the city, I think everybody can agree that it’s really getting out of hand. We’ve seen eight police beating up the guys who got suspended, the Sean Bell case. I think it’s more pertinent now than ever to start a dialogue about the situation.


HipHopDX: How did you think the Hip Hop community—more specifically, artists—have responded to the Sean Bell case?
Bun B: The sad reality of the situation is that we’re probably going to have more instances where Hip Hop is going to have an opportunity to stand up and be heard in representation of the people. Based on the way I feel as a human being in this world, I’m going to continue to stand up against wrongs against people anyway. All I can really do is try to lead by example. Once you start calling people out, you have to be careful, because sometimes might make them that much more pissed that they want to do shit. But we are aware that there are people that could be doing a lot more, people who have a bigger audience and bigger mediums to get these messages across than we do. We can’t concern ourselves about what they don’t do, but moreso what we do.


HipHopDX: You’re on the remix to Kidz In The Hall’s “Drivin’ Down the Block.” How’d you hook up with them?
Bun B: Those guys are just really talented kids, too, in their own right. Chicago’s got a lot of great talent coming out right now, between them, Cool Kids, Lupe and even on the street level with Cap One. Even Crucial Conflict made a new album, and they’re coming back right now. There’s a lot of new talent in Chicago. Kidz In The Hall are two kids that I really, really found myself liking as a group. One thing I found is—which a lot of people probably wouldn’t even see it like I see it—Kidz In The Hall remind Pimp and I a lot about ourselves in the fact that they’re self-sufficient. There’s an emcee and a producer, and with their group, they can all do anything. Anything they need to get done can get done right between those two guys. It reminds me a lot of how Pimp and I worked together. And Naledge is a pretty good damn rapper. Their mixtape on Valentine’s Day pretty much solidified it to me.

I reached out to my man Eskay at NahRight.com, and I said, “If you know how to get in touch with those kids let me know, I really want to fuck with those kids.” Eskay got his Internet A&R on and made it happen. I don’t think he’s been given his credit on helping make that happen, but he definitely played his part in that. Duck Down is doing a lot of promotional stuff, and I’m not sure that Duck Down knew exactly how it happened. But big ups to Buckshot and Dru Ha for fucking with that.

HipHopDX: I respect how you make it a point to reach out to the younger cats. Instead of being on the “these young cats are wack” tip, you actually acknowledge the new artists that are dope.
Bun B: Because it wasn’t a lot of that for me, it was only the few people around me. I wish that it would’ve been like a Big Daddy Kane or a Rakim to just reach out to me. It’s not that I’m comparing myself to a Big Daddy Kane or Rakim in any way. I was so happy when ‘Face did it and when Too Short did it. I think that’s important, to get those calls out of the blue and get those few words of inspiration at then talk to people that have experienced things that you haven’t, to give you clear and concise advice about some shit. I’ve been talking to Yung Joc a lot lately; just trying to be there for people on a personal level. Not every problem that a rapper has is a rap problem. We’re married men, we’re parents, we go through all kinds of shit. Most of the time, the advice I give to rappers is more about real life situations than about rap.

HipHopDX: From your early stuff with UGK up until now, there seems to be a huge confidence shift. What would you attribute that to?
Bun B: Just the fact that people can know what they can count on with a UGK record, or a Pimp C record or a Bun B record. They know what to expect, and that’s comforting. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this world today, and I think it’s comforting for people to have one thing they can count on [that is] what we do and what we’ve always done. They can count on us making that same music, and being real with them about the world and about ourselves. I think that’s the key to longevity…to take the wall that most artists put up between themselves and the consumer, and tear it down.