In honor of our 15-year anniversary this month, DJBooth will be publishing a series of "lost" interviews from 2006 through 2011, including Kanye West, J. Cole, Kid Cudi, Wiz Khalifa, LL Cool J, Killer Mike and more.
Interviewing an artist on more than one occasion means getting the opportunity to build a rapport, which, more often than not, leads to a comfortable and relaxed setting in which introspection and thoughts flow as smoothly as Snoop Dogg delivers bars.
Over the past 15 years, I've been fortunate enough to interview a select few artists more than once. Included on that short list is the pride of Port Arthur, Texas: Bun B.
To a man, Bun B is one of the most genuine, sincere and honest artists I've ever had the good fortune of speaking with. He doesn't mince words (probably something he picked up from his UGK running mate) and he doesn't believe in revisionist history. To say that speaking with Bun is a breath of fresh air would be both cliché and selling his conversational skills short.
On March 17, 2009, Bun called my line to discuss UGK 4 Life, the sixth and final UGK album and the only posthumous release of Pimp C's career following his death in December 2007. Over the course of an hour, we talked about the group's lasting legacy, how the pairing developed such rare chemistry, the legal ramifications of working with another MC under the UGK banner, unreleased Pimp material, and the theoretical formation of a Southern rap supergroup.
I've spoken with Bun only once since 2009, but this was, by far, our best conversation.
Our interview, edited for content, clarity, and length, follows.
DJBooth: When we spoke last year, you were mourning the passing of Pimp C but also celebrating your GRAMMY nomination. It was certainly a whirlwind of emotions. Approaching the release of the final UGK album ever, what's going through your mind?
Bun B: It’s just about making sure that I do justice to the legacy. Up until this point, it was always primarily Pimp C’s concern to maintain the integrity of the group—that’s the position that he chose—and now that it falls on me, I want to make sure that I do right by it the same way that he did right by it.
In a twist of cruel irony, Pimp’s passing has actually elevated UGK to a level of popularity it didn't experience outside of the South while he was still alive.
Hopefully, it all comes from a very genuine and real place. I, myself, take no pleasure in trying to take advantage of this situation, and I will not let anyone else take any advantage of this situation. I appreciate the support, as long as it’s from a real place, but at the same time, I have to be very careful, because during times like these people usually try to take advantage.
How do you think UGK will be remembered?
I think primarily UGK will be remembered as creating its own individual sound based on the production genius of Pimp C. I think lyrically, UGK will be credited with touching on a lot of the conflicts that come with living in an urban setting and dealing with a conflicting lifestyle—say, being a Christian and being a criminal, for example. There are a lot of different conflicts of morality that young people are coming up with today, and we tried to [make] sure we spoke to them, to their specific situations, and I hope that we accomplished that, and I hope we were able to give people some light at the end of the tunnel.
On lead single “Da Game Been Good to Me,” you and Pimp talk about overcoming various trials and tribulations, both separately and together. What keeps you going?
God and home. If it wasn’t for our faith in God, we wouldn’t have made it this far, and if it wasn’t for the people we represent and where we represent constantly reminding us who we are and where we’re from and what we’re supposed to be doing—not checking us but keeping us in check, so to speak—it definitely had a lot to do with UGK sticking to its core base. Everyone around us, involved in the UGK situation and the UGK family, are for the most part lifelong friends. You know, I’m not the kind of person you can’t come and tell I’m wrong; I’d appreciate it if you told me I was wrong. If you’re my friend, you’re not going to see me out lookin’ like a dummy, you’re not going to let me catch a bad one that I don’t have to.
Since their passing, Tupac and Biggie have had their respective catalogs completely emptied out. How much unheard Pimp material was not used on this album and is still left in the can?
I can’t tell you, ‘cause I’m not the holder of the can—the estate holds all the music. Pimp C was a very [prolific] recorder; that being said, I wasn’t around every time he recorded, so I honestly have no idea how music the estate still has.
Are all of Pimp's verses on UGK 4 Life material you two recorded together in the studio or are they a cut-and-paste job from the archives?
Three of the songs were actually fully completed prior to his passing. A couple of the other ones were songs where he’d laid a verse, I’d laid a verse, and we just never went back to finish it. Every time Pimp did a beat, he wanted to lay something to it. He’d lay a beat, and then he’d have some kind of idea or theme with it. Even if he just sang a hook or laid eight bars, just so he could remember the direction he wanted the song to go in, he would do that, or we would do that. So, every song had some sort of basic structure put to it. We weren’t taking verses off one song and putting them on another song unless we completely restructured the song, which really happened only one time.
Will any of the material feel foreign to longtime fans because it was produced without his complete participation?
No, not at all. None of the songs on this album started from a Bun B structure; everything started with at least a track and a Pimp C thought process, and it all comes from that. Keep in mind that Pimp C and I never really recorded at the same time. We weren’t the kind of people who wrote a verse and would be like, “Yo, check out my verse,” so that I would know what to write. We didn’t do that. We knew that we had two totally different outlooks on life, but that they were pretty good complements to each other. We were talkin’ about women, for example. Pimp C and I are not attracted to the same kind of women, and we handle our situations with women differently—he’s a pimp, I’m a player; they’re two different situations. So, if we make a song about women, I know that I’m not going to say anything that he’s gonna say and vice versa, so we don’t have to check with each other for context or words or lyrics. We already know what we’re gonna talk about. He’s gonna have his viewpoint, and I’m gonna have my viewpoint. Everything’s black and white, so that’s how we tried to approach it: one of us is gonna talk from the black side, one of us will talk from the white side, and hopefully, there’s no gray area.
To what do you attribute that rare and wonderful chemistry?
Just really knowin’ each other as people, being very honest and being very real with each other, trying to lay as much on the table as humanly possible. Pimp and I were very different personalities, so there’s only so much time that we can really spend in each other’s company before we started rubbing each other the wrong way—not that we didn’t like each other; we loved each other. As men, we were very strong friends, but at the same time, personalities clash, and there’s nothing anybody can do about that. But we knew each other—we knew there were times when we should be around each other, there were times when we shouldn’t be, and we knew exactly how to balance our relationship to make sure that we remain close friends and productive musicians.
Speaking of laying it on the table, was there anything you wanted to tell him or get off your chest that you never got the opportunity to before he passed?
No, not at all. Pimp knew everything that I didn’t like, he knew everything that I liked. There were maybe one or two things that I had to tell him. We had a long heart-to-heart a couple of days before he passed away, and got a lot of things off our respective chests—things that we already knew, but we’d never really said out loud to each other, issues that he had with me and issues that I had with him. They weren’t life-threatening, they weren’t dealbreakers, they were just some sh*t that needed to be said. Sometimes things just have to be f*ckin’ said and gotten out there. “I know it’s a spade, you know it’s a spade—we’re gonna call a spade a spade and leave it at that.”
We fielded a few questions from our readers. The first is from J.K. in Boston, who writes, “Bun, do you consider yourself and UGK legends?”
JK, I’ve learned to come to terms with it. It’s not a label that I would put on myself, it’s not a label I would want to put on myself, and I hope that no one else would want to put it on themselves. But, that being said, to a certain collection of people, they believe it to be a reality, and they believe in me, and it all comes from a very genuine place of love, honor, and respect, so, rather than question it and try to make a big deal out of it, I just take a slice of humble pie and swallow it.
Next question comes from Janet in Hollywood, California, who writes, “Was there ever any consideration given to finding a replacement for Pimp C and continuing to record under the UGK moniker?”
Well, obviously, Janet, you haven’t been around that long—I don’t think Janet could possibly have been a lifelong UGK fan—but just so she knows, there’s actually a clause in the UGK recording contract for jail and for death, a stipulation that, if one of the members dies, that I have an option to either add another member, or to record solo, and the same thing goes if one of us is imprisoned. I chose not to accept [either option].
Did this album complete the outstanding requirements of the contract?
Next up, we have iTunes Era from Seattle, who writes, “What artists are primed to carry on UGK's musical legacy?”
From a Southern aspect, the best candidates right now would be Boosie and Webbie of Baton Rouge, a Killer Mike from Atlanta. Production-wise, I look at young people like Cory Mo, Steve Below, and Gavin Luckett, who’s Latoya Luckett’s little brother—he produced a lot of the music for the Boss Hogg Outlawz album, as well as stuff on Slim [Thug’s solo album, and he’s an incredible talent.
The last question comes from New York's DJ HeveHitta, who writes, “Before UGK, you were a part of the group Four Black Menacestirs. If you could form a new group today, who would be joining your clergy?”
Keepin’ this purely theoretical in the sense that, of course, there’s no replacement for Pimp C, ‘cause he was an original member. With the subtext that comes with that, ‘cause, keep in mind, “Ministers” was spelled “Menacestirs,” in the sense of “stirring menace,” so to speak, it would be, probably Z-Ro, probably Big Tuck from Dallas, and Killer Mike.
That’s quite the fearsome foursome. Bun, it’s always a pleasure.
Z, thank you for always bein’ the person that asks real questions that people want to hear, and who literally gives the people the opportunity to ask the questions they want to [ask]. It’s always a pleasure talkin’ to you, man. UGK for life, long live Pimp C.