Bun B Shares The Stories Behind Five Of His Best Verses
When XXL caught up with Bun B on the phone, he was exiting his hip-hop and religion class that he jointly teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Dr. Anthony Penn at Rice University. Perhaps due to the immense respect he’s earned as an iconic figure in the Houston rap scene, Bun’s students refer to him with esteem as “Professor Freeman” while in class. It's fitting that a figure who raps with such authoritative punch as Bun is deferred such an honorific title as “Professor” in an era when college students regularly address tenured faculty by their first name.
It also makes sense that a man as skilled at storytelling as Bun B would end up a respected teacher. Twenty-one years in a game as crazy as hip-hop will give you the authority to pass on the type of yarns from which a younger generation of hip-hop fans can learn. After a career that started at 19 when his legendary rap group UGK signed a five-album deal with Jive Records, Bun B has been fortunate enough to have enjoyed the type of career that is tall with a poignant tale or two.
With his fourth solo album, The Epilogue, set to be released next month and a new coloring book out in stores now, Bun is enjoying a hell of a career renaissance for a rapper entering his fourth decade on the planet. Professor Freeman took the time out of his busy schedule to break down the stories behind some of his most iconic verses over his 21-year career. Read on to find out why he hung up on one of rap’s greatest MCs and why one of his raunchiest songs will probably continue to embarrass his grandchildren for years. —B.J. Steiner (@DocZeus)
Album: UGK, Ridin’ Dirty (1996)
Bun B: I had been asking Pimp for a long time. All the fucking records from UGK were super slow. I was like, “I can’t fucking rap like that. I can’t get busy with this slow ass beat.” And all this time Pimp C was like, “Bun B is a cold ass rapper,” but you gotta give me a beat to show people. I needed an opportunity to show people that I can go. They finally came up with the beat and we were at the studio, [and] I had kind of partied hard the night before, so when I went to the studio I kind of went to sleep under the board.
After they tracked it—back then it used to take a lot longer to track out songs than it does now, it used to take a couple hours—and Pimp laid his verse and he pulled me aside to lay my verse, I woke up and listened to the beat and wrote the verse and went in rapped it. I maybe did two takes, no punches. Both of them were good but the second one was better. And then I went back to sleep.
“One Day” featuring 3-2
Album: UGK, Ridin' Dirty (1996)
Bun B: A song like that is the result of your mindstate, so that song happened because of how we were feeling at the time. The song was originally recorded as a solo record for the rap artist 3-2. He played us his whole album. It was a song that he was like, “This is cool, but I don’t think it’s going to make the album. I don’t think I’m going to put it on my album.” And Pimp was like, “You’re crazy. Like, you’re literally out of your fucking mind. This is probably the best record you’ve got.” And the guy was like, “Nah, it’s cool but it’s too sad. It’s too depressing. People aren’t going to want to get into that kind of a thing.” And Pimp was like, “You’re crazy. This is exactly the type that you make to connect with fans." Pimp was like, “Give it to us. Give it to me and Bun. We’ll do it.” And he was like “Are you serious? Keep me on the first verse and y’all can have it." And Pimp was like “Cool.”
Around the time we got around to recording it, I had just lost two close friends to me. One of the names was Sharan Thomas and he was a classmate of mine in high school. After we graduated, he moved away and started gangbanging, and he had done a little jail or whatever and he ended up getting into it with a younger gangbanger over a dice game and he was killed over a five-dollar dice game, a five-dollar dice roll.
The other person was a good friend of mine. His name was Chucky. He was the younger brother of a classmate of mine that I had gotten to know. We all ended up moving into his house. He had a two-story townhouse on the North Side of Houston. Whenever guys would come to Houston, we would all go hang out. At one point, there was maybe seven of us all living in Chucky’s crib and we would pool our money together for weed, for syrup and shit. One weekend, he went back to Port Arthur—both of us are from Port Arthur—he went home to see family and had been sipping that day and partying and fell asleep driving back and drove into a canal and drowned. It put a lot of things in perspective. You know like the violence in the world, the repercussions of your actions, drinking, smoking, drugging, driving, things like that. It kind of put a lot of shit in perspective for us, and that record was me having to deal with not only death around me, but my own mortality and my own morality. I gotta stop living for the wrong shit, because a lot of people are looking at me and I don’t want to feel like anything I did or said or showed might have influenced someone to do something that would cost him his life. So I had to learn how to be culpable and accountable for what I was saying on record.
Album: Jay Z featuring UGK, Vol. 3... Life And Times of S. Carter (1999)
Bun B: It was a very strange day when I did that. I didn’t really know Jay Z. At all. We got a cold call where, like, somebody called my phone and the number was blocked. And I’m like, “Who is this?” And they are like, “It’s Jay Z.” And I’m like, “Stop playing on my phone. Who is this?” And they are like, “It’s Jay Z.” So I hung up.
[The people I was with] were like, “Who was that?” And I said, “It’s somebody on the phone acting like they are Jay Z.” So then the phone rang again and I’m like, “Yo. Who is this?” And he was like, “Family,” and when he said “Family,” Jay has a very unique inflection in his voice that is purely his. It’s obvious that it’s New York but it’s unlike any other New York voice, you know? When I heard that I was like, “It is Jay Z.” So he was like, “I got this song and I wanna get y’all on. I’m gonna send the track over and you’ll let me know.” Back then—this was kind of before Pro Tools was prevalent—sending the track over meant Fed-Exing the 2 inch reels, so it took a couple of days to get here. We took it to the studio and played it. Pimp didn’t like it at all. I thought it was different, neat and it was double-time so it would give me an opportunity to get a little bit busy on there. I’m ready to rock to it. [Jay Z] was like well if you want we can get you time in there, or if you want to come up to New York, we’ll fly you up. And I’m like, “I’m going to New York. I want to see this Roc-A-Fella shit.”
I flew up and went in to Dame’s office and the first thing I noticed was maybe a hundred sneaker boxes on the floor. Nike had just sent them a hundred pair of the Roc-A-Fella Air Force 1’s with the logo on them. They asked me if I wanted a pair and actually I never really was crazy about Air Force 1’s, so I said no. Another story about that is that my son wanted to kill me. But anyway, we just were really sitting down talking and they were just curious about what Houston was like and Rap-A-Lot and all type of stuff. They started asking a bunch of questions and I started asking a bunch of questions.
We went to dinner at Mr. Chow’s and then we went to the studio. They put the beat up and Jay was like, “I’ll be back in a minute," and I wrote the verse and laid the verse [down]. Jay was gonna make me wait 20, 30 minutes, so when he came back [and] the verse was done, he was like, “There’s no way. You must have wrote it at home.” Young Guru was actually the engineer that day, and Guru was like, “Nah, son. I watched him write that shit right here. Kid went in and rapped it 'n shit like it was nothing.” And then [Guru] played it and he was like, “You can listen to it again but it’s crazy.”
"International Player’s Anthem (I Choose You)" featuring OutKast
Album: UGK, Underground Kingz (2007)
Bun B: Same scenario. Pimp C was in prison and there were certain records that he heard that he was able to listen to. He worked in the library so he had access to CD players. One of the records that he had heard was a Project Pat album. Project Pat was one of Pimp C’s favorite rappers. He loved Project Pat and Project Pat had done a song called “I Choose You,” produced by Juicy J and DJ Paul. It was a crazy fucking record. It’s like one of the best records I’ve ever fucking heard. This Willie Hutch, “I Choose You,” record has been sampled a million times. It was the best that I’ve ever heard anybody do this record. So when he came home, he called Paul and Juicy and he was like, “Hey, man! That goddamn record that you did for Pat was jammin.’ Why didn’t they push that record harder?" He was like, you know, “Record companies were didn’t think it was single.” [Pimp] was like “All right? That was one of the best productions that y’all have ever done. I’ll cut the shit out of that record. You need to put that record back out.” They were like “What do you mean?” “Y’all need to put that record back out. Y’all need to re-drop that motherfucker.” Give it the right push and that’s a hit record. They were like, “Man, we can’t put the same record, again.” Pimp was like, “Give me the instrumental. Take all the vocals off, leave the hook in, and give us the record and I’ll show you that that’s a hit record."
We recorded to it and Paul and Juicy were like, “We got to get on this motherfucker. This motherfucker is crazy.” So the original version of “Player’s Anthem” was me and Pimp and Paul and Juicy. We released a snippet of that album, the snippet gets out there and Big Boi and Andre 3000 both get the record separately.
Big Boi heard the record and was like, “Yo! I wanna do a remix to it. I wanna rap to it but I want to do a remix.” Big Boi’s remix is the drum breakdown that you hear for his verse. That’s like his remix re-arranging the track. At the same time, Andre 3000 hears the record. Here’s the thing, Big Boi’s version is all music, no drums. Andre hears the record and is like, “I love this record. I want to rap to it. Can I rap to it with all music and no drums?” And we’re like “Sure.”
At the same time, Three 6 Mafia has just won their Oscar [for "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp"] and they are having issues with Sony getting different records cleared. They are trying to expand the brand and do different things but they are also kind of in renegotiation stage and they get into it with Sony Records, so Sony won’t clear them as artists. Now as producers, their production deal is a different entity. They can still produce for people but Sony isn’t clearing their vocals.
At that time, we realize we are going to lose Juicy and Paul. We get the other two verses from Big Boi and Andre and they sound incredible. Maybe we can throw these motherfucking verses in the song. Originally, it was going to be more like a remix, so now it’s starting to look like the album version of the song. Luckily, OutKast was signed to Jive Records so we don’t have to worry about clearance and we put the verses together. We slapped Andre’s onto the beginning. Put Big Boi’s onto the end. Player’s Anthem.
Album: UGK, Banned EP (1992)
Bun B: The chorus is a sample [Street Military’s “That’s The Type Of Nigga I Am”] so somebody had actually said that in a verse, a guy named Pharoah from a group called Street Military from Houston. I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to really say. It seemed like something that was funny when he said it, and look, like, we can really have some fun with this. And we were young, so there was a lot of different music being made at the time. We were listening to Ganksta N-I-P and Paris and shit like that. I was smoking fry at the time. I don’t think Pimp was smoking fry. I was smoking fry at the time. It was just some crazy shit to do and I kind of look back on it as one of my lowest moments of my life, because at 18 amongst your friends, it’s kind of funny, but it’s also the kind of thing that gets loosened out into the world and everybody doesn’t share your skewed sense of humor. And it’s different when you are in a room full of people and everybody is laughing and when you are in a room of other kind of people and nobody is laughing. It’s just one of those awkward moments. The one thing that we learned is, just because you can say it, if you don’t plan to live by it and stand on it, then don’t even say it. From that point on, we started taking things a lot more seriously.
It’s a great song but it’s probably the most politically incorrect rap record you can probably make, and I’m going to have to walk with that until the day I die. One day, my granddaughter is going to hear that and look at me and roll her eyes and I’m never going to live that down. Obviously, she won’t be a child. She’ll be a grown person but I’m pretty sure she’ll still roll her eyes as well.
It’s kind of one of those things [my kids and I] don’t discuss. It’s like the first time your kid gets drunk. It’s like, it happened. It’s bound to happen, we are just going to act like it didn’t happen. We’ll just put that in our past. My kids were actually in their 20s when they heard that song.