In the late ’80s, Bun B and Pimp C formed the Underground Kings in Port Arthur, Texas. UGK went on to craft four highly-respected albums and became legends in the process, standing on the frontlines when the sound of southern rap broke through to the mainstream over a decade later. Today, Pimp C is incarcerated while Bun B finds himself as one of the most in-demand guest stars in hip-hop. We spoke to him as he was putting finishing touches on Trill, a solo album to be released this month, and the full Q&A runs after the jump. This is the last of our websclusives from the Untold Hip-Hop Moments feature in F33, pick up a copy this month to get all the rest!
Honestly, it was a surprise when I heard that your solo record was going to be out this year—I always thought a MDDLFNGZ record was going to come out first.
Well, that’s what I had wanted to do originally. But the advice I got from a lot of people who deal with these kind of situations all the time told me an album like the MDDLFNGZ would be a lot easier to sell if my name was put out there first.
Was it strange at all going out to write and record an album on your own?
Initially I never really had any ambition to do a solo album, I was perfectly comfortable with the group aesthetic, but as situations turned out it kind of became a necessity—this is the best way to keep the UGK name alive right now. I had my inhibitions about doing it, before I really understood the purpose of the album. I just didn’t want to make it seem like it was all about me. That’s why I spent so much time repping the group, and keeping Pimp’s name alive. Pimp was the first person who told me this was something I should do.
Pimp C played a big role in the musical and production side of UGK. How does it change the way you work in the studio with him not able to be there?
Most of the people that I worked with [on Trill] are personal friends of mine. It was important for me to work with people who understood UGK musically and as a group. Some are like fans, you could say. That was exactly what I was trying to represent, the legacy I was trying to maintain. Mannie Fresh, the Medicine Men, Jazze Pha, all these people are friends of mine so I felt comfortable putting the meat of this album in their hands. I knew how they felt about UGK, so I knew they wouldn’t let me jeopardize anything on this album.
One of the songs that immediately stood out was “Gun Talk”, which sampled the CHiPs theme. That’s the one that Jeezy is going to be on?
No, I don’t know why everyone thinks Jeezy is on that one. Right now it’s in the hands of a lot of different people, it’s the type of song that can work just as well with three MCs on it or five MCs on it. Dipset has it, I know Cam and Juelz have heard it. I don’t really want to give away exactly who else right now. But a lot of people have shown interest in that track.
What’s going to happen with the song you recorded with Dizzee Rascal?
We started working on that when he was down in Houston to do a show. I don’t know if that’s going to be on the album or not because we really didn’t have the chance to finish it. I’d hate to have to finish it without him, I really would like to have another grime artist on there to help the record overseas.
Thinking about this record, and the fact that it’s your first solo album in almost fifteen years of recording, it’s hard not to be amazed that UGK has been around as a group as long as it has.
We’ve been a group since ‘88 but didn’t start putting records on the shelves until ‘92. Back then it wasn’t that serious—no one was really getting rich off rap, except for maybe Ice T or somebody like that. We weren’t doing it for money, we were just doing it to represent. It was a lot more laid back but still we wanted to succeed. That’s where the initial drive came from. We wanted to succeed in being original. We just wanted to make a record!
What was Port Arthur like in ‘88?
Port Arthur is just a small country town, maybe about 50-55,000 people in the whole place. There was no music “scene,” there were no recording studios.
How did you take the first steps towards putting UGK’s music out there?
It wasn’t like we took steps or anything like that—we went to the flea market, a guy had a sign up looking for groups, we made a tape for him, and he said he wanted to put it out. There was no concerted effort in that sense, everything just kind of happened. I wasn’t sitting around saying I wanted to be a rapper, and make a career, and get rich off of that, it’s something that just kind of happened and then it took off and got bigger for everyone involved, and we just had to roll with the shit.
The first record [for Jive] wasn’t really us, we had finished it and they had a couple samples that didn’t clear, so they just sent the tracks to the studio and had other people reproduce the music. There were only three or four tracks on that album that really represented us. The second album was more about us trying to take more control of the project. But there were no tours, they didn’t want us to do any videos. You have to understand, back then they were like, “Nobody cares about what you’re doing down there. People on the east coast don’t care what you’re doing, people on the west coast don’t care what you’re doing.” So we did shows in Texas. We worked the chitlin circuit, and tried to do whatever we could for ourselves.
People consider Ridin Dirty a southern classic—did you approach making that record any differently from the first two albums?
No, not at all—every album we did, we went into it with a full concept. It’s just that Jive never let us execute it. Ridin Dirty is just the farthest we ever got, as far as our ideas coming across, it’s maybe 90 percent of what we wanted to do. The reason the albums got better is because we had more input, but even then they would taint it, taking what we had done and putting different music to it, the way they thought things should sound.
Things took a huge leap forward once the Jay-Z and Three 6 Mafia collaborations blew up. Did you do “Big Pimpin” before or after “Sippin On Syrup”?
That’s a good question, the timeline is kind of blurry. I would assume “Big Pimpin” was recorded earlier, only because when we did “Sippin On Syrup” with Three 6 Mafia it was the Superbowl, and Jay-Z was going to come down and hang out with us that weekend. So if he was going to come just to hang out, we must have had the track recorded beforehand.
I know for myself, and for a lot of other people, those two records were our first real exposure to UGK.
Those two songs were real unabridged southern rap.
Like Pimp C said, “we don’t make hip-hop, we make country rap tunes.”
Yeah, because back then, it would have been real easy to make standard hip-hop music, because that’s what everyone else was doing, and it’d be real easy to assimilate to that. But we felt that in order to represent where we were from, we had to kind of go against the grain, because that just by itself is a miracle. Don’t get me wrong, you come down to the south and see hip-hop lives in the south, but all the people making good music down here are rappers. That’s what I am, I’m a rapper. I don’t necessarily live the hiphop lifestyle day to day. Being a rapper, I’m a part of that lifestyle, but I don’t live and breathe the entire culture like that. I don’t breakdance, I don’t DJ, I don’t do graffiti or whatever. I do rock the mic, but where I’m from, the culture remains rap music, country southern shit.
What’s been the response of the longtime UGK fans to your newer material and guest features—you doing a song with someone like Webbie, for instance?
It’s all love. People give me a lot of credit—sometimes people tend to give me more credit than I feel I’m due. Since I’ve been around for a while, and some of these cats haven’t been around for a while, people will say “Yo, you blew that boy’s record up!” when the reality is that some of these cats are going to blow up anyway, and I’m just lucky to be right there and get a little credit for the record. But I can’t sit there and take credit for Webbie’s career, or the fact that “Give Me That” was a big record—if I hadn’t been on it, it still probably would have been a big record. Same thing with recording with a guy like Jeezy, or Paul Wall, or any of these people. I may get on a record and expose it to more people because I already have a built-in fanbase, but these people are making hot music, and they’re gonna play it regardless. I’m just lucky to get a piece of it—my fans can see me and the people I’m working with, their fans can see me and respect what I’m doing, and it’s all good.
Do you feel like you’ve grown up through music?
I had to grow up fast doing this music shit, because everything took off so much faster than we thought. I actually experienced a lot of shit in life prior to doing rap music, so I understood that there was a time for play and a time to grow up a lot earlier. But I respect everything I’ve learned from rap.
The reason I ask is because so many rappers from Texas and all over the south hold you in such high regard, like a legend or an elder statesman. One of the other editors was talking to Killa Kyleon today and Kyleon called you “my rap father.” Do you get that a lot?
Ha ha! Yes, I do. Lately I have been getting a lot of that. But I know how hard it was for me to get in the door, the only people representing when I was starting out were the Geto Boys. They could co-sign people to a degree, but it was still hard. Now those doors are open, the grass is worn down, and if I had something to do with that, that’s cool man. I had people looking out for me, I had guys like Too $hort and Face who were my rap fathers.
Do you ever feel the pressure of that “legend” title hanging over you?
Fuck yeah! You don’t think Jordan felt that pressure every time he got on the court? He knew he could execute, but nobody’s perfect. If I get a cold, or have a bad day, they can’t show that shit. There’s times when I go to the studio and pick up a pad and have no idea what the fuck I’m gonna say. But I can’t show it.
In such a long career, what do you consider the best representation of UGK? What are you proudest of?
I think the gold plaque for Ridin Dirty says a lot, because it took three albums, and we didn’t give up after the first one. We had a million reasons to never want to touch a fucking microphone in a studio. People getting killed and going to jail, lies and rumors, money being stolen, all kinds of bullshit. But we stuck with it and the fans stuck with us. And it’s all about the fans. Because I know people who bought two and three copies of that album, you know? That’s just a testament to the love the streets can have for you, and the love people will give back if you give it out to them.
A strong second is the whole “Free Pimp C” campaign. I won’t let his name die, and the streets won’t let his name die. It’s really been a beautiful thing to witness—in the middle of such a negative situation, that people can be positive and anticipate him coming home. Usually it’s “out of sight, out of mind”—but I won’t let him be out of mind.