The way people rap in the South is distinct from elsewhere. Rather than the sense of urgency and trepidation that typically characterizes music from the Coasts, Southern rap has a noticeable absence of pressure, creating a chill atmosphere.
When done right, Southern rap has a pleasant and measured quality to it, yet even when making threatening comments it is still done in a conversational manner.
Bernard Freeman, better known as Bun B, is often credited as the originator of a certain style of rap. As one half of the Port Arthur, Texas-based group UGK (Underground Kingz), Bun and his partner Pimp C developed a sound that would influence numerous artists of the next generation.
Bun was especially acclaimed for his lyrical complexity and storytelling. Despite their innovation, UGK’s fame was slow to spread.
This changed when they were featured on Jay-Z’s hit single “Big Pimpin'” in 2000. Soon after, Pimp was imprisoned, and Bun became one of the most sought-after guest rappers, leading the charge for a new wave of Texas hip-hop.
In 2005, Bun released his solo debut album Trill and soon after, Pimp was released from prison. The two are hoping to have a new UGK album out by the end of the year.
In late March, an interview was conducted over the phone with Bun, who was at his Houston residence, taking a break in between performance dates. The TV in the background was airing BET, and he was getting set to take his mother to a Houston Rockets game that evening.
–Jon Caramanica, as stated by
What was Port Arthur like during your childhood?
The town of Port Arthur was first established in the late 1800s, and it made a good income as a port town. Then, the discovery of the Spindletop oil derrick in Beaumont, Texas caused a rapid increase in the area.
This derrick produced an impressive hundred thousand gallons of oil daily, and Port Arthur was used to ship the oil out.
This booming industry brought prosperity to the small town, and until 1985, when the oil industry started to decline, many people were either employed by the refineries, or worked to provide services to those that worked for the refineries.
Even now, you can still spot the defunct Chevron and Texaco refineries in the Beaumont area.
BLVR: The inhabitants of Port Arthur would not have to travel out of the town to work; they were employed at the local oil refineries.
At Port Arthur nowadays, there are massive tanks situated in residential areas, and unfortunately this has caused some issues in the past.
BLVR: That was the query I had in mind. To begin with, the smell in Port Arthur is one-of-a-kind and it is evidently attributed to the oil. It stands to reason that this could have ramifications for health.
From time to time, something undesirable will occur and escape the attention of the public. My brother had moved to Port Arthur, and was living closer to a refinery than I did. He experienced a chemical leak, and many people were adversely affected.
I thought to myself that this must be more common than people are aware of, but people can’t voice their concerns without risking their livelihood.
BLVR: Did your folks have any affiliation with the refining industry?
BB: No, my stepfather worked as a janitor while my mother was a private nurse for those who were not able to care for themselves. She took on the role of providing them with the necessary personal care, such as helping them with their hygiene and nutrition.
My stepfather, on the other hand, was in charge of tidying up after people who could do things such as defecate and eat on their own, but were not as capable of doing so as those who are not handicapped in any way.
When you were a child, did your mother and father part ways?
BB: My father was an alcoholic when my parents were together, though to be fair he’d be the first to tell you so.
He’s since gotten better and is now a preacher. But despite his past life of drinking and gambling and having affairs, I still believe in him and know that he has the capacity for all three of those things.
BLVR: Did you ever blame him for it?
BB: As I began to grow up, I realized that I have a tendency to drink, play dice and enjoy the company of women. Once I reached a mature age of around twenty-one or twenty-two, I came to terms with myself and that I was part of the same group.
Did you typically get good grades while in school?
When I was young, I was considered to be intelligent, getting good grades in school. But I didn’t really get along with many of the other smart kids.
Like most other children my age, I was trying to consider my future and what I wanted to become, while also taking into account the desires of my peers. I was wondering if I should act differently when I was with my peers compared to when I was at home.
BLVR: What was the difference between public and private Bun like for you?
BB: The contrast between high school and David Letterman was considerable; there were not many African American youngsters who would admit to being fans of the late night talk show host. I, myself, was more into Rich Little.
BLVR: Have you ever performed any acting roles in the past? I understand you had a few experiences when you were younger.
My drama teacher once said to me, “You have a lot of foolishness, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.” This resulted in me receiving two college scholarship offers after performing in A Raisin in the Sun and a few other plays.
BLVR asked if the individual had chosen rapping over the other two options.
Once I had made up my mind that this was the course of action I wanted to take, I was determined to prove my parents wrong. You can appreciate the strength of purpose a young adult can have when trying to prove someone wrong, which was 151 percent for me.
I thought to myself that if I didn’t make it, then my parents would be correct and I was not going to let that happen.
BLVR: What was the initial reaction when they heard The Southern Way?
My mom wasn’t aware of my rapping until “Big Pimpin'” since neither of my parents were exposed to Southern Way.
Is that so?
BB: My family has a different cultural background; they are from rural Louisiana. It is almost like if something looks and sounds the same, it is the same. So if you aren’t making the same noise as everyone else, you don’t fit in. My mom would often ask me, “Why aren’t you on TV?
Everyone else making music is on TV.” I would explain, “They don’t generally feature Southern people.” She would reply, “That isn’t true; Ray Charles and James Brown are both from the South.”
BLVR asked what she thought was the source of his income.
BLVR asked if her assumption was that the person only made money from being in the streets.
What proportion of that was accurate during that moment?
When Southern Way was released, the number of people attending our shows was around 50 percent at the most. Following the album, the attendance at our performances began to decrease.
BLVR: Do you ever experience a semi-irrational longing for the street? Does nostalgia ever creep in, making you romanticize the times spent there?
BB: I am constantly astonished that I managed to escape the consequences of my foolish behavior. There are other people in my situation who have not been so lucky and who, I’m afraid, may have been even more reckless than me.
I can still remember one incident in particular where I was cruising down the highway, with drugs sitting on the dashboard, feet dangling out of the window and a marijuana cigarette between my lips, begging a state trooper to take me away and put an end to my life.
BLVR: After realizing that a career in rapping was an option for you, which artists did you look to for inspiration?
At the time of KRS-One, what a lot of people would say was still happening before KRS got to a certain point.
Is it crazy? BLVR inquires.
Nope, not completely insane, but there are a few things that don’t add up –
BLVR: I would describe it as “insane,” but you don’t have to.
I have the utmost respect for the man and recognize his greatness, having accomplished much prior to me. Despite the fact that his later ideas may not have been the best, it’s impossible to ignore his previous successes. He is my original inspiration.
BLVR: Affirmative, I understand that. He was a significant figure to you at one time.
BB: KRS is still the OG to me. I want you to make sure this is printed. He was the first to take a stand and say, “You know what? I’m a rapper and I’m from the hood. My crew and I are armed, but we’re not foolish.
It’s a decision some of us have made, and we’ll leave it as soon as we can.” Just like what Andre  said, not everyone with braids is in on it. Know what I mean?
BLVR: So, when it comes to your rapping style, what kind of approach did you take with putting words together?
Jon, this is where we encounter a difficulty. BB
BLVR: Would you please explain?
I had not considered it in any great detail.
BLVR inquired, “Is that so?”
BB never consciously formulated a style for themselves, as they were more focused on familiarizing themselves with the styles of others. They felt that a person could not create something original if they had not been exposed to other works.
Every piece they have written contains elements of the rap they have heard. They believe that the more one reads and listens to, the more they can bring to the table when creating something of their own. This was all an unconscious process.
What alerted you to the fact that you were improving?
It was the people who told me the news. That was the only hint I had that I was succeeding. Everyone kept saying, “You’re doing great”. I didn’t actually believe I was a real rapper until I met Biggie [Smalls] and he knew who I was.
BLVR inquired as to how the individual was aware of the speaker’s identity.
BB: From the remix of “Pocket Full of Stones” on the Menace II Society soundtrack, I had the pleasure of meeting Biggie during his promotional tour with Craig Mack.
At this point, “Flava in Your Ear” had become a big hit, and Craig had achieved gold status, while Biggie was still working on his own success.
When I met him at BMG, the label personnel were all about Craig. I, however, being a rapper, was more interested in Biggie, so I told him, “You’re a bad motherfucker.”
He was, in fact, the first artist to have his album so highly anticipated before its release. Biggie then told me that he was familiar with my work and that he was a fan of “Pocket Full of Stones”. I was amazed. [ Pause ]
I’m sorry for not paying full attention; I’m currently preoccupied with hearing my own voice on the television.
BLVR: How does it feel to hear yourself verbalize?
It’s a surreal experience.
BLVR: Does the way you sound when you watch yourself on television match the way you sound in real life?
BB expressed disbelief at the way they looked, but confirmed that they did indeed recognize their own reflection.
BLVR inquired as to what the person’s physical appearance was like.
Each time I witness my image in the media, I feel like an average Caucasian female. I feel overweight.
III. “WHEN HE UTILIZES TEN SYLLABLES IN ONE ROW, I PLAN ON USING FIFTEEN.”
BLVR: You’ve had a great deal of experience with contributing to other people’s records before your solo album was released. Could you tell me a bit about the process of creating those rap verses?
When I’m writing a rap, the first thing I do is listen to the track for the cadence and melody of what’s already there. I make sure that whatever flow or patterns I come up with don’t conflict with the existing track.
After that, I try to look for a different aspect of the subject matter to talk about. If that isn’t possible, I try to analogize it or rephrase it. If that doesn’t work, I have to rely on out-rapping the other artist. That means if the other artist uses ten syllables in a line, I’ll use fifteen.
If they rhyme two or three words in two bars, I’ll up it to four or five words. My goal is to out-skill them.
Approach it like a technical challenge.
BB mentioned that he will take the basic structure of the song that the other person was trying to do and build upon it with more intensity. He has been in a situation before where he had to explain how to properly rap a verse.
He was at a loss for words to express it.
BB commented that it was interesting that although someone could rap subconsciously, their conscious mind wouldn’t allow them to go hard. It was speculated that they may have been intimidated.
BB remarked that they had experienced intimidation before, but they had decided to face the challenge.
BLVR: In what predicaments did you feel intimidated?
When I got to rap alongside E-40 for the first time, I quickly realized that trying to out-rap him was futile. In order to keep up, I had to find ways to take away from his unique word inventions.
Certainly. How about Jay-Z?
BB described how he was initially intimidated by Jay-Z before their studio session. He saw this as a challenge to prove himself and many Southern rappers would say he was able to out-rap Jay-Z on a track.
He admits that he might have taken the song, “Big Pimpin'”, more seriously than Jay-Z as it was a relaxed party track, but for BB, as a rapper, he knew he had to put in the effort.
BLVR: Make sure you’re looking your best.
BB: Of course. I was the one who heard it first. When I arrived, it clicked that he was using it. Did he not even think that I would think about the fact that I was going to rap with Jay-Z and possibly go–
BLVR: Devour him completely.
BB: Not much. I have a relationship with Jay-Z and he showed respect for what I do and so he must have known that I’m a lyricist. Although, I don’t think he expected that I was going to give it my all when I was rapping on the song with him.
In fact, I don’t think he took the song as seriously as I did.
BLVR: Let’s discuss that illustration. When you heard his verse, how long did it require you to come up with your own?
BB: It doesn’t take me any longer to write a rhyme than it does for any other piece. The most challenging part is conceptualizing the flow of the verse.
What does BLVR stand for?
Once the idea of the rhythm is in my head, it’s almost like completing a puzzle by adding the rest of the pieces.
BLVR: Do you find that discovering the pattern and the rhythm come first, followed by the words?
BB: I usually utilize standard words or go for a pattern of two or three words that come together. It’s well-known that I was one of the initiators of ending my lines in a multisyllabic manner. Recently, I wrote a rhyme which included the title of the show Curb Your Enthusiasm.
BLVR: What is the rhyming pattern?
BB: He should rein in his energy, or I’ll put my Uzi on him.
BLVR responded with amusement.
I’m positive Larry David would find that humorous.
BLVR: Are there topics that you wish to cover in your rhymes, but have been hesitant to do so for any reason?
BB: Not yet, I haven’t had the chance to create the documents yet.
Tonight, it would be possible to go into the recording studio and create a song about any topic. Subsequently, this track could be included on a mixtape and released to the public.
BB suggested that UGK and dead prez could create a powerful statement if they joined forces. He felt that “Big Pimpin'” was not reaching its full potential and that UGK and Jay-Z had a responsibility to create a motivating record for the streets.
He felt that the combination of the two groups would be an impactful statement coming from both sides and could make a real difference in the hood.
BLVR: Is motivation an essential element of your job?
BB: We started out as the guys from a town that no one ever visited. We would perform in Jackson, but also in Pritchard, Alabama and Tuscaloosa. We had a real community feel when traveling the chitlin circuit in the South.
We weren’t on TV or in magazines, but we were still performing live. We were all from a rural background and I was up there talking and acting like anyone else. We were the only young people doing this at the time.
Pimp was the fly boy that the women liked and I was there for the rougher crowd and those that respected the art form. We were able to reach all types of people. I was eighteen and Pimp was seventeen.
BLVR asked what the sound of an album released by UGK in 2006 would be like.
BB stated that Pimp C’s production style would still be close to that of Ridin’ Dirty and Dirty Money, but that he would want to compete with Just Blaze and Pharrell. As a producer, Pimp could recognize what type of energy was needed for a track.
BB asked for a song to rap to, and Pimp created “Murder.” BB was so satisfied with it that it literally put him to sleep.
BLVR: Was it so draining?
BB: The task was incredibly taxing. I used to have certain regulations I followed. For example, I never punched in while I was crafting bars.
BLVR: Utterly antiquated.
BB mentioned that the track was roughly thirty-two bars and played at a tempo of eighty-eight to ninety beats per minute.
BLVR: Was “Big Pimpin'” also a single take, or did you have to punch in?
BB: I wouldn’t dream of throwing a punch around other people. Goodness me.
BLVR chuckled and commented that the song was indeed thirty-two bars long.
I do not have the audacity to do that.
BLVR: Merely suggesting 32 bars, you could be given a chance to take a jab.
Back in the day, I made sure to maintain my integrity. I would tell people to give me Henny and I knew I would be able to handle it. On occasion, I would enter the booth and some people would tell me, “You’re not going to beat me in this rap battle.”
I would then reply, “Don’t make assumptions about me, just do your best.” That’s all one can do against someone like me.
BLVR: In your opinion, who is currently displaying impressive lyrical talent?
I still find Eminem to be a great artist. Every time I listen to his music, I’m always impressed by how he’s capable of putting together such incredible pieces.
BLVR: Oh, he definitely is [trying]. It’s almost as though he isn’t putting forth any effort.
BB: As I’m listening to Em, I can almost envision him rolling his eyes in the studio. I’m not criticizing him for it either, as he’s an incredible artist. Andre 3000 also declined to rap anymore for the same reason.
He’s likely thinking “I can do what’s out there without effort. Maybe I’m the one to make rap challenging again.” Sadly, some people don’t understand that concept.
BLVR: One must fulfill the obligation to present it.
BB states that Andre 3000 is missing somebody to follow in his footsteps.
This is something that bothers him, as it used to be individuals like Big Daddy Kanes and Chubb Rocks who changed the game in their own unique way. In addition, he is being pushed by younger stars such as Young Jeezy and is being called “OG” by them.
Even though there are people changing the game, they still expect him to do the same, as if he had taught them how to change in the first place. He believes that he must continue to innovate, and make them think differently.
Adam Drucker, better known by the alias Doseone, has said his initial attraction to rap was as much about the……