It's 9:27 AM in Houston when rapper Bun B picks up fellow emcee Dizzee Rascal from the airport. In Bun's car they cruise the streets, pull up to a house, and once inside, slide a stack of bills across a table. In exchange Dizzee is given sunglasses customized with "gangster vision" that allows him to see all T-100-style through the crew's bravado, separating the true gangsters from the momma's boys.
Bun B came up with the idea for "gangster vision" in that 2008 music video for "Where's Da G's." It was the Grammy-nominated rapper and UGK member's cheeky nod to those in the hip-hop scene who take their status much too seriously, as if they have to take a life before they can rap. Unless you've spent the past several decades living in a pop culture vacuum, you know this theme of defending or disputing another's hardness is more than just common in hip-hop; it's a right of passage.
"Hip-hop started with the whole bravado/braggadocio thing," Bun B says. "But now it's gotten more to the point of intimidation. If I intimidate you enough through my music then I don't have to brag about myself when I see you. Everyone is trying to paint such a large picture of themselves. People get caught up in that. But everybody is not the man."
"You've gotta learn to laugh at yourself," he continues, "because if you don't then you have to sit around and watch other people laugh at you, and that's never a good feeling. With me and my approach to music, people know who I am and know what I've done. There's no need for me to keep being repetitive about when I punched somebody in the face or somebody punched me. It happens but it's not everything that I am or anyone else is. That's what I try to really get across in my music. Been there, done that, and if I have to [again] I will, but man, let's all just have fun tonight."
Trill O.G., Bun B's third solo album out today on Universal/Fontana, is 16 tracks as wise and collected as they are rebellious and fun. The album pays homage to hip-hop's past with songs featuring previously unheard verses by the late Pimp C and 2Pac, as well as tipping the proverbial hat to the future with appearances by Drake and others. From the party song to the deep song, the uplifting song to the gangster song, listeners experience the sweeping soundtrack to a life complete with protagonists, antagonists, conflicts and resolutions. Trill O.G. isn't just an album of songs, it's a ride, a trip, a movie -- start to finish.
As the sole reporter inside Universal's Trill O.G. listening event last week, nothing beat hearing the album for the first time in its entirety right alongside Bun and crew. Even Talib Kweli dropped in as a fan and friend, much to everyone's delight. The only thing I wish I could un-hear on Trill O.G.? The jarringly out of place auto-tune on the song "Trillionaire" featuring T-Pain. Sorry, Bun. Truth.
After the event L.A. Weekly dipped into an empty Universal office with Bun to chat about his new album, the Soulja Boy track that you'll probably never hear, why he wouldn't date Lindsay Lohan, his advice for new artists, and remembering Pimp C.
L.A. Weekly: You've said that you hope Trill O.G. makes the next generation of artists want to strive harder. Not that they're making bad music, but that it could be better. Let's talk about generational differences and the dangers in being too comfortable in your art.
Bun B: It's 2010. Nowadays, if you want people to hear your music, you really only have to send an e-mail. Whereas when I came up, if you wanted people to hear your music you had to work really hard in every single city, every region, to make or break that. Now there are many more opportunities to get your music out to more people at the same time, which unfortunately lends itself to people becoming a more complacent in what they do and resting on their laurels. I come from an age where you're only as good as your last record. The more time that separates me from my last record only builds up anticipation in me to create good music and get back out there and build that relationship with the people again.
Well, the only way music evolves is risk taking anyway.
Bun B: Absolutely. I understand that a lot of the younger artists coming into the industry today probably don't have the leeway to take the chances that I'm taking with this album. One thing about hip-hop is that, from one album to the next, you take everything that you learned in between and put it on [your new] project. Nowadays projects are coming with such little time in between that there's almost no time to incorporate life experiences. It's an unfortunate circumstance for artists of the upcoming generation. For me, I just try and make them understand how pertinent it is to really put who you are into what you do. A lot of times kids are playing it safe, get a feature from so-and-so, without them really having to put themselves out there for people to judge. Nobody wants to be judged. But that's the only way I know how to make music... to really expose everyone to the situation. I do this to give you a glimpse into a word that some people either haven't experienced or they haven't seen it through my eyes. I want people to ask the tough questions so I can give the tough answers and we can get to the meat of what's going on.
During the listening event you mentioned viral culture and the difference between an assortment of songs and a real album. We live very much in this iPod shuffle culture now, song to song to song, as opposed to sitting down and listening to an album it its entirety like we just did.
Bun B: I don't think kids are given many opportunities to that, to be honest. Even if they wanted to, by the time they get to track four or five they start realizing that it's just an album composed of a few songs.
Like a fluffy EP.
Bun B: Yeah. It's just songs thrown together that may sonically have something in common but thematically have nothing in common. I've been very lucky to be around long enough to see great concept albums. A real album in it's truest sense should have a theme behind it and the theme should, even if it's the undercurrent, still make sense through every song. When you have these disjointed songs thrown at random on an album, then it doesn't really give the listener anything to experience, other than just the song. Not only does Trill O.G. have to make sense on its own, this album also has to make sense in terms of the three albums and the trilogy. That's something that wasn't necessarily frontal lobe [laughs], but it's subconscious. You're constantly thinking, how's this gonna stand up? I'd like someone to have a night where they can go in at like seven o'clock, start with Trill, go to II Trill, go to Trill O.G., and at the end of that the party's over... a full experience.
If you're lucky enough to make an album where it can almost be the soundtrack to somebody's life, then you've got that much more longevity with that listener. That's what we wanted to do specifically with this album. For up and coming artists, it's not that they don't want to do that, they may not even know how to. But just in case, if you needed a guide, if you needed an example of how to try and put an album together with a theme from beginning to end, then that's what Trill O.G. is. The order of the songs is key. I don't think a lot of up and coming artists realize that about the order and the feel of an album, as far as the rising action and the cool down. All these things come into play with the experience that the listener has. This album, that was key. We knew we had the music, we just had to sequence it right. And I think we hit it on the head.
You have a great group of collaborators and guests on this album. Have there ever been problems that have come up along the way with bringing artists on a track? Like when you meet someone and the make-out chemistry is great, but then sex ends up totally sucking and you're like, aw, fuck.
Bun B: Yeah, I can definitely tell you that one of the songs we recorded for this album featured Soulja Boy. The reason I wanted to do a song with Soulja Boy was because honestly nobody's standing up for the kid. I remember what it was like to be the underdog. I remember what it was like to be making music that some people appreciated and that everyone else just didn't want to hear. I've been down that road before. But my train of thought is that if four million people like it and four people don't, it's probably the four people who have something wrong with them.
Right, and they're entitled to their opinion.
Bun B: Don't get me wrong... I understand how mob mentality can come into place and people can get caught up in the hype. But with Soulja Boy, I saw an extraordinary amount of backlash on this kid and everybody was so quick to take a shot at him but nobody wanted to stand up for him. He's a kid! He just turned 20. So I was like, I'm gonna help him, I'd like to do a song with the kid, maybe there is somewhere artistically that we can meet half and half. But he's still very young in his career; he's still got a lot to learn about music and about life.
As we all did at 20.
Bun B: Yeah. We went into the studio, did a song, and it was a good song but I don't think it was as good as the stuff he does by himself and it's not as good as the stuff I do by myself. It didn't make sense to do it just for the sake of doing it. We'll probably come back and do another song at a point where our worlds are a little bit closer. That was the only track for this album that we wanted to do that just didn't work. It just wasn't the right time. At some point the right track, the right concept, and the right verses will come out both of us and it'll be the right collaboration. But right now there's no sense in forcing it. It probably would have been more detrimental to both of us.
What's a project that you wouldn't get involved with? Where do you draw the line when it comes to being asked to guest on someone else's album?
Bun B: Hateful intent. With me it's all about the intentions of the artist. A big misconception about me is that, "Oh, Bun B will rap with anybody for some money." You can ask 99 out of 100 people I've collaborated with and they probably didn't spend a penny on it. I make good enough money from shows and other major label features that I don't have to go out trying to get money from everybody. It's about making the music. It's about being a part of the movement. You just have to choose wisely. I'm not gonna say I haven't done some songs I may not be proud of, looking back in retrospect, but if we could all live our lives in retrospect we'd all have some great lives wouldn't we [laughs].
One thing you've said before is that money in this business goes away, but that love stays.
Bun B: Absolutely. I've had an 18-year career and I've only made eight studio albums and two greatest hits. What has been able to keep my movement and the UGK legacy alive is the fact that people liked us, not just as musicians but as good people. That in itself can carry you very far in this world. There's a lot of people where you might want to work with for business reasons but you don't want to be associated with a certain personality. If... and this is extremely random [laughs]... but if I was to start dating Lindsay Lohan I would gain a lot of notoriety in the media. All over the world people would know who I am. But they would only know my as Lindsay Lohan's boyfriend so it's not the kind of notoriety I'd really be able to take advantage of. I mean, look at the paparazzi dude that thought he was going to be the shit for dating Britney Spears. He gained absolutely nothing.
Yeah, where's he now? The guy probably can't even get a job a McDonald's because it'd be bad for their image.
Bun B: Right, exactly. And it's McDonald's. You just have to be careful about what you do. And like I said, I haven't had a perfect career. I've made mistakes. But I've been lucky enough to get second chances.
With the song on this album "Right Now" that features Pimp C and 2Pac, how did you deal with putting together posthumous work from people you loved?
Bun B: There's no such thing as it being easy. When people leave you that you love and care about, you never stop missing them. Every day you find better ways to deal with it. We're at the point now where it's not as tender an issue, as far as dealing with Pimp C. For me, the music... I can hear Pimp C verses and it doesn't really make me over emotional. To the average listener it would because to a certain extent that's almost all they know, him through the music. Whereas, I knew the person. For me the touchy moments come through real life experiences. When I see things that I know he would have loved to do, like, "Pimp would have loved this hotel, Pimp would have loved this club, Pimp would have loved that girl," know what I'm saying? Those are the moments. When I see a dad with his daughter and I know how much Pimp loved his little girl. Or when I see a son and a father out playing basketball and I know how much he loved his boys and how much they love him. Those are the moments that get to me, the real life moments. The music kind of makes me laugh because this dude said some of the craziest things ever.
And the music is eternal.
Bun B: Absolutely. Every day gets a little bit easier to deal with. But I know for some people it's still fresh. The music takes you back to a good place.
Trill O.G. Tracklisting:
1."Chuuch!!!" (feat. J. Prince)
2."Trillionaire" (feat. T-Pain)
3."Just Like That" (feat. Young Jeezy)
4."Put It Down" (feat. Drake)
5."Right Now" (feat. Pimp C and 2Pac)
6."That's a Song (Skit)" (feat. Bluesman Ceddy St. Louis)
7."Countin' Money" (feat. Yo Gotti & Gucci Mane)
8."Speak Easy" (feat. Twista & Bluesman Ceddy St Louis)
9."Lights, Cameras, Actions"
10."I Git Down for Mine"
12."Ridin' Slow" (feat. Slim Thug & Play-N-Skillz)
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13."Let 'Em Know"
14."Listen (Skit)" (feat. Bluesman Ceddy St. Louis)
15."All a Dream" (feat. LeToya Luckett)
16."It's Been a Pleasure" (feat. Drake)