It’s been more than two years since Pimp C was found dead in a Hollywood hotel room, the result of an accidental codeine overdose. A half a year before his death, the Southern hip-hop stalwarts UGK — founded by Pimp and Bun B when they were teenagers in Port Arthur, Texas — had reached an unexpected commercial peak. After nearly two decades of gloriously grinding in the trenches, the duo had debuted on the top of the Billboard charts with the double album Underground Kingz. Which is all to say that Pimp’s death was way too abrupt an ending to the story of UGK. On March 31, Bun B will attempt to put a more fitting cap on the legacy with the release 4 Life, the last ever UGK album. The refreshingly honest Bun speaks here about Carrie Fisher, Tracy McGrady and, of course, his partner Pimp C.
I’m sure that almost always the first question you’re asked in interviews is about Pimp C. What’s it like having to talk about such a personal thing in a public forum?
Sometimes the wrong question can really rub me the wrong way and I’m more concerned about how I feel about the situation. I try to wake up in a way where I understand that this is a very new situation for a lot of people Sometimes they [can] ask maybe not so much the wrong question but it comes across the wrong way. It’s not necessarily their fault; they didn’t mean to come across that way. If you guys don’t hit the question on the head, I kind of have to give you some kind of leeway.
On that note, what have you undergone personally in the past two years?
Just a lot of self-evaluation. Looking at my life and how I’d like to be remembered, and if I’m moving towards that. If I can get half the love and half the outpouring and condolences that have been given to Pimp C, I’d consider myself a lucky person. I’d consider myself to have lived a blessed life. I have not gone through a day — literally, not one day — no matter if I stay in the house all day or go out somewhere, where someone, in some form or fashion, hasn’t offered or said condolences. I still have people who will call me once a month just to make sure I’m okay. It’s been a real outpouring of support from people. I’m not gonna wallow. I got a lot of support. More than enough support to be able to lift myself up and keep going. And I’m not his wife or his mom, so I can’t act like I’m the hardest hit anyways.
What was the process like of growing into success together, starting off as childhood friends? It’s a dream you cooked up when you were young and it actually came true.
It’s just trying to remember why you started it and what you were trying to achieve in the first place. Of course there are going to be deviations in the plan, but it’s about remembering why you started doing what you were doing, and who you ended up becoming at the end of the road. A lot of things could go in a lot of different directions in this industry. There are pitfalls.
What was the process getting the album done after Pimp’s death?
Some songs were already done. Some songs just needed a little bit of finishing; some needed a lot of finishing. But every song had a structure. Every song had Pimp C featured on it. It’s not like there are six songs with me and him, and then the rest is me with other people. Every song that I’m on has him on.
Would you have put this out, even if you weren’t that far along, considering this is something UGK fans would have wanted to hear no matter what stage of recording it had been at?
No, not at all. I would not have just put twelve songs out. It had to be an album. It had to have some kind of theme. To correlate all the thoughts and songs. If I couldn’t do that, then it wasn’t going to be a UGK album.
What’s the process of writing a tribute song like “Angel in the Sky”? How do you rein in all your emotion into a song?
The whole thing is to not block out the emotion. At the end of the day, it’s the emotion of the song, the true exposure of your feelings, that makes people connect with the song. If you don’t have hesitation in doing the song, then there shouldn’t be any hesitation in giving the song the necessary emotion that it needs to get the point across. It doesn’t make any sense to make a song about dealing with grief and beat around the issue.
Is there something specific you wish you could have done with Pimp C before he died? Maybe perform somewhere together, or do a certain type of song together?
The thing I’m missing is not watching him grow old. Pimp C would have been a very interesting old man.
I know you had an academic scholarship to college that you turned down to pursue your rap career. Where did that go-for-broke mentality come from?
It’s just having faith in the process. You know, I said I’ll take a year off, I’ll give it a shot, if it doesn’t work, I’ll take another admissions test. And I could still be accepted based on my test scores. That was never an issue for me. The music came out, and it started to become its own career, and I had to make the decision as to whether this was the career I wanted. It wasn’t going to be no little thing, I was really gonna have to get it in.
Do you have any non-musical influences on your style? Movie dialogue, books, someone’s delivery in a conversation maybe?
Yeah, I’ll give you a good one. You ready?
Carrie Fisher was the first person I knew of that was actually a script doctor, that explained the process. A script doctor, if you’re not familiar with the term, is the person who when there’s a moment in the script when the scene isn’t working out the right way, then someone comes in that has better knowledge of writing that kind of scene, and helps straighten the movie out. That’s kind of a lot of what I do in music. I tend to bridge things together. You have someone on one verse talking about one subject matter, you have a person on another verse talking about another, I come in and find the common bridge in all three verses and try to link the song together.
People go so left to the extreme on the edges that I have to bring it all back over. And that’s one the main reasons you hear me on a lot of songs that I may be featured on is because of the fact that someone will have a record that they put their cousin on or their homeboy, and it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make sense. Someone will have their own agenda as opposed to what the theme of the song’s about, or it’s Thursday, they gotta turn the album in by Friday. That’s’ when I get the call.
That’s really cool. Also I had no idea that Carrie Fisher did that.
Yeah. And it’s good work too — it’s six-figure work for about three weeks.
Have you ever felt unchallenged, or uninspired, by hip-hop?
Pimp told me this a long time ago: If you can’t find it, you’re it. You know what I mean? If you’re an artist, you’re a rapper, and you’re looking for a certain song on the radio, and you’re mad because you can’t hear it, you’re probably the person who needs to make that record.
You’re a great spokesperson for hip-hop. Do you ever wish that there were more people that could encapsulate all the contradictions of the genres, all the things that are great, call out the things that are bad, and just to present it the right way like you do?
All humans progress at different stages. I can’t expect people that are my age to be at the same stage that I’m at. And there are people at my age who are further along than I am, that have a much better grasp of situations than I do. For a long time in my career, I used to rate myself next to Jermaine Dupri. And nobody ever understood why I did that. I would say, Jermaine Dupri is my age, but he’s worth a hundred times more than I am. Now it could be circumstance, it could be coincidence, but maybe it’s just he’s just trying a little bit harder than I am. Take a look at the richest person your age, find at what point in their life they made the move that brought them on a path to excel, and then look at what you were doing at that time. You gotta be willing to put yourself up against the next guy, and be willing to fall short just to see where you are.
What’s the plan for your next solo album?
Next solo for me is called Trill O.G.; it’s the trilogy because it’s my third solo album. On this solo album, if it makes any sense, I’m making a conscious effort to make an album not for myself, but for everybody but me. Like, this next album in theory should benefit everyone else but me. It’s time for elder statesmen of hip-hop and stand up, not to criticize but to give direction, as far as the kind of music that needs to be made — not just talk about it, but to do it. A lot of things that I’m going to be talking about, and the direction I’m going to be going in, will not have a lot of commercial or retail aspects to it. But hopefully it’ll help the next generation to strive harder. To make better music. Not that they’re making bad music. It’s just, it could be better. Everybody in music is comfortable, and nobody is taking a chance. We’re seeing a stagnation. It’s going to be up to some of us that people look up to see where we wanna go. We’re all playing it safe right now because of the recession. I’m asking a lot of myself.
Sounds great. One last thing: What do you think of the Rockets’ chances in the postseason?
We look great now. We have a rotation without Tracy [McGrady]. The problem was that Tracy would be healthy one day and the not healthy the next day. That’s too much disruption in the rotation. Now we know exactly what the lineup is, as a team. I think we’re gonna be okay for the rest of the season. We got a good chance for at least the second round.