Underground Kingz (or UGK) was founded by Chad “Pimp C” Butler and Bernard “Bun B” Freeman in 1987. Hailing from Port Arthur, Texas, the explosive Southern Hip Hop duo grinded for years until their fifth, self-titled album landed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart — their first (and only) chart-topping effort.
Tragedy would strike the duo in December 2007 when Pimp C was discovered unresponsive in his room at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood, California. He was just 33 at the time of his death. The group’s sixth and final album UGK 4 Life arrived two years later with posthumous verses from Pimp C but obviously, Bun B was never the same.
Speaking to HipHopDX in a recent Zoom interview, the conversation naturally shifted to grief and music’s ability to heal. But Bun B admitted he had a tough time getting back in the saddle after losing his longtime rhyming partner.
“I haven’t really enjoyed making music since Pimp passed away,” he said. “And so now that I get to make music with friends and I’m not under any contractual obligation, I make music because I want to not because I have to, so it’s a different experience for me. For me, it just has to be fun or I’m not going to do it. I just don’t want to do it.”
In October 2005, Bun B wrote a solo song called “The Story,” which detailed UGK’s tumultuous journey. It was written while Pimp C was incarcerated for a probation violation, and Bun B was admittedly struggling both emotionally and mentally. But the song has since become a reminder of how far he’s come since then.
“The beautiful thing about music from a cathartic standpoint, is you can use it as an outlet to say what you want to say and express how you feel, but you don’t have to release it commercially,” he explained. “But it could be something that you do it. Like when I did ‘The Story,’ I recorded it one time and all the way through. Then for months, I couldn’t listen to it because it was so emotional and it was a mark in a specific time in my life where I was very low.
“And so to listen to it was a reminder of how low I was, for me, initially. But now I listen to it and I realize, ‘Wow, look how low you are and look where you are now.’ So it just reminds me no matter how bad you think you feel and how low you think you are, remember how low you were here.”
Bun B allowed himself to grieve after Pimp C’s death, even though it wasn’t common for men to express their emotions. He struggled, however, to perform songs written in their early days.
“Initially, when he passed away, I didn’t want to do day-one songs that would resonate in that way,” he said. “But I come from a community of people where grieving publicly was frowned upon. And so, so many people hold in so much pain. And what happens is that pain comes out at the worst time against the best people and it just puts people in a terrible place.
“And so for me, I think allowing people to see me grieve publicly and not being afraid to cry and show vulnerability publicly, hopefully that allowed other people to do the same. Because there’s nothing worse than being low and alone.”
Social media, he said, also paints a picture that everything is perfect. So when people are actually real online, it can help others have the courage to open up, too.
“Social media is so superficial,” he continued. “It’s so surface level, and everybody’s showing the best side of themselves and the best version of themselves. So when people get on there and are actually trying to be as authentic to their experience as possible, it could be surprising for people because most people assume that this isn’t the forum for that.
“That’s safe because that’s what everyone else is doing, so it’s safe. But when people do actually try to have an authentic moment, publicly, it can inspire other people sometimes.”
Bun B — who released the collaborative album Mo Trill with Cory Mo in March — is currently getting ready to bring his Trill Burgers to Rolling Loud on Friday (July 22) before taking them to Queens on August 6 as part of the Trill Mealz Food Court. Check back with HipHopDX later this week for Part III of the Bun B interview.