Houston rapper Bun B (born Bernard Freeman) had a rather tumultuous 2007. He saw the latest album by his group UGK debut at the top of the Billboard albums chart only to have his longtime partner Pimp C pass away later in the year. But Bun continues undeterred, as this week saw the release of his second solo album, the excellent II Trill, and he is currently enjoying the spoils of a hit single, “That’s Gangsta.” Bun called in from the road on his way back to Houston to host a listening party at the Louis Vuitton boutique. “They just overhauled the men’s department, so I’m excited to help them kick things off,” says Bun.
What’s the reaction so far to II Trill?
People have been really, really receptive of it. I don’t know if it’s because they’re talking to me, but everybody has been saying that they really like the album.
Was this record done after Pimp C’s death?
No. Seventy-five percent of this album was recorded prior to Pimp’s passing.
Did his death change the way that you were working? Did your approach to the songs become different?
No, just the approach to the movement, the intensity as far as really knowing that there was no more time to play. We definitely have to assert ourselves in this game stronger than we ever have before and there are no limits to what we can do now.
The past few years for have been big for the Houston scene. Do you think it’s that much different than it was two or three years ago?
It’s pretty much the same. We used to work very hard to make songs that were very easily identified with Houston. Now that everybody knows what Houston is and how we get down, we can make something a little more national without losing our Texas identity.
The guests on this album are eclectic — Sean Kingston, Lupe Fiasco, Mya, 8Ball & MJG. When you go into a collaboration, what’s the goal? What do you try to get out of it?
I definitely try to make sure that they go in their direction and I go in my direction and we meet at a common point. It’s always about bouncing ideas off of people. If you don’t want other people’s input then why are you doing what you’re doing? I definitely think people respect me as an artist. They know what I’m capable of and vice versa. It’s just a friendly game of baseball.
With the rise of the online mixtape market, have you reconsidered the way you do business?
You just gotta make sure to make yourself and your music and your property available to everybody. It’s just a matter of making sure that your music is available online, but also that your merchandising is available online as well. Keep making the product available to the people.
There are a lot of rock sounds on II Trill. Is there anybody in particular that you’ve been inspired by in the non-hip-hop realm?
Definitely. I’m a real big fan of Jack White. I love Portishead, and of course I love Jonny Greenwood and Radiohead. I try to make the music sound like what I’ve been feeling, but it’s still gotta make sense at the end of the day. I like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, but I don’t know if that element is going to work with what I do. You can’t do everything you love.
A lot of rappers love Portishead. Why is that?
Not just Portishead, but a lot of that trip-hop, Tricky and those records. Trip-hop is a lot closer to American hip-hop music than people know. A lot of those people are students of rap music, especially the early days. A lot of the early rap came with heavy bass lines and 808 drums and I think it’s surprising to hear Europeans to bring that style of music. You look at Amy Winehouse and Jamie Lidell, they’re doing a lot of that too. They’re better students of American music than we are.
You are an impressive live performer and will be playing a few shows coming up. Do you like performing?
I actually suffer from severe anxiety before each performance. Probably for the first six to seven years in UGK I used to throw up before every show.
Do you still do that?
I don’t throw up anymore, but the anxiety is still there. I think that comes from a place of wanting to give people the best show. For me, you can’t ever rely on the media or video or visuals or anything. People actually see it, hear it, get the feel of it and connect with it on a much more personal level at a live concert.
Did the success of last year’s UGK album Underground Kingz sneak up on you?
I didn’t know. We knew that the support had been good and that people had been ready to go out and get it, but you’re still not sure if you’re connecting with the next generation. You’re not sure if all the support between the label and promotion and marketing, you don’t know if that shit’s going to line up the right way. It just so happened that we had an incredible video [“International Players Anthem (I Choose You),” with Outkast]. It all fell together like it was supposed to.
UGK was on Jive, but your solo work is put out on Houston’s independent Rap-A-Lot label. Are you treated better on one label or the other?
I wouldn’t say treated better, but I have a lot more input at Rap-A-Lot. If I have issues with the promotion department, I can drive over to the label and sit with the promotions people. Same thing with marketing, radio, video, any of these different things. With that, it does give me a slight advantage.
Is there a track on II Trill that you feel particularly fired up about?
Yeah, there’s a track called “Angel in the Sky” which is my dedication record to Pimp C. It’s a very deep and very personal record.
Are you still mourning?
Oh, without question. I will be for a long, long time.