As the piercing sounds of car horns and construction machinery cut through the air on a predictable New York City morning in Times Square, an unexpected figure stands outside of the W Hotel in the summery heat. Sans a glittering chain and rambunctious entourage, Bun B stands in the cool of the shade, dressed in a white A Bathing Ape t-shirt, green khaki shorts, a black fitted cap emblazoned with the phrase "Go to hell" and a pair of Nike Jordan sandals covering his sock-adorned feet. For 10 a.m., Bun's demeanor is serious, his facial expression blank. But it's still early. There's an entire day ahead for the Port Arthur, Texas native to show off the comical side he prides himself on. "I'm usually the person that cracks everybody up," he says.
Perhaps Bun's pensive attitude stems from the schedule he's currently tending to, all while nursing a fractured elbow. Less than 24 hours ago in the Big Apple, the stocky 37-year-old shot a video cameo for 'You Should Go Home,' a track off of Statik Selectah and Termanology's joint album, '1982.' Then, over the forthcoming weekend, he'll fly down to Huntsville, Alabama to release a t-shirt collaboration he did with streetwear boutique Kreativ Sole. But today, his schedule demands much more of him: Visiting some of the city's boutique sneaker stores, posing for the cover of a men's magazine, performing at the rehearsals of 'The 2010 VH1 Hip Hop Honors: The Dirty South' and promoting his third solo album, 'Trill O.G.'
While driving through traffic in SoHo to reach his first destination -- Nike Sportswear at 21 Mercer Street -- Bun, born Bernard Freeman, begins to chuckle upon seeing several gay porn magazines lined up like alert soldiers in a convenience store window. "Really, he's got his gay porn in the window [with the title] 'Cock Worshiping Sluts'?" he asks, amazed at the store owner's lack of discretion. "And I can't have a cigarette on an album cover."
Once inside Nike Sportswear, Bun is greeted like an old friend by Adam, one of the store's managers. There's not an inkling of a fan-boy presence as Bun peruses the racks of sneakers; he's left to shop around in peace. As he takes a seat on a bleacher-like set-up, the UGK member is more sociable, cracking jokes and throwing out a smile every now and then. He even shares his desire to walk down the path Richard Pryor once did. "I want to try stand-up," says Bun, who's a fan of comedian Ricky Gervais, and British comedy shows such as 'Fawlty Towers' and 'Monty Python.' "That's like 10 years from now. My next generation, when I'm like 50. I want to start writing first and see what works."
See All Photos >>
Behind the Video With The-Dream
Though Bun walks out of the Nike store empty-handed, he's confident he'll find a sneaker to his liking at Alife Rivington Club, a smaller shop in the Lower East Side supplying exclusive footwear selections. He supports the corporate sneaker game, but he sees eye-to-eye with the little guys. "I understand that struggle, having a dream in your bedroom and trying to take that out there to the world," he reveals. "It's good for me to watch other people putting everything they got into making something come true. I'm all about that and supporting that."
Before entering Alife's doors, a black unmarked police car slowly tails the SUV Bun B rides in. "I'm a black man," he says between laughs. "They're not leaving until they see who gets out of this car." Store manager Chris Vidal ushers Bun B inside then scurries off to grab him a pair of white and brown Jordan sneakers and a Three 6 Mafia shirt left over from a past Alife event. Upon suiting up, Bun walks outdoors to the store's back patio deck, where he rests against a painted mural of marijuana plants. Then irony sets in. Bun, still wearing his "Go to hell" black fitted cap from earlier, is now dressed in the Three 6 Mafia t-shirt bearing the evilest of numbers: "666."
Truck Buck, Bun B's right-hand man, bursts into a fit of laughter after viewing his boss's 'devilish' attire. As he speaks of Bun's work ethic, his humorous tone vanishes immediately. "You can ask anybody," continues Truck, 27, "He's a real business man. He's been in [the music industry] for a long time. It's real grown man stuff. We crack jokes and play but when it's time to work, he's all about his business."
Bun's repeated watch-gazing supports that notion, as he reminds his team they must move on to his photo shoot for the cover of DJ Kay Slay's 'Straight Stuntin' magazine. Bun doesn't like to be late, literally and figuratively, when it comes to his business handlings. His resume-boasting six albums under the UGK umbrella and three as a solo artist proves he's trying his best to stay one step ahead of the rap pack at all times. Take a listen to his current opus, 'Trill O.G.' -- a 14-track effort featuring collaborations with the likes of Raekwon and Twista and posthumous verses from Pimp C and 2Pac -- and it's hard to deny that Bun put painstaking thought and effort into its creation.
"I just wanted to make sure that there's an O.G. that I showed that can speak to all these different worlds, different societies and all these different cultures across this country, but at the highest levels with the people that are known for standing up for the streets or for the 'hood and representing for the people," says Bun, as he overlooks the Manhattan skyline while en route to his photo shoot in the Bronx. "That's just the image I'm trying to project, is that I'm a trill O.G. and we're working at the highest levels of the 'hood to try to get everything back right."
For Bun B, working at the highest levels means returning the love he once received as a hip-hop upstart. While most veteran artists may shun rap newcomers for fear of being out-rhymed on their own records, Bun has been known to embrace them. So why does a rapper of his caliber choose to join forces with newer artists such as Toronto emcee Drake ('Miss Me,' 'Put It Down') and Alabama native Yelawolf ('Good To Go')? "'Cause the people I looked up to when I came into the game worked with me when they didn't have to," he shares. "People like J. Prince, Too Short ... Scarface, Lord Jamar, Brand Nubians. [They] reached out and showed love and helped to keep us inspired when we felt like this wasn't working out for us or we felt like we should give up. I was very lucky to have that in my career. I just wanted to make sure I gave that back to the next generation."
The 'Straight Stuntin' photo shoot is the last stop on his "to-do" list before his closed rehearsals for VH1 Hip Hop Honors. As he steps into the South Bronx's Clock Tower to access the roof, Bun shows no signs of fading despite the heat of the afternoon sun. His wife of seven years, Chalvalier 'Queenie' Freeman, watches from afar as photographer Frank Antonio snaps away at Bun, who is positioned in the middle of two buxom beauties flaunting bikinis-one is Just Brittany, a singer Queenie manages; the other is model Syn City.
"You gonna rest on 'em?" Queenie jokes. The "'em" she speaks of are the female's plump backsides. In a pose reminiscent of Uncle Sam's "We Want You" poster, his finger pointing at the camera, Bun chuckles at his wife's question. Though she takes Bun placing his arm around two nearly naked women in stride, Queenie has long since separated the rapper from the family man. "I don't like the character, the artist part," she continues. "I just do the husband part."
The "husband part" is what so many artists have called on Bun to assist with, as if the rapper moonlighted as a marriage messiah. "A lot of the younger artists trying to maintain the artist side and the family life come to me for [guidance] because there's an assumption that I've mastered it, which is no such thing," he says. "You can't master married life, you can't master the business world, but you gotta be willing to work at both."
As 2 p.m. approaches, Bun bids farewell to his wife and jumps into the black SUV to head to Hammerstein Ballroom for VH1 rehearsals. In between phone calls to coordinate his "Bun B and Friends" concert at S.O.B's performance venue later that night, the rapper admits he once graced the stage in high school as Romeo in Shakespeare's 'Romeo & Juliet.' "It was always understood that my voice would be heard," he says. "My family thought I was gonna be a lawyer or a preacher. They thought my career would be speaking to people. They didn't know it would be this."
When Pimp C, a critical piece to the UGK puzzle, unexpectedly passed away in 2007, Bun knew he'd have to continue being the voice of the South even if that meant forging on solo to do so. But not one day passes that he doesn't remember his late partner's legacy. "There are so many people who will say Pimp C's been an inspiration to them; Lil Jon will say that, David Banner will say that," he trails off while sitting in traffic. "He had a different level of devotion, a different level of caring. Caring about the music but at the same time not caring what people thought and not holding back. He really brought people up and took people who didn't feel they could be great and showed them how great they could be."
Before being ushered away by a crew of VH1 associates, Bun B ends on a note that not only artists new and old should take heed to, but also the average Joe. "You can really talk and breathe life into things," he philosophizes. "You have to be careful by what you say and what you do with music because these songs come to life. I've tried to explain this to people. If you speak of positivity and you speak of going places and really want to be somebody and affect society, music will help you do that. If you feel like you want to be this tough guy and you want to call all the gangstas out and invite a certain element into your life, music will do that too. I just want people to know the O.G. is back. All that bulls--- that's been kinda slipping through the cracks is not about to slip anymore."