Bun B

Unconventional Wisdom

BY Neil AcharyaPublished Aug 25, 2011

Bun B's steady rise to prominence in the world of hip-hop began in Port Arthur, Texas, where along with Pimp C, he formed Underground Kingz, better known as UGK, in 1987. At the time of their first major label album release, Too Hard to Swallow in 1992, rap music was personified by what was being released out of the East and West Coast. Bun B and Pimp C helped usher in a new and vibrant sound that provided hip-hop with a third dynamic Southern locale.

They would go on to release six studio albums as a group before Pimp C's untimely death in 2007. At that juncture, Bun B had only one solo album under his belt, he has had two subsequent releases and will begin working on another in 2012. Prior to his show at the Sound Academy in Toronto on August 10, I had a chance to catch up with the highly respected rapper and talk about primarily his latest endeavour, lecturing at Rice University.

In just a few weeks, pioneering southern rapper, Bun B will return to his posting as Distinguished Visiting Lecturer in Religious Studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas. With one successful semester in the books, Bun B seems ready for a second go around with the course "Religion and Hip Hop Culture," which he co-teaches with Dr. Anthony Pinn.

"We start back up in September, the course this year will be taught as a continuing studies course so it won't be twice a week, it will be once a week but we still bring the same lesson plan, the same syllabus and the same conversation to the table," says the 38-year-old.

Bun B's entry into the halls of Academia began through what is known as the H.E.R.E. program (Houston Enriches Rice University), which integrates the talent of the University with that of the city it is based in. In 2009, a student suggested Bun B to Dr. Pinn and after having a conversation with him before and after the lecture, Pinn was impressed. "We talked for about 30 to 40 minutes and after seeing his insight and how articulate he was, it was clear to me that we needed him engaged in a bigger way and that co-teaching this course was the way to go," says Pinn, who describes the course, in part, as a way in which humans wrestle with the bigger questions in life.

As expected, his first stint as a lecturer, from January to April 2011, had pupils clamouring to take the course. "It's been incredible, we didn't have enough room for everybody that wanted to come in. Initially there was no classroom big enough to hold all the students that wanted to take the course so I teach in an auditorium. I had 258 students that wanted to take the course and probably another 50 that wanted get in. Now with all the notoriety it will probably be even crazier this year," says Bun B.

Dr. Pinn concurs, "It's been phenomenal, it is one of the largest courses ever offered in the school, we got phone calls from the University President, the Dean and Provost. There has been a great deal of interest [in the course] from students across the university, from scientists to engineers to business majors."

Pinn explains how the two share the teaching duties. "We might be having a conversation about the relation of Christianity and hip-hop ― I'll talk about it from a position of scholarship, an academic who has a deep personal appreciation for hip-hop, while he will talk about it from the context about how he wrestles with it."

Bun B supplements his lectures with songs and video or documentary footage and carried out quite a balancing act of handling prep time for the course (he estimates a couple of hours a day) with his other ventures, namely recording and performing. "If I was lecturing Tuesday, then I'm using Sunday and Monday to put that together, then using Tuesday night and Wednesday to put together Thursday's lecture, then I'm maybe taking Friday and Saturday off, going somewhere doing concerts coming home Sunday and getting right back to it."

Pinn is enamoured with Bun's juggling act. "I couldn't have asked for better engagement on his part, he was involved and he was there physically and intellectually, as long as I offer this course, I would like him to co-teach it with me," he says.

"I've learned a great deal from him, I've gained an insiders perspective on the art form and he has provided me with a snapshot on how artists understand and respond to the University setting. We [academics] often think we have expressed things in clear ways and we haven't, and we think we have an objectivity of the world and we don't, it's challenged through the lived experience of a guy like Bun B ― it's a richer experience," he adds.

As Bun B continues to record (he is targeting 2012 to work on and perhaps release a new album), perform and even dabble in acting, his time is increasingly stretched, but his role at Rice as a lecturer is something he is honoured to fit into his busy schedule. "It hasn't been the easiest thing in the world but it is definitely not impossible and it's an opportunity I just couldn't pass up. Luckily I've been very to balance music and teaching without either suffering."

While lecturing has been a good fit, he certainly isn't looking for an ivory tower retirement package. Nearly two decades after UGK dropped their first album Bun B is still driven to make music. "I've been very blessed with my career, I wouldn't mind another 20 years, if hip-hop is gonna be here for another 20, I would love to be here with it; I don't see hip-hop going anywhere, so I don't see why I should have to go anywhere."

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