One is a legend in his own right. The other, an elite producer. Respectively, both are artists on the verge of iconic stature.
The Port Arthur, Texas native is no stranger hardship. So when his partner in rhyme was incarcerated in 2002 for failing to complete a community service requirement stemming from an aggravated assault charge, Bun B did what he knew best – grind. Bun, who continued to show support for C with the “Free Pimp C” movement, released an album and honored C, the man he says changed his life, by continuing to perfect his craft. Now, five years later, the duo, UGK, have re-assembled and earlier this year released an album that debuted at number one on the billboard music charts. Bun, who plans on releasing a new album in March, titled Too Trill (featuring Lil Wayne, 8Ball and a Goodie Mob reunion track), said there is still work to be done; “We’re gonna keep grinding it out.” Welcome to the grind.
“To have the number one hip-hop and R & B album is big, to have a number one album on the Billboard 200 is big – it was massive.”
Format: From the time you entered the game up until now; do you feel you have had to adapt your style?
Bun B: No, not really. I have core values that I hold dear to myself. I tend to stick with that whole, ‘people change, things change, but the rules in the streets remain the same.’ I tend to stick to those guidelines and in that way I really don’t have to change. I’m kind of before a lot of the tricks that are going on right now, but a lot of the people that are hot right now should get respect for starting a lot of the things they’re doing. They’re allowed to get credit for that. With that in mind, I kind of don’t have to change my style, I only have to assimilate.
Format: Explain what it’s like working with Pimp C and being part of arguably the best rap group ever.
Bun B: Working with Pimp C, really, I don’t think I could have gone as far as I have. Lyrically, being the person I am, Pimp has always wanted to push me to make me harder at what I do to help me really perfect my craft. And then with the fact that Pimp was the main producer most of the time for most of the songs we did, so in recording I know I didn’t have to worry about music. I knew that music and concepts were pretty much covered. All I had to do was pretty much come in there and spit a hot rhyme. With that kind of pressure lifted off of me it gave me a chance to really perfect my craft and hone my skills. Artistically, it’s just been a beautiful experience. Personally, I’ve gone through a lot of things with Pimp that has helped to make me the man I am today. I really don’t regret any of the different struggles and obstacles that we’ve had to overcome, because it’s definitely made us well-rounded as artists, and people.
Format: Regarding the making of Undergound Kingz, what were you trying to accomplish and has the success of the album surpassed the expectations you had for it?
Bun B: We really just wanted to show the people that the group was still intact and that we were still capable of making the same music prior to Pimp being locked up. People tend to think that because of our time apart would we still have that same ability to go back and forth with each other, would we be able to craft the strong music we crafted in the past. That was really our whole reason for doing the album. I’m real happy with the success of the album. To debut at number one on the Billboard charts is a huge accomplishment for anybody, even on your respective charts, you know, to show up. To have the number one hip-hop and R & B album is big, to have a number one album on the Billboard 200 is big – it was massive. That’s due to all the fans really staying down with us and supporting us fully.
“With that kind of pressure lifted off of me it gave me a chance to really perfect my craft and hone my skills.”
Format: With music being so regional now, what are your thoughts on the southern hip-hop music scene?
Bun B: I’m proud of it. It would have been easy for everybody in the south to do, you know, what UGK does, do what 8Ball and MJG does or do what Cash Money does, but you have different people from different areas. Soulja Boy from Alabama, David Banner from Mississippi, and Boss and Plies and Trick from Florida, people being able to express themselves and talk about what directly effects them in their neighborhood without having to generalize the south. I’m very proud of the fact that people are sticking to their guns and staying in their element and saying that they’re just really party people and that they’re just making party music and as long as what they do is make party music then I can respect that. I’m just happy for anybody that was able to successfully make the transition and get paid.
Format: You went down to Jena, La to show support for the ‘Jena Six’; how does an event like that affect your music and the messages you try to send to your listeners?
Bun B: I didn’t go down there as far as anything to relate to music. My whole reasoning for going to Jena, Louisiana was because from me being where I’m from and knowing that my fans are in Monroe, Louisiana, and Alexandria, Louisiana, and different places in that area where I had already been to and done shows and made money and seen fan support, it was only realistic that I go to Jena, Louisiana, which is only 20 miles down the road. It was only right for me to assume that they would ban for UGK as well.
And with these people having supported us over the years with our music as well as the ‘Free Pimp C’ movement and all, it was important for me to go and show my fans that I give a damn about what they were going through since they definitely showed me that was the case when I was going through it. I definitely did go to see what was going on and understand what people were trying to get across with the movement, for me being from that area I’ve been witness to different types of prejudice all my life. I went down there to let the people know that I care, that I got their back and if something is going on in their lives that UGK is willing to step up to the plate and support them for it.
Format: What’s next for Bun B?
Bun B: Literally right now I’m in Seattle doing a tour with the Zune ‘Takeover.’ We’re doing a series of concerts to raise awareness about the new Zune. I’m here, Swizz is here, so we’re going to be doing a lot of things for Zune. In the future, too, I’m working on a solo album, Too Trill, that’s going to be coming out in March of next year. A lot of stuff that I’m doing with that is going to be correlated with Zune, as well. We’re in the studio recording, got a lot of people working with us. Pimp C is working on his solo album that is going to come out some time in the summer and then we got a new UGK album slated to come out next winter. We’re gonna keep grinding it out.
For Swizz Beatz, a man who is no stranger to the everyday grind, the journey to elite producer has been part of his continual growth. Born in the South Bronx, Swizz wasn’t always the super-producer he is today. “I slipped into producing by remaking my mixtapes and trying to have a song on my mixtapes that sounded different than everybody else’s mixtapes,” he says of his early days as a DJ. Now, thousands of tracks later, he stands among hip-hop’s hall of fame producers. Still, he says, there is always room for growth. Never one to shy away from the limelight, Swizz speaks about the finer things in life: being inspired, making good music and self-growth.
“The whole Ruff Ryder movement, which I was a part of from day one, changed the sound of music. It changed the era.”
Format: Growing up, who did you look to, in terms of production sound, as a pioneer in the game?
Swizz Beatz: Growing up, I really didn’t have any people that were famous that I knew of from producing, because I started out as a DJ. And producing wasn’t like how it is now with me, Kanye, Timbo, Pharrell, Dre; it wasn’t like that back then. But as I got older I started paying attention to Marley Marl and Dre and all the people that were doing the Boogie Down production work. Because of things like that I was like, ‘Oh that’s what they do.’ I never planned on being a producer. I slipped into producing by remaking my mixtapes and trying to have a song on my mixtapes that sounded different than everybody else’s mixtapes.
Format: Do you feel you have ever compromised your morals by letting another artist use one of your tracks, although you might not have agreed with the content or the message in the song?
Swizz Beatz: I never really, until recently, paid attention to the content from my songs, because I’m from the South Bronx and hip-hop is rebellious. That’s what it started from. It was a rebellious movement and that’s what got the fan base that we have now. It’s different now, but back then it was like N.W.A, it was like Public Enemy, and Ice-T and all that stuff that put a lot of attention to the hip-hop world from the beginning. But then you had the Brand Nubians and you had all these different groups that were just doing different music; Big Daddy Kane was cool. But the controversial part was a rebellious movement and I came from the raw essence of it. And I’m like yo, say what you want to say, because what you’re expressing is your song. That’s why you make it your song, to express your life. Nobody can’t tell you to be like don’t say ‘fuck this’ or ‘fuck that,’ because you probably feel like that because you’re writing that. Hip-hop is an outlet where you can let that loose.
Format: Can you speak on what it was like doing One Man Band Man where you were no longer just a producer, but the artist?
Swizz Beatz: The One Man Band Man was one of the best transitions that I’ve gone through in my music career, because I already had a voice that was instrumental, but now I have a voice that’s vocal and I can take my career and take a lot of things to the next level. I’m not trying to be the best lyricist in the business. Me, I’m an entertainer; I like to have fun, I like to make people move. And I’m not taking it so serious where I’m caring about all the political things that are happening. My first single was ‘It’s Me Bitches.’ I’m just having fun with it. I didn’t make that for radio; I made it because I liked it. The opportunities that I’ve got from doing my album are much bigger than just producing. A lot of things came from me being able to put a voice to my face. It was me just expressing myself and having the opportunity to – it was the one man band. And now I’m doing part two, which is Life After the Party.
“I’m not trying to be the best lyricist in the business. Me, I’m an entertainer; I like to have fun, I like to make people move.”
Format: Do you feel you’ve become one of the elite producers in the game?
Swizz Beatz: I don’t really like to toot my own horn, but I’ve definitely been part of a lot of hip-hop’s classic moments. The whole Ruff Ryder movement, which I was a part of from day one, changed the sound of music. It changed the era. When you think about it, the whole Bad Boy movement was in effect and it kind of put that on pause for a minute. We had X come out, then we had the LOX come out, then we had Eve, then we had Drag, then we had myself. Even if I just stopped on the Ruff Ryders thing, I’m definitely one of the elite top five producers.
Format: What projects are you currently working on?
Swizz Beatz: Oh man, everything in bangin’. I did the Beyonce situation; I did half of that album. I just worked on the new Alicia Keys album, I’m working on Marsha from Floetry, her album. I worked on the new Chris Brown album. So many damn people; Mariah, Mary, etcetera, etcetera, the new Jadakiss album.
Format: Can you speak a little bit on the “Takeover” tour by Zune and why you are participating?
Swizz Beatz: The ‘Takeover’ tour is a brilliant idea. With Zune really connecting with the industry and reaching out to artists like myself and Bun B, which probably wouldn’t ever get picked even though we’re doing well for what we do. Just like my label says, it’s a ground up building process.
Format: You were speaking about Ruff Ryders being a movement. Do you feel with your label, Full Surface, you’re part of a new movement with Cassidy?
Swizz Beatz: As far as my label being a movement, it’s a different time and day and age in music. I don’t want an aggressive movement. It takes too much energy to keep that going. I want a movement where the music speaks for itself and I don’t have to do a lot of frontin’ and stuntin’. I want it to be room for growth. A lot of people max out on their first two years, and then after that high people are looking for what’s next. With me, I want people to be able to grow with my company. And that’s what we’re doing right now, we’re growing with Cassidy. It’s from the ground up.