When Houston hip-hop icon Bun B steps foot on NRG Stadium’s illuminated star stage — draped up and dripped out, to quote his famous song — he’ll once again be making history.
Houston’s ambassador of H-Town rap and America’s hottest burger king will headline and host the Southern Takeover on Friday, March 3 for the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s Black Heritage Day. A star-studded showcase of Southern rap and hip-hop, the 60-minute is a Rodeo first; the concert boasts Louisiana acts Juvenile, Cupid, and Mannie Fresh; Mississippi-born rapper David Banner; Tennessee duo 8Ball & MJG, and a host of yet-to-be named surprises.
This year’s takeover — already No. 1 for 2023 first-day Rodeo sales with more than 16,000 tickets sold — is Bun B’s wildly anticipated follow-up to his revolutionary H-Town Takeover held at last year’s Rodeo (also on Black Heritage Day). A whopping 75,000 Southern Takeover tickets are already gone, though standing room admission is still available. His wildly popular Trill Burgers will also have a presence at the Rodeo; the stand has been jam packed with hungry fans.
While he may shrug off such a claim (read on for our Q&A with the local legend) no local musical act deserves a Rodeo headlining spot more than Bun B, known here as the Trill OG. The pride of Port Arthur, Texas (born Bernard Freeman) co-founded the legendary rap duo UGK (Underground Kingz) in the late ’80s with fellow Port Arthur native Chad “Pimp C” Butler, who passed away in 2007. UGK, now on the Mt. Rushmore of Southern hip-hop, became the face of Houston rap, famously spitting lyrics on Jay-Z’s singalong “Big Pimpin,’” Three 6 Mafia’s “Sippin on Some Syrup,” and releasing eight albums.
But rather than take the spotlight for himself, Bun B has once again chosen to spotlight notable names of hip-hop. It all started last year, where, in an event that arguably defines Houston to the world, Bun B threw the consummately Houston event that year. The historic, one-hour concert saw the first Black male performer from Houston headline a showcase of Houston’s greatest rap and hip-hop acts. It quickly landed on the Rodeo’s top 3 show list that year, with 73,259 spectators packing NRG — a frenetic, multi-ethnic crowd of all ages shouting back lyrics to everyone who took the stage (even Bun B himself was rapping along to his fellow rappers).
The H-Town Takeover instantly became a bucket list, “I was there” milestone moment. A-list locals like Paul Wall and Slim Thug shared the stage with legends like The Geto Boys’ Willie D and fiery newcomers like Tobe Nwigwe. Destiny’s Child founding member LeToya Luckett grooved, while local-born Nickelodeon star That Girl Lay Lay — all of 16 years old — overcame sound issues to set the tone of the show. Fitting tributes to gone-but-not-forgotten pioneers Pimp C, DJ Screw, Fat Pat, and Big Moe drew wild applause. For some in the show, it was a career-defining moment — courtesy of the Trill OG — and perhaps the only time they’d stroll the rodeo or NRG Stadium stage.
Legions of rap fans, some who had perhaps felt disenfranchised from the rodeo’s country music-focused early days, shouted out lyrics and even their neighborhoods — “Mo City” could be heard even in the press box.
When Bun B rocked “Big Pimpin’” and other UGK classics, with the crowd echoing Pimp C’s lyrics back, it was hard not to imagine Pimp C onstage with his partner, basking in the H-Town shine and love.
And when three slabs — dropped, customized vintage cars — rolled out and bounced onto rodeo dirt, the crowd’s eruption was one of appreciation, recognition, and validation. Rap was in the rodeo, something few could’ve ever envisioned.
Not only a star but a true executive producer, Bun B oversaw every major detail of the Takeover — and even small ones. To set the tone, he hand delivered cowboy hats to his marquee performers. He produced the star-studded, celebrity sizzle reel video to open the show, delivered impromptu birthday greetings to Luckett and Wall, and made sure there was a group prayer before the concert. Ever the loving brother, Bun B ensured his dearly departed co-star Pimp C even had his own dressing room.
But as Houston’s OG would be quick to point out, that was last year. Since his historic show, Bun B has launched Trill Burgers, his smash burger concept introduced at CultureMap’s Tastemaker Awards and winner of Good Morning America’s “United States of Burgers” competition last summer. As CultureMap reported, Bun B will open his first Trill Burgers brick and mortar restaurant this spring in Montrose.
How hot is this week in what's clearly the Year of Bun B? On Thursday, March 2, Trill Burgers landed the Rodeo’s Gold Buckle Foodie Award (for best classic fair food). The day after the Southern Takeover, Chris Rock’s highly anticipated new comedy special, Selective Outrage, drops on Netflix (Saturday, March 4). In six degrees of the Trill OG, the now-viral 30-second teaser for Rock’s specials is set to Bun B’s “The Best Is Back” track.
It’s impossible to imagine a better representative of Houston’s hip-hop scene, or a more deft and fluent spokesperson for not just a genre of music, but an entire regional culture. Be it trill rhymes or Trill Burgers, Bun B intrinsically knows how to unite people and give them what they want: good music and good food.
As he nears a milestone birthday this month, Bun B is now considered a local living legend boasting myriad titles: showman, executive producer, restaurateur, statesman, cultural ambassador, icon.
That all makes for quite a checklist for the pride of Port Arthur. Music legend status: check. Best smash burger in America: check. Now, Bun B is a mic check away from once again making history. We checked in with the OG ahead of the Southern Takeover.
CultureMap: Congratulations on another Takeover, OG. It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since your history-making show. How is last year influencing your plans for this show?
Bun B: A big part of it was the fact that no one had ever seen it before, right? But last year, there was a feeling in the room. The idea of people having such a good time that they stayed on their feet the whole time — and that's what we're going for. I’m trying to provide a show that will keep people on their feet entertained and get engaged for all 60 minutes.
And there's a large contingency of people now who aren't sure if what was done last year can be recreated. And I'll be honest, it can't be. You can't give people something they’ve never seen before, with the same people the same way, twice. It doesn't work.
I think this second show will give people a better idea because we have to go outside of the boundaries of Houston to build this up, but still make it entertaining to as many people from Houston in the room as possible.
CM: You’re not just the headliner, you’re essentially the executive producer and director. How are you coaching your stars who are new to the Rodeo experience this year, after last year’s experience?
Bun B: I've done the rodeo twice. And that was something that I tried to impart on the guys and the girls that were ladies that were performing that night [last year, is that look, this crowd is gonna be going ape sh*t, but they’re gonna be so far away from you and you’re gonna have so much music pumping into your ears that you’re not gonna know that as a performer, you're not sure if the crowd is reacting the way they should.
Your first instinct is to overcompensate if you're not sure if they're feeling it. You wanna dance harder, rap harder, get more arm movement and move around more and be more energetic. I told people to stay calm. You just have to rest in the notion that you're f*cking it up. You just gotta know in that moment, while you're on stage, performance that the whole place is going crazy — because it will be
CM: It almost seems like this year’s lineup would be a greater challenge to craft than last year’s. Is that fair? Beside big Southern name, how did you choose the performers?
Bun B: It’s about energy, about picking the right people that have the right songs that can create the right type of energy. We can't redo last year's show. The best thing we can do is try to replicate that energy, that level of interaction with people and that level of entertainment. That's really all we can do, and hope that we do a really good job.
CM: This isn’t your typical show, as you’ve explained to these marquee names. You have to be extra judicious with your lineup.
Bun B: We have to make proper character choices. This isn’t a regular concert where everything goes. This is the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. I have two stipulations: you have one hour, and nothing vulgar. But these are all consummate professionals.
CM: The H-Town Takeover exploded into a cultural touchstone moment. It’s a postcard to the world from Houston. It’s one of the most talked-about musical events in years. How does this all feel?
Bun B: I'm still trying to understand the fact that it's me, you know? I'm still trying to figure out ‘why me,’ — that’s been the biggest thing for me. There’s a lot of survivor’s remorse that goes into this that I don't think people understand, because I didn't start this journey by myself. So, just the idea that Pimp isn't here to be a part of any of this — it doesn't feel right, it doesn't feel fair.
CM: But you’re an amazing and honorable steward of his memory and legacy, OG. You even made sure he had his own dressing room.
Bun B: It’s just something I just have to learn to deal with, because there are a lot of moments that happened in my life, and his children's life, and his family’s and his friends’ lives that people wish he was here for, you know?
And so the best I can do is to continue to represent and move in a way that he'd be proud of. And I think this Rodeo is part of that — just the idea that we’ve been given it, and that we pulled it off, and then, they've given it to us again. I think there's very little that could have made him more proud than that.
CM: No doubt he was proud. You made sure that everyone was saying his name and repeating his lyrics. It was electric.
Bun B: You’re right, there was no one more celebrated in that room that day than him.
CM: You’re a master of giving people what they want and they clearly want Bun B Takeovers at the Rodeo. Could this be an every-year event for the Rodeo?
Bun B: I’m sure there's a level of convenience for them in doing this. But, there's also a level of anxiety because there's so many moving parts and so many people that have to come together in order to make this work. My night at the Rodeo is probably the most demanding night of the year, just based on logistics.
CM: Can we at least ask for one more?
Bun B: You know, I’d always envisioned it as a trilogy, no pun intended.
CM: Um, a Trill OG trilogy? That’s the greatest pun ever. So it’s on?
Bun B: Look, there's no way I’m even touching anything about next year. I gotta get through this show.
CM: Fair enough, OG. You’ve got this show, Trill Burgers, more things in the works. At a time when most people have settled down, you’re absolutely on fire and not close to slowing down. Did you ever envision all this happening — at 50?
Bun B: Absolutely not — who could have? No one could have thought that. I couldn't see 20, 30, 40. There's no way I could’ve thought that at 50 I'd be headlining the Rodeo for the second time. There’s no way that I could have known that I have the best burger in America.
And I can’t get caught up in that. I can’t get caught up in what life has for me, because sometimes you can get your own way and block your blessings.
I just stay open and available to whatever God gives me — good or bad.
Bun B hosts the Southern Takeover at 6:45 pm Friday, March 3 at NRG Stadium. For tickets and more information, visit RodeoHouston online.