Surveying his kingdom — in this case, NRG Stadium — Houston’s king of hip-hop, Bun B, was all business. Walking the arena dirt and the sprawling, star-shaped RodeoHouston stage, H-Town’s unofficial mayor patiently rattled off orders, sounding as much executive producer as legendary rapper.
“I cannot wait for Houston to see this show,” Bun told CultureMap as he made final preparations shortly before his historic H-Town Takeover on Black Heritage Day, Friday, March 11. “I’m ready to go to work.”
And why not? As the first Black male headliner from Houston in RodeoHouston’s history, Bun B, the pride of Port Arthur, Texas and pioneering rap icon who made his name with the seminal duo UGK and decades of releases, has never shied away from work.
Instantly recognizable by his baritone timbre, alpha male presence, and wickedly succinct and clever rhymes, Houston’s hip-hop ambassador has worked tirelessly to bring this city to the world, making “trill” a household word and ensuring that Bayou City rap receives the same run as the West and East Coast.
All that work paid off with the H-Town Takeover. A mini festival and who’s-who of Houston hip-hop, Bun’s roster boasted instantly recognizable names like Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Lil Flip, Lil Keke, and Z-Ro, as well as Tobe Nwigwe, That Girl Lay Lay, Letoya Luckett, Devin the Dude, Baby Bash, Big Pokey, Frankie J, and H-Town.
Rather than take the spotlight, Bun B, only the second Black performer from Houston to ever headline RodeoHouston (Beyoncé was the first), decided to share it. “There was a concerted effort to include as many Houstonians in this show as possible,” Bun added. “We didn’t want anyone to have a good reason not to come to this show.”
And, oh, what an electric show — a perfect mixtape of all things Houston hip-hop to a crowd of 73,257. Things kicked off with a sizzle video starring Texas sports MVPs: Kendrick Perkins, Booker T, Andre Johnson, Warren Moon, Vince Young, Stephen Jackson, Jeff Bagwell, and Earl Campbell. (Speaking of sports: the H-Town Takeover rivaled anything put out by the recent Super Bowl halftime show.)
Backed by a video wall splashed with the downtown skyline, Bun emerged in a black baseball hat, sunglasses, and denim, effortlessly dropping into “Draped Up,” one of his most recognizable hits. Flanked by his energetic and grooving live band, Bun B moved into another hit, “You’re Everything.”
In full master of ceremonies mode, he welcomed the eager, raucous crowd. “Welcome to the H-Town Takeover … I’m the Trill OG,” he announced, needing no introduction. Bun introduced Lay Lay, who stepped up and made the most of her rodeo moment with her single, “Stop Playin'.”
Changing pace (which didn’t slow the entire show), Slim Thug towered in a black cowboy hat; his “Thug” popped and was a perfect intro to Paul Wall, who was also decked out in a black cowboy hat, and his “Sittin’ Sideways” (with Big Pokey) and “Still Tippin.”
A dirty surprise followed: Chamillionaire — not previously announced — got folks out of their seats with the anthemic “Ridin’” — a chorus of “they see me rollin’” echoed throughout the audience.
Another audience chorus erupted as Lil Flip took the stage with “The Way We Ball” (a familiar chant) and “Sunshine.”
As “Screwed Up Click” emblazoned on the video screen, Lil Keke followed with “Southside,” another crowd favorite. ESG’s “Swingin n’ Bangin” kept people standing and grooving.
In another rodeo first, a red, blue, and green slab (tricked-out cars) rolled out onto stadium dirt, hydraulics bouncing as ZRo revved up with “Mo-City Don” as Houston rap and hip-hop legends flashed on screens.
Eliciting shrieks and screams, H-Town — decked out in black and sequin jackets — busted out killer moves with the syrupy sweet “Knockin Da Boots.”
More singalong grooves came courtesy of Baby Bash and Frankie J (in black and white), whose “Suga Suga” and the catchy “how’d you get so fly” line had the ladies in the audience dancing in their seats.
LeToya Luckett, a vision in all white and cowboy hat and founding member of Destiny's Child, brought her considerable pipes to her silky smooth R&B hit, “Torn,” featuring Slim Thug. The entire audience then broke out in “Happy Birthday” for Luckett and Paul Wall — both celebrating big days on the historic rodeo date.
Devin the Dude was up next with his trippy “Doobie Ashtray.” Going old school, Willie D (formerly of the Geto Boys) brought everyone back with “Mind Playin Tricks.” Music mogul J Prince then took the stage and kept things moving. “Y’all not just showing up, y’all showing out,” he said.
Tobe Nwigwe, fiery, super-intense and backed by fierce, dancers clad in shimmering mint-colored fits, tore it up with “Fye Fye,” eliciting a call and response from tens of thousands. “He speaks to a very specific demographic of people, but has the potential to speak to any and all,” Bun told us before the show. “He’s gonna have a whole new fan base when he walks off this stage.”
No H-Town Takeover, especially one hosted by Bun B, would be complete without a well-deserved tribute to Pimp C; Bun emerged clad in a white “H-Town” jacket and a white cowboy hat. His “Big Pimpin” had the crowd spitting lyrics back to Bun, especially Pimp C’s part. (Ever the honorable partner, Bun ensured Pimp C — who died in 2007 — had his own rodeo dressing room).
“Greatest city in the world,” Bun declared to the crowd, tears in his eyes, as he was joined onstage by the stellar cast. When a fan ran on the stage, Bun welcomed him back. He also found his wife, Queenie, and embraced her. “Make some noise for yourself, Houston Texas,” he called out, before riding out on a black Ford pickup.
A true Houston statesman (witness his work at the George Floyd downtown march, appearances at Rice University as a guest lecturer, his myriad charity undertakings, or as the host of the CultureMap Tastemaker Awards), Bun long planned his Takeover to be a hip-hop postcard to the world, one signed by local talent. This might be the only time all this Houston talent converges on one stage — and that was apparent and appreciated by the grateful crowd.
“I want Houston hip-hop artists to realize there is strength in numbers, and as a united front, we can do anything and be anything we want to be,” Bun said of the show, and, putting it all in historical perspective: “This is the most Houston-centric the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo performances have ever been.”
"Draped Up" - Bun B
"You're Everything"- Bun B
"Stop Playin'" - Lay Lay
"Thug" - Slim Thug
"Sittin' Sideways" - Paul Wall and Big Pokey
"Still Trippin'" - Paul Wall and Slim Thug
"Ridin'" - Chamillionaire
"The Way We Ball" and "Sunshine" - Lil Flip
"Southside" - Lil Keke
"Swingin n' Bangin" - ESG
"Mo-City Don" - ZRo
""Knockin Da Boots" - H-Town
"Suga Suga" - Baby Bash and Frankie J
"Torn" - LeToya Luckett
"Doobie Ashtray" - Devin the Dude
"Mind Playin' Tricks" - Willie D
"Fye Fye" - Tobe Nwigwe
Pimp C Tribute/ "Big Pimpin'" and "International Players Anthem" - Bun B