Be it wicked rhymes, his smash Trill Burgers, headlining RodeoHouston, emceeing the Tastemaker Awards, leading peaceful downtown marches, or quiet charity, Houston rap icon Bun B has always given to Houston.
On Sunday, March 19, it was time for Houston to give back.
Anyone keeping score could easily call the last 12 months "The Year of Bun B," as he headlined another RodeoHouston Takeover, won Best Burger in America on Good Morning America, and is set to open his first Trill Burgers restaurant in Montrose. So it's fitting that Sunday, March 19 not only saw Bun B turn 50 (!) but a weekend marking 20 years with his beloved and cherished wife, Queenie (née Angela Walls).
Bun B and Queenie renewed their vows in a private and intimate ceremony Sunday night at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston with Pastor Keion Robinson officiating — and Robinson's wife Shaunie assisting — with a small orchestral accompaniment. Bun was draped up in a three-piece tuxedo, looking every bit the Trill Gatsby. Queenie, always a stunner, was adorned in a sparkling, shimmering gown — one absolutely worthy of a queen.
Only a handful of family and friends attended the vow renewal and a special ring exchange, something the couple agreed upon. But it was the moment after that caught the usually steely and over-prepared Bun B off-guard. As they walked into a private CAMH ballroom, the couple was greeted with a huge "surprise!" from a crowd of longtime friends and family. DJ Mister Rogers spun must-dance jams, images from Bun's storied past blazed on a large video screen, and friends (like Houston society queen Lynn Wyatt) and family hugged the Trill OG, who was nearly overcome with emotion by the party appropriately dubbed The Trill Legacy Surprise.
"It's overwhelming to have this amount of love and admiration being outpoured to me right now," he told CultureMap as we caught up backstage. "I'm doing the best I can to contain myself, but it's hard when the people that you love go out of their way to show you how much you mean to them and how much they love you. You know, it's, it's hard to contain that stuff."
Hard indeed, when friends and colleagues from his earliest days popped up — some all the way from the Great White North.
"I have friends here from Canada who flew in a private jet just to make sure they could be here," Bun added. "Gumball 3000 friends of mine from all over the country. Guys I've known for 10, 15, 20 years. My wife, my mother, my godmother, my grandchildren, nieces, nephews — so many friends and family."
The Trill OG raised glasses of Crown Royal and Tequila Don Julio cocktails with the likes of the aforementioned Wyatt, music mogul J Prince, former Rockets legend/Junkyard Dog Mario Elie, Destiny's Child founding member LeToya Luckett, rapper Lil' Keke, famed attorney Rusty Hardin, power publicist Mark Sullivan, and more. No trill bash would be complete without Trill Burgers; the team including PR pro Nick Scurfield and chefsMike Pham, and Fernando Valladares ensured hungry partiers noshed on the hottest burger in Houston.
A question quickly arose from crowd: would Bun perform — or chill? But spotting his purposeful stride from party to stage, it was evident that king was about to hold court. He smoothly dropped into classic UGK tracks like "Big Pimpin'" and "Murder" and his own "Draped Up" — barely catching a sweat while fluidly dropping rhymes with his unmistakable bass timbre and alpha male presence.
Then came same heartfelt toasts from friends and longtime collaborators like Statiik Selektah, J Prince, and even a friend from his native Port Arthur. "He used to come to my house — I'd say, 'Hey, do my homework,'" his longtime friend David Marcel told the crowd during a toast — eliciting a big laugh from the OG himself. "Bun was always the smart kid in class." (Not surprising, given Bun's syncopated rhyme schemes, Rice University guest lecturer status, and prowess as a budding burger magnate.)
Pastor John Gray, unable to attend, brought church to the party in a poignant, powerful prayer and declaration as the crowd bowed their heads and raised hands in agreement.
Always one to anoint his queen, Bun ensured (a very reticent) Queenie got her flowers onstage and graciously thanked the crowd. Backstage, he reflected on the night and his wife of two decades who put it all together. The father and grandfather, who is globally famous for his creativity and lyrical prowess, found himself speechless.
"It's a bit overwhelming," he said, "I didn't really see this coming and I'm so happy that my wife thought enough of me in this moment to put this together. It's just so much, man. It's hard to really put into words — and I get paid to put things into words, you know what I'm saying? I could never have imagined that at 50 years, I'd be where I'm at right now and have so many people help me get here. And so many people that love me and care for me and look after me, man, it's, it's really amazing."
The fact that such an outpouring is amazing to him says much about the always-humble Bernard Freeman. While the alpha, godfather Bun B is a prominent persona, he's just one facet of the man who pondered the loved ones who gathered to celebrate him.
"Look, everybody that's here tonight are people that I've never had to change a single part of me for," he said, quickly getting real. "These are people that love me and have always loved me for who I am. I've never had to put on a costume, I've never had to put on a mask. I've never had to put on airs. I've never had to, you know, show favor, anything. These are people that love me in spite of myself, right? Everybody. It's very easy to love me when good things are happening, but when bad things have happened in my life, these are the people that never turned their back on me. These are the people that lifted me up, kept me going, kept me motivated, and I wouldn't be here without them today."
And then, it was back to business. The Year of the Bun promises big things — for Houston and beyond. "I just wanna put this burger in the hand of every person in Texas at least once," the burger king vowed. "But I would love to put this burger in the hands of people all over the world, but one city at a time. We'll start in Houston and we'll scale our property."
Now that's a birthday wish.