Bun B Talks 'So Far Gone' 10-Year Anniversary, The Making of 'Uptown' & Why Drake Is an All-Time MC
On the eve of Valentine’s Day 2009, Drake unleashed his third mixtape So Far Gone. Though the burgeoning MC was then known for his acting prowess on the hit teen series Degrassi, his newest endeavor birthed a formidable rap star. Hungry to usurp the throne from the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West, and T.I., Drake concocted a mesmerizing project which captured his will to succeed (“Successful”) his insatiable desire for the ladies (“Houstatlantavegas”) and his dexterity on the mic (“Ignant Shit”).
Though Drizzy deftly executed a masterful project, his co-stars helped propel the tape to higher heights with their assists. On SFG standout “Uptown,” Drake enlisted rap virtuoso Lil Wayne, along with revered Houston legend Bun B. The rap triad pummeled the Bo1ida-produced beat, led by Drizzy’s enthralling hook.
“[Drake] was able to go from a very laid back delivery to a fiery delivery with ease,” Bun B tells Billboard. “Most artists are either/or, they’re fiery lyrically or very heavy on wordplay, or they’re a laid-back player style. It was interesting how he can go back and forth not just through a project, but in the midst of a single verse.”
After the release of So Far Gone, Drake bloomed into a perennial rap titan, and has partnered up with Bun B on a plethora of cuts since, including “It’s Been a Pleasure,” “Put It Down” and “Miss Me (OG Remix).” With Drake now a superstar flirting with rap immorality, Bun B believes the 6 God is an all-time great due to his stout resume.
"I want to say he’s top 10," Bun B opines. "There will be very few artists who will ever be as impactful as Drake is. Game-changing."
For the 10th anniversary of So Far Gone, Billboard spoke to Bun B about his relationship with Drake, how "Uptown" came to fruition, So Far Gone’s impact on the mixtape circuit and why Drizzy cracks his top 10 all-time list for MCs.
Take me back to when you were first introduced to Drake.
I actually recorded [“Uptown”] before I even met him. The song came to me through [Young Empire Music Group CEO] Jas Prince. He had been asking me for weeks. I had known him for several years growing up, and he never asked me for anything. He was like, “I need you on this project I’m working on.” I was like, “Alright, cool.”
At the time, I was working with my own album. I was in the studio and I was literally getting ready to walk out the door and he calls me, like, “I need this. I need to turn in this mixtape tomorrow.” I was like, “I’ll go in and knock this out for you. I was going to leave but if you need this today, I’ll get it to you today.”
I played the record and was like, "This ain’t that bad." He had already laid his verse and Wayne had laid his verse. This kid is a new artist, and I knew Wayne and Jas had a relationship at the time. He was able to get Wayne on the track as well, so I was like, he must really, really believe in this kid.
You kind of just did it off the strength, not even knowing Drake at the time. That’s kind of ballsy, especially with someone of your stature in hip-hop taking a chance on something like that.
Like I said, I’ve known Jas for years and Jas never asked me for anything. I didn’t want to let the kid down on his first big push into the music industry, and he asked me for an artist that has legitimate talent. [Plus] you’ve got Wayne on the record -- this might work out for me, too.
When you first heard “Uptown,” what stood out to you the most? Was it his delivery, his hook, or his lyrics? Which part of his game?
He was able to go from a very laid back delivery to a fiery delivery with ease. Most artists are either or. They’re fiery lyrically or very heavy on wordplay, or they’re a laid-back player style. It was interesting how he can go back and forth not just through a project, but in the midst of a single verse. It’s one of those things where he has what he needs for the guys to want to be a fan, but he’s also got what he needs for the girls.
On So Far Gone, he had the “Best I Ever Had,” “Ignant Shit,” and more. Outside of the “Uptown” record, what were your favorite songs?
I really enjoyed the one with him and Trey [Songz], “Successful.” That was really a different kind of record -- a different approach. It was a humble approach. This young kid was able to tell his story.
If you noticed throughout his career, he’s carried that. From that song, he’s talking about people he used to roll with and telling people he had a dream. Some people believed in him and supported him and some people didn’t believe. It’s been this recurring theme throughout Drake’s career. Always going back to the early days and remembering the homies that rocked with him and the ex-girlfriend. Some were like, “You’re going to be famous” and others were like, ”You’re not.” He still remembers those moments and still remembers them as an artist. They come to play in his mind.
I agree with you wholeheartedly. You said from the jump, you had heard “Uptown” before you guys even met. Talk about that initial meeting you guys had. What took place? What stood out to you about him?
The kid was very humble. It was the early days, but there was still this very strong response to him. He had done his first show in New York at a college, and everyone showed up, singing his songs -- and the crowd was mainly girls, I think. He went from there to Atlanta to a show at a college, and it was even more intense. When he got to Houston, there was just this fever behind him, and all these young women started to fall in love with this new rapper Drake.
But again, he was very humble, and I think that’s what stood out the most about him. Him being that hot and he was definitely showing love to all the local guys, not just me. I remember Chamillionaire showing up and trying to see it and seeing there was a lot of momentum behind it.
He was also singing -- not just a rapper that was singing his hooks, but a rapper that was taking moments to vocalize. It was like he wanted to be respected as a rapper and vocalist. It was a very interesting dynamic that has come in short spurts in hip-hop. It was very refreshing for a lot of people, because a lot of artists do have this double talent and they don’t take opportunities to show it.
If you can break down 2009 Drake versus current Drake now in 2019, what stands out to you?
The level of clarity. Being able to really see this game and this culture and being able to move accordingly. To come in very young and to have that strong of a buzz, but then be able to maneuver this industry like a real businessman. Not just selling a t-shirt, but building a clothing line. Not just being able to get seats at the basketball games, but being an ambassador of the team. There are a lot of different things he has been able to navigate. Owning restaurants, OVO stores around the world. He’s been really good at managing and maneuvering this industry and this world.
How would you describe So Far Gone’s overall impact 10 years later on the mixtape game and in general?
It definitely was a game-changer. This was a relatively new artist, but he has strong features and that obviously comes with relationships and friendships with a lot of different people. There was a clear distinction very early of where he wanted to go, and how he wanted to be seen. Most mixtape guys, they’re young to it and they don’t really understand it very well, so they’re just trying to rep their hood and come off in the way they come off. I think this kid was trying to be very open with everyone, as open as possible. If you look at a lot of artists after that, they’re open about their experiences, their life, and they’re trying to let you in a little bit more.
With us talking to a legend like yourself, I gotta ask you the big question: Where does Drake to you rank all-time in hip-hop?
In terms of lyricism?
We could go overall. All-time.
Impact, delivery -- a lot of people who are in the top 10 had ghostwriters as well. I want to say he’s top 10. There will be very few artists who will ever be as impactful as Drake is. Game-changing. Someone that literally has consistently increased, and there hasn’t been a decline in music from him yet. The music keeps getting better, and it’s always ahead of the curve. He may jump on the remix of a hot record, but he’s not trying to do musically what everyone else is doing. It’s always a different approach, but then he can also come back and do something and incorporate the New Orleans sound and not seem like he’s being a cultural appropriator. He can incorporate some Houston elements without being a cultural appropriator. It’s a beautiful way of being an artist and a fan, and being able to express both of those.
I think Elliott Wilson was the first one to bring it up years ago -- when Thank Me Later came out and you spoke about that historic night you guys were in the studio, and you guys cooked up “Put It Down" and “It’s Been A Pleasure,” and that’s when “All Night Long” was flipped to “Miss Me.” Can you replay that studio session and the vibes from it?
We were both in a very good creative place at the time. We always had a good chemistry. We come from two different viewpoints where we’re not going to step on each other’s toes, and we could talk about the same thing and he’s going to approach it from one way and I’m going to approach it from another way.
I’ve always been a very quick worker. Most of the records you’ve heard me do, they’re usually done within an hour. It was just a matter of putting on music and “All Night Long” was probably the first song we did. It had that energy and it set the tone for the rest of the night. By the time we got to “It’s Been a Pleasure,” it’s reflective of my career, but also the time we as individuals have had with each other. It was a song to the industry, but also my relationship with him as well.
Any last words?
I’m just happy to be along for the ride watching this whole thing happen. I say to myself, "What if I didn’t do that in that moment?" I would have been watching this all from the outside.