Bun B is undeniably a living legend. With 30 years in the rap game under his belt, Bun B — whose real name is Bernard Freeman — has gone from scrappy Texas rapper just trying to be heard alongside his rhyming partner Pimp C to an elder statesman who can both entertain and educate with his musings from the past three decades in hip-hop. He’s seen triumph (UGK’s collaboration with JAY-Z “Big Pimpin” becoming a monster hit), tragedy (the passing of Pimp C in 2007) and just about everything in between.
It’s been five years since we had a full-length studio album from the 45-year-old. Initially, Bun B was going to drop an album titled Bernard, but has since shifted gears and released Return of the Trill on Friday (Sept. 7). Billboard sat down with Bun B to discuss what prompted the change in albums, falling out of love with making music, when the Bernard album is coming and the responsibilities of being a veteran in hip-hop.
You announced not too long ago that you were going to drop an album titled Bernard. However, Return of the Trill is what the public got instead. Why did you decide to switch?
We’re still gonna drop the Bernard album, but because the Bernard album is very personal, we wanted to give it a little bit more time to get it to where we wanted. There are two songs that we were having sample clearance issues with but are really, really big records produced by Mannie Fresh.
Return of the Trill is about getting music back out to the people. And it’s just really a matter of what one to get back into the thick of it. We were like, “Well, let’s get to it Return of the Trill projects right quick, and then we’ll back with Bernard.” This album is getting back into the Bun B flow of things and a project that most are a little bit more used to.
What is the message you are looking to convey with Return of the Trill?
It’s a return to the original meaning of what trill is. I think trill, over the last couple of years, has been co-opt by a lot of different people to have a lot of different meanings. People would try to use the word to make it mean whatever it was that they wanted it to mean. I wanted to bring it back to the original meaning of trill. It doesn’t mean “be a gangster.” Trill doesn’t mean “do drugs.” Trill doesn’t mean “be in a gang and have that ass whooped.” Trill is just about being trill; about being real with who you are and keeping it 100 with yourself. Because if you can’t keep it 100 with yourself and be happy with who you are, then you can’t keep it 100 with me.
Was there frustration with seeing how the word has been utilized over the years by people who aren’t a part of the culture?
It was frustrating, because the main people using that word initially was from my small hometown. A lot of people that I grew up with expected me to maintain the integrity of it. But we never knew how big we would get, and in turn, how big the term would get. It was just something that we were just trying. As it caught on, people were trying to make money off of the word. There are some younger people who don’t understand the origin, and I get that. But there were other people, older people who were old enough to know where it came from, and I felt was wrong for them to try capitalizing off the word when they know who created it and who started it.
We’re in an interesting place where older rappers are offering perspectives in their music that is a bit more personal and revealing. Rappers such as Phonte and Royce 5’9” dropped albums that were very personal and spoke to their current situation. What has made you decide to be more introspective?
The art of writing is something that you don’t necessarily lose, but the love of it could be what you lose. We made records that were fun, records that were entertaining, records that were educational, and then records that were retrospective as well as introspective. I felt like the introspective stuff needed its own place and its own space. It’s really part of life transition. Royce is a good example. Return of the Trill would probably be closer to a PRhyme album while Bernard would probably be closer to his Book of Ryan. Return of the Trill is retrospective. It’s looking at the world from when I first started making music to where I am at now. It’s really about the culture more than anything else — the street culture, the music culture, hip hop, black culture as a whole. Then with Bernard, we get into the culture of me.
How instrumental was your wife in the process of making music?
As an artist you tend to look at the world a certain way when it comes to relationships, business deals and everything else that you get into. But the beauty of my wife being around is that she’s sees everything that I can’t see. She’s in the room for meetings. She’s been in the studio sessions for over 20 years now. She has a perspective of my career and the people that I come in contact with that I wouldn’t necessarily have. It’s good to have someone with an objective view, someone who can be on the inside as well as the outside because I tend to look at everything from an inside point of view. She has much more of a wider scope in terms of music and my artistry. That kind of insight is really invaluable. It’s just good to have somebody that you can genuinely trust and talk to about things.
I enjoy the fact that my wife’s a part of it. We wouldn’t have this music if she wasn’t so adamant about me doing it. She told me, “You need to get back to the majors because no one can really do what you’re doing and won’t talk about what we talk about.” All this time I’ve been waiting for someone to be the next Bun B, but I realize now there will be no more Bun Bs and there’s certain things that only Bun B can talk about. And now I’m going to have to get up and be heard again. That’s how we end up with all this good music.
If there is one song off of this particular album that you are kind of excited for people to hear, what would it be and why?
It would probably be “Blood on the Dash.” I wanted to do something that would be pertinent to what we are dealing with in these current times socially and culturally. Being from the inner cities of America, I think one of the biggest things that we deal with on a daily basis is the interaction between the police and people of color. But I also know that just like there’s bad cops, there’s good cops. Just like there’s bad people that do commit crimes and do crazy shit out here there is also good people. I wanted to show that there is a dynamic that exists between both and, at the end of the day, everybody just wants to get home safe.
However, sometimes based on the circumstances and how things go down, sometimes the cop overreacts, sometimes the person being pulled over overreacts. That’s why I wanted to show the dynamic of how the cop and the person being pulled over finds themselves in that situation and how they are thinking in real time. What is the officer thinking about when he gets out of that car and sees somebody digging under the seat? What does the guy think about when he gets pulled over by the police and realizes there’s shit in his car that he didn’t realize he had? I wanted to make a record that tried to address a lot of these situations that we’re dealing with.
We’ve also got a record produced by Cory Mo called “You a Bitch.” But it’s not about calling another person a bitch, it’s really calling out the prison industrial complex and pharmaceutical companies for doing bitch ass shit to poor people. There are records that tackle some of these hard subjects. Like my wife said, if you don’t talk about this kind of stuff, who is gonna talk about it? This is the kind of shit the elders are supposed to talk about.