Two years ago, the "Free Pimp C" movement hit its zenith. Incarcerated for aggravated assault, Pimp C was absent from the Houston hip-hop scene just as the next generation of rappers — Paul Wall, Mike Jones, Slim Thug, Chamillionaire — was about to make its mark nationally.
The young ones knew the score: They owed much of any success they might achieve — and, more transparently, their sound — to Chad Butler, a.k.a. Pimp C, and they waved the flag emphatically in his honor. The "Free Pimp C" movement was strong enough to cut across the terse, territorial friction between North Houston and South Houston; it was powerful enough to cool long-standing beefs between locals; it united a fractured scene on the verge.
No one kept that movement alive more than Pimp C's partner in the group UGK, Bun B. The underlying sentiment for his tireless efforts was "hope," Bun B told us when we met with him in the spring of 2005 for "My Block: Houston." Bun was on a mission, dropping his partner's name in every rhyme, wearing "Free Pimp C" gear at every opportunity, talking about the day his partner would be released from prison and UGK would be reunited — and the Houston scene would be whole again. Just last summer, the group scored its first #1 album and, just today, Bun learned that "Int'l Players Anthem" has been nominated for a Grammy.
There is no hope for another day now, though, with Pimp C's passing on Tuesday. Houston, the entire Dirty South and all of hip-hop has lost an icon. But Bun B has lost a brother. The two friends were not the same men in adulthood that they were when they started UGK as teenagers in 1987, but there was a fundamental, intimate bond that existed beyond hip-hop and the music industry: They were, in essence, family, and now Bun has lost the person that's been closest to him for the longest. By his own admission, he will never be the same person again.
As reactions continue to pour in from the hip-hop community, — and Pimp C's family has announced that his funeral is tentatively scheduled for December 13 in his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas — Bun B talked with us in an emotional, heartfelt interview about the loss of his brother, remembering Pimp C as a passionate artist and an even stronger man. Here's what he had to say ...
MTV: You've said that rapping was a hobby at first and not your dream, but that music was something Pimp cared about deeply. Can you tell us how important music was to Pimp?
Bun B: Pimp was very respectful of the [musicians] that came before him. R&B, jazz, different blues and stuff; he was a big Wes Montgomery fan, he was a big [John] Coltrane fan, he was a George Benson fan. He was really respectful of music in that sense and he was respectful of the fact that he knew the opinions and the way that our elders looked at our music at the time; this was in our earliest inception. His father was a musician and was highly critical of rap itself — not him but rap in general, the old saying that it's a bunch of noise.
Above all things, he wanted to show the musical inclinations of UGK — we didn't just sample the music. Pimp worked very hard to get live musicians to play music and record live organ sounds. And reaching out to Leo Nocentelli from [New Orleans funk legends] the Meters and saying, "I want this sound on the guitar and nobody can really play this sound on the guitar but this man," and going to the man and asking him, would he do it? And imagine one of the Meters — instead of sampling them, having one of the guys there playing the riff for you. That was his commitment. And because of [Pimp's] love ... that was the reason a person like that would consider recording with some 20-year-old kids from Port Arthur, Texas. And he was extremely, extremely passionate about showing that. If nothing else, UGK's music was at its very least musical. It had a full, rich sound. And that's kind of what separated our music from a lot of people, it had that live instrumentation.
MTV: When I talked to Slim Thug this week, he compared Pimp to Lil Jon in terms of laying the foundation for Texas' sound like Jon did for Atlanta. But our own Sway made the comparison of Pimp and Jam Master Jay, as far as the swagger behind the group.
Bun B: I kind of understand where you draw the distinction from. And believe me, that is extremely high company to be held next to, and I appreciate the compliment. I'm sure [Pimp] does too. I sit and I think about what you're saying right now and there really is no one to compare him to, for me. And I guess that's how close I am to the situation in general. Keep in mind, his favorite rapper was Run. I totally understand the Jam Master Jay-swagger reference. If you really look at it, Bun B and Pimp C — Run-DMC. We definitely derived a lot from not only them, but our peers: the Whodinis and the EPMDs and the Geto Boys. We learned a lot from all of those people. His swagger, though, I have to say, it was definitely influenced by the Big Daddy Kanes and the Run-DMCs, and even the Steady Bs and Cool Cs of the world. We listened to it all: Eazy and Cube and Too Short and all these people. At the end of the day, when it's all summed up, [though,] he was uniquely Pimp.
MTV: Pimp was recently in the news for some outspoken comments he made about Atlanta not really being "the South," and some unflattering comments about his peers. But instead of these comments painting him in a negative light, in ways they humanized him as a real person, not just a rapper.
Bun B: He was passionate. He wanted to be as honest with people as he could — almost to a fault, you know? And it's just ... it's kind of hard to really put a lot of that into words, the kind of man he was. But everything he loved — everyone he loved — he loved hard and embraced it fully. He was very passionate if he felt a certain way about things; he couldn't hold it in, he couldn't filter himself, he couldn't be politically correct. It just wasn't in him to not say what he felt. Whether he felt he was right or wrong at the time, he spoke from his heart.
He said a lot of things over the years to a lot of different people about a lot of subjects. And at the end of the day, even if you didn't agree with him, you have to give him credit and respect the fact he was willing to stand by what he said. So many people can be wishy-washy about statements and what they do, and very few give a damn about anything anymore. You know what I'm saying? And he really cared about everything and everyone, and just wanted everyone to be their best. He wanted rap to be the best. He wanted Southern hip-hop to be the best. He wanted everyone involved to be the best. He never looked down on anybody. He never made anybody feel small. He tried to uplift, especially. Sometimes that honesty can come across the wrong way, and sometimes it can be taken the wrong way, and sometimes people don't want to hear it. And that's why, even though if I [didn't agree with] how he felt, I couldn't tell him to not speak from his heart. There's a lot of things that we didn't agree on. There's a lot of opinions I had on things that he didn't agree on, but he was down with me. It was documented he didn't want to do [the Jay-Z collaboration] "Big Pimpin'," but he rolled with me on that. And that's just the relationship we had. That's just the kind of person that he was. He didn't know how to love a little; he didn't know how to care a little.
MTV: He didn't want to do "Big Pimpin'," but with "Int'l Players Anthem," he was behind that one and ...
Bun B: Yeah, I initially didn't want to do it. But [that song], the way you think of it, it's not the one that we set out to create; it ain't the one that you hear now. It went through a series of changes. That was a song that he heard on Project Pat's album and was like, "Yo, I really want to rap to that." And I was like, "Why would you want to rap to a beat that someone already rapped to?" He was like, "Because it's jamming, the record label didn't really promote it, and people didn't really hear that beat. DJ Paul and them made such a great beat, Pat went off on it, nobody got to hear that track! It's too jamming to just let go away like that, we need to bring it back." We have different moments where there's different songs that he wants to do that I feel like I don't want to do or feel like we don't need to do. But I trusted his judgment and at the same time he trusted mine.
MTV: UGK were in pursuit of recognition for so long and it got to the point where the group's influence was overwhelmingly recognized. And for Pimp, he was in jail when the recognition began to enter its heights, but the last two years for him were the fruition of that journey. It's almost as if everything came full circle.
Bun B: I just got a call about a few hours ago that we got a Grammy nomination. Me and my VP from Jive [Records] were talking about this, because we been on this label for 15 years. We've known these people longer than we've known a lot of people in our lives. And he can always remember Pimp telling him, "We going to the Grammys," and them looking at this little kid from Port Arthur like he's crazy: "He may make some good music and sell a few records, but what they do? That kind of stuff doesn't go to the Grammys." And 15 years later, a song I told him we shouldn't do and he was adamant about it — and he got his Grammy nomination just like he always wanted. I'm so happy for him. I'm so proud of him. Because he did it exactly like he wanted to do it: on his terms. We had a nomination before with Jay-Z — and we were very blessed and honored for that. But that was Jay featuring us — this one was us. Not taking anything away from Outkast, because that definitely comes into play. But at the same time, us putting Outkast on the record was his vision — seeing things a little further — and God putting together a plan for us. [He pauses.] I'm really happy for him. I know he just popped a bottle! Because in all honestly, this is what he wanted [to win a Grammy]. He's gonna put a Grammy on his mama's shelf. He's gonna put a Grammy on his mama's shelf, man. [He pauses again.]
MTV: How important has the fan support been for you and Pimp's family?
Bun B: I know I'm not alone in my grief and my pain. And it's not just his family and closest friends — there was a lot of people who loved him, there was a lot of people that were hurt before, when he went to prison, and they carried us so far and held us up for so long. They brought us to where we are right now. I know they're hurting right now. I feel their pain, I hear their prayers, I hear them on the radio. And I thank them and I love them, and I just want them to know Pimp loved them too. There's nothing more that Pimp loved more beside his family and children than his fans. He appreciated them so dearly. And he knew what it meant because of the way he loved music, and the way he loved different people and to be admired like that.
I just thank the fans for not being afraid to call in and say how much they loved him. Because his family and friends and myself included, we all need to hear that, and it's good to know that. I'm not alone right now. It's really good to know that, and I thank them for it. And I love them and he loved them, too.
[This story was originally published at 5:40 p.m. ET on 12.6.2007]