Houston’s iconic hip-hop legend Bun B has been making entertainment history since he entered the rap game nearly 30 years ago. He is about to do it again as the first Black male hip-hop headliner for Rodeo Houston on March 11 for Black Heritage Day.
Bun B played a pivotal role in shaping the Southern hip-hop scene, launching his career as one half of the rap duo UGK alongside late rapper Pimp C. Since then, he has been an integral member of the Houston community as an educator at Rice University, through his restaurant venture Trill Burgers, and charity work providing resources and support to the city’s underserved communities in need.
The “unofficial mayor of Houston” will be on stage alongside such local rap legends as Paul Wall, Slim Thug, Lil’Keke, Big Pokey, H-Town, Tobe Nwigwe, singer and actress Letoya Luckett, and more.
Bun B spoke with the Defender to give us more insight into what his presence at Rodeo Houston means for the Black community.
Defender: How do you feel being the first Black male hip-hop Rodeo Houston headliner?
Bun B: I can’t even say it’s a dream come true, because never in my wildest dreams, would I have ever thought that I would’ve headlined the rodeo, right. For one, it’s the rodeo, so it doesn’t really speak to my core demographic. But the reality is that the city of Houston has always supported me in my musical career and my endeavors. I guess it should come as no surprise that they would support me on this as well. It is a big deal. I understand the weight that it carries, but I believe I’m ready for it.
I’m excited about the opportunity as well as the opportunity to bring other people along with me for the ride. There is a limitation in the fact that you’re only given like one hour to perform. I’m trying to incorporate a lot of things in that hour. It’s going be a lot of different moving parts and they’re going to be moving pretty fast and in sync, hopefully.
Defender: What does Black Heritage Day mean to you?
Bun B: We’re all Houstonians, right? And so the rodeo is probably the most Houston thing that we have. It’s a place where people from all walks of life, all colors, races, creeds, whatever you identify as, we all go to the rodeo. We all play the games. We ride the rides, we eat the foods and we watched the concerts, but we always did it knowing that the concerts were never necessary for us. We had to go in, watch the rodeo and all the different events that are happening, and then try to find some country music that we could work with. But the vast majority of the people that go to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, as well as the concerts that go with it, don’t all necessarily listen to country music.
The rodeo could have kept going on for eternity without ever having a Black Heritage Day or Tejano Day or any days that allow for diversity and inclusivity. But they were knowledgeable of the fact that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t at least allow Black people [to have] one day. It’s a start. Black Heritage Day allows us to be acknowledged in this space to be heard and be seen. And we get to do this in the way that we feel comfortable with. Me on stage, as well as the people in the crowd, could probably be the most diverse set of a mass group of Houstonians that have ever been in, in this city, without it being a sporting event. The only place where we all come together as one. I don’t see anyone that comes into the rodeo that night and sits in those stands, who isn’t a fan of some form of Houston hip-hop and R&B.
In a time where Americans are as divided as ever, we have a very unique opportunity in Houston with the hip-hop and R&B music scene to [have] at least one day where we can all leave everything that divides us as a city and as a people at the door and come in and just be Houstonians and just enjoy each other’s company and our shared culture. That’s what we hope to show with this concert.
Defender: You’ve lectured students about hip-hop and religion at Rice University. What are your thoughts about the conversations around critical race theory, book bans, and the mental toll teachers are grappling with in terms of how Black history is taught in schools?
Bun B: There’s a concerted effort to try to whitewash and do away with any signs in which quite frankly, white Americans can be held accountable and culpable for their actions against Black people and other indigenous people and people of color in this country. It’s been this way for years, but I think never more important than now, based on the national conversations that we’re having not just politically about what we’re, more importantly, allowing our children to learn and know.
I don’t think that in the national conversation people are aware of how substantial the direction and the arguments being made about education here in Texas within the school boards and the people that make the decisions of what actually goes into a textbook. They don’t understand the mass scale of ramifications that this has across this country. You know, we’re having a very serious conversation about the idea of what Black history is in terms of American history. Black history is seen only as the history of Black people in America, which the reality is, Black history is the history of America.
But it’s not the pretty side of the history of America. There’s a concerted effort to either eliminate or rebrand the idea of what slavery was and the trans-Atlantic slave trade in itself. And just the idea of how Black people got to where they are and whether they’re justified in their social and economic arguments about where we are and how we get away from this. For me as an educator, I’m in a place where I educate where [students] have the option of what information they choose to take in. K-12 doesn’t really have an option about what books they’re reading and what classes they get to take.
It’s already structured for them. I encourage everyone that as this voting cycle is going on, I hope that everyone is registered. I hope they’re engaged and educated about who’s running for what, and I hope they know who is on their side in terms of giving, not just our view. But a fair and even view of what this country really is. That’s the only way we can get past these things. You can’t ignore them. You can’t act like it wasn’t what it was. And you can’t keep brushing this stuff under the rug. That’s why it’s getting worse in this country. And it’s not going to get any better if you continue to obscure it, or even worse lie about it.
Laura Onyeneho covers the city’s education system as it relates to Black children for the Defender Network as a Report For America Corps member. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org