Bernard “Bun B” Freeman was whipping through Los Angeles traffic to make his LAX flight after a whirlwind trip from his home in Houston, Texas. The UGK legend had vowed to fit in as many business meetings and lunches as possible prior to celebrating his wife Queenie’s birthday in Turks and Caicos. Just days earlier, Bun traveled to New York City to unveil his latest collaborative project with producer Statik Selektah, TrillStatik 2, before bouncing back to Houston to announce his first Trill Burgers brick-and-mortar restaurant. Cross-country treks have become the norm for the buzzing entrepreneur and famed Southern lyricist. Since the pandemic restrictions have lifted, he’s been back on the road, promoting his Trill Burgers venture and doing television.
At 49, Bun B has grown accustomed to constant change. Since launching UGK in the late ’80s/early ’90s, he’s been navigating the rise to rap infamy and its inevitable pitfalls with the focus of a trained sniper. Subsequently, he’s still here to talk about it all these years later. His UGK partner-in-rhyme, Chad “Pimp C” Butler, wasn’t so lucky. In 2007, he was found dead of a suspected drug overdose in a West Hollywood hotel room. A coroner later attributed his death to a combination of codeine and promethazine (commonly referred to “purple drank” or “lean”) and a pre-existing condition of sleep apnea. While Bun B was forced to continue his career without Pimp C, he carries his legacy like it’s his religion. In December 2022, Bun B and Pimp C’s widow, Chinara Butler, honored the late rap luminary with a 10th anniversary celebration of UGK Day, an event designed to provide public health resources to the Port Arthur, Texas community.
“That’s always been a part of honoring Pimp C,” Bun B explains to High Times. “His wife in the very early years of him passing away was doing a lot of work in that area. And every time she would honor Pimp C, she wanted to make sure that health resources were available in the community. And I know that was something they wanted to do as a part of UGK Day in Port Arthur [their hometown] as well, especially coming from a community where we come from where we know everyone doesn’t have proper health insurance. We know everyone doesn’t have a balanced diet, and we know there’s a lot of fried food that people eat and things like that. So we want to make sure that people at least have access.
“We all collectively sacrifice for the greater good of all. But everyone is also still responsible for their personal health, too. As I get older, I realize how much more responsible I should have been and could have been. And knowing that kind of stuff now, you’re almost obligated to do better at this point.”
That awareness has translated to Bun B taking better care of himself, too. The day of the interview, the news that fellow hip-hop artist Grand Daddy I.U. had passed away hit social media. It was yet another sobering reminder of our fragility.
“These are my contemporaries, give or take three, four years,” Bun B says, audibly bothered by the revelation. “And we all lived similar lifestyles, I would imagine. And I’m sure we didn’t foresee how foreboding it could have been to be partaking in some of this stuff. And now that we see people our age we know dying from things like that, it’s like, ’Well, damn, if he had a bad heart, what do I have?’ That kind of a thing.
“This is just a part of getting older—not getting old necessarily but just getting older. As you move into different parts of life, you realize, ‘Hey man, I can’t …’ You got to try not to fall down because you don’t bounce back up as quickly as you used to. You’ve got to take care of yourself. And it’s always good to be very self aware. The only way you know how to be fully aware is to constantly get checkups and keep going in for those yearly checkups. And if you’re on medicine, take your medicine and just do everything you’re supposed to do. Because I mean, what’s the alternative? At some point, we all got to grow up.”
While marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, the use of medicinal marijuana is on the rise and 21 states have legalized cannabis for adults. Subsequently, Bun B (who started smoking at 16 years old) finds it preposterous to quit now. He does have one challenge though—everyone wants to get him high.
“I spent a lot of years smoking weed when it was illegal in most places, and it was not cool,” he says with a laugh. “Back then, it was a big counterculture. So now that weed is accepted in most modern societies and it’s available legally in more places than it has ever been in America, why give up on weed now? But I have to be careful when I go to certain places. When you go to New York, you’re bombarded with weed. When I go to Washington, D.C., I’m bombarded with weed. And when I go to Illinois, same thing. I mean, God forbid I go to San Francisco! There’s no way these people could expect me to smoke all the weed that they’re trying to give me. That’s insane. But I do my best. I try not to let them down.”
The TrillStatik 2 album listening party was a perfect example. VIP guests were greeted at the door with a blunt, courtesy of one of the many blunt rollers on site. The Astor Club donated a half pound of RS-11 to the cause, while Puffco hosted a giveaway and Trichadelics and Pressure Labz handed out complimentary globs. Of course, Bun B had all the weed he could handle.
He also continues to fight for legalization in Texas, something he’s been vocal about for years. While the victory has yet to be won, there have been signs of progress. Recently, residents in Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin, and Harker Heights approved ballot measures that sought to ban arrests and citations for carrying less than four ounces of marijuana in most cases. They also approved new rules blocking cities from funding THC concentration tests and plan to remove marijuana smell as a probable cause for search and seizure. Now, they just have to convince city officials—not an easy task.
In the meantime, Bun B is looking forward to LL Cool J’s Rock The Bells Cruise. He found success last summer at the inaugural Rock The Bells Festival with his Trill Mealz Food Court, which boasted culinary creations from Nas, E-40, Jadakiss, Styles P, Ghostface Killah, Mia X and, of course, Bun B’s Trill Burgers. He’s hoping to take the concept to the open seas.
“I think that’s what we’re talking about,” he says. “I’ve already signed on to bring Trill Burgers to the cruise, so Trill Burgers will definitely be there. With it being Rock The Bells, we would definitely like to present the Trill Mealz Food Court again. And we couldn’t think of a better place to have that available for people than on this cruise. We’re going to be talking to different vendors and, obviously, there’s so many different people in that space that we wanted to get for the first food court that we just simply could not coordinate in time. So hopefully with us having so much lead up time into this, we can try to get on people’s calendars earlier. We just have to manifest it.”
This article was originally published in the March 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.