Fascinating music

Interview: Bun B brings music and burgers to the Houston Rodeo

Bun B is the headliner of Houston’s first rap show at RodeoHouston.

Photo: Marco Torres/@MarcoFromHouston, contracted freelance photographer / Marco Torres/@MarcoFromHouston

Bun B’s earliest concert memories are RodeoHouston.

He was around three years old when his mother, Ester Taylor, was in a bender with a man who worked at the annual event. No one was hurt, and he made Taylor a peace offer of rodeo tickets.

“She didn’t know if he was serious or not. A few weeks later, she checked the mail and there were rodeo tickets. It was Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn,” Bun recalled.

It was likely the 1977 show featuring the country legends, who recorded several albums together that spawned a string of country classics, including “Lead Me On” and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” It was the Houston rapper’s first concert experience.

This young boy, whose full name is Bernard Freeman, never imagined he would be headlining the same event 50 years later. Bun B’s H-town Takeover, featuring a dozen musical guests with Houston ties, takes over Black Heritage Day Friday at RodeoHouston. Tickets, although few in number, are still available. It’s a highlight of RodeoHouston’s comeback season after two years of COVID setbacks.

“Being the first black man from Houston to headline the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo is a great cultural moment,” Bun said. “I want to represent everything that everyone loves in Houston. Everything that Houstonians love in Houston and everything that I love in Houston.

When he called his mother to tell her the news, she asked him who he would be performing with on the revolving stage. Bun made an appearance while filming Leon Bridges in 2018 for a performance of UGK’s “One Day” and joined Beyoncé in 2007 for “Check On It.” He remembers the conversation:

Bun B: “No it’s me.”

Mom: “What do you mean?”

Bun B: “I play rodeo. It’s my day.

Mom: “What do you mean it’s your day?”

Bun B: “I’m the headliner. It’s Bun B at the rodeo.

Once she got the hang of it, Bun says Taylor “was genuinely amazed,” a sentiment that was echoed by “elders” in her community who never expected to see a black man from Houston leading a such a great show.

If anyone deserves this shot, it’s Bun B. Over the years, he’s been a tireless cheerleader for Houston. An event celebrating the city? He’s there. A verse for a rising rapper? He’s on it. Fundraising for residents in need? Watch him recover. This is why he is known to many as the unofficial mayor of Houston. In fact, a legitimate political race doesn’t seem far-fetched.

He is also a distinguished lecturer at Rice University, where he taught a course in religion and hip-hop. A self-proclaimed foodie who once ran a local food blog. And, of course, part of the seminal rap duo UGK alongside the late Pimp C.

That rich sense of history and culture is what he will bring to the RodeoHouston scene. He also hopes to give people, after two years of struggle, a moment to breathe, a reason to dance and an opportunity to find common ground.

“I think on March 11, when people go to the rodeo to see this concert, I think they’re going to leave a lot of things at the door, a lot of these divisive issues that we have. No one will really care to know whether you’re Republican, Democrat or Independent that night,” Bun says. “We’re all gonna rep for Screw, we’re gonna cut the heck out, you know what I’m saying? We’re all gonna be from Houston for a day.

Burgers and more

Its Trill Burgers concept also debuts at RodeoHouston this year. The thin and crispy smashburgers were an immediate hit when they were first made available last year in pop-ups. A permanent location is in the works.

“The majority of people who come to the rodeo, if they’re not doing anything else, they’re eating,” Bun says.

He will periodically show up at the booth to talk food with fans. “This is the tastiest patty, the tastiest burger in town.”

Trill Burgers is a collaboration with Andy Nguyen, a California-based culinary entrepreneur; and siblings Patsy and Benson Vivares of Sticky’s Chicken. Musically speaking, however, Bun could have easily taken on the solo task or just invited a few friends to join him. Instead, he’s assembled a diverse team that includes rappers Slim Thug, Lil Flip, Lil Keke, and Z-Ro.

Last month, Baby Bash, Big Pokey, Frankie J and R&B group H-Town were added to the lineup. The most recent additions are rapper Tobe Nwigwe, Nickelodeon That Girl star Lay Lay and former Destiny’s Child member Letoya Luckett. Houston rappers Devin the Dude, Willie D of the Geto Boys and ESG will also join the party.

“It will be the music of Houston’s Mount Rushmore,” Bun said. “I understand that there are people who love Bun B and would love to see Bun B, but maybe they don’t want to go through the process of coming to see me at the rodeo. But they will for Keke. They will do it for Paul Wall. They will do it for Slim Thug and Z-Ro. I want everyone to have skin in the game for this performance.

Takeover of City H of Bun B

With: Bun B, Tobe Nwigwe, That Girl Lay Lay, Letoya Luckett, Devin the Dude, Slim Thug, Lil Flip, Lil Keke, Z-Ro, Baby Bash, Big Pokey, Frankie J and H-Town

When: 6:45 p.m. Friday

Or: RodeoHouston, NRG Stadium

Details: $20 and up; rodeohouston.com

Rap runs deep in Houston

Rap is not new to RodeoHouston. Cardi B performed in 2019 and drew 75,580 fans, ranking #2 in paid attendance overall. LL Cool J and Bow Wow also headlined the Rodeo stage.

And if you know anything about Houston, you know that rapping is an integral part of the fabric of the city. DJ Screw pioneered a sound that is still used by artists across multiple genres. Slim Thug, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall and Mike Jones were part of the Houston rap explosion a decade ago that made them international stars. Megan Thee Stallion ruled 2021. New rappers Bigg Fatts, Rob Gullatte and Sludge Von are creating exciting new sounds.

And now, nearly five decades after his first rodeo gig, 30 years after his UGK debut and 15 years after his first RodeoHouston cameo, the all-trades Houston rapper is making his rounds on the dirt floor. He also takes with him a lesson he learned from another Houston icon. Bun vividly remembers seeing Beyoncé go through her entire rodeo in 2007, then giving it her all later that night in front of the crowd.

“That’s why this woman is the biggest star in the world. She had given her all to the show, walked off stage and almost collapsed,” he says. “If people at the highest level of the game are still committed enough to devote yourself fully to the process, well you, Bun, better still commit to the process if you ever expect to approach it.

“So thank you, Beyoncé, for giving me that extra little boost to my work ethic. It paid off.”

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  • Joey Guerra

    Joey Guerra is the music critic for the Houston Chronicle. It also covers various aspects of pop culture. He’s reviewed hundreds of gigs and interviewed hundreds of celebrities, from Justin Bieber to Dolly Parton to Beyonce. He appeared as a regular correspondent on Fox26 and served as head judge and director of the Pride Superstar Singing Competition for a decade. He has been named Journalist of the Year multiple times by OutSmart Magazine and the FACE Awards. It also covers various aspects of pop culture, including the local drag scene and “RuPaul’s Drag Race”.