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Though the Houston rapper puts out hip-hop tracks that focus on the usual gangsta topics—drug dealing, conspicuous consumption, explicit violence—he’s also known as one of the more thoughtful figures on the scene. So it was perhaps only a mild surprise when Rice University announced that Bun B (real name: Bernard Freeman) would be co-teaching an undergraduate course called Religion and Hip Hop Culture with Professor Anthony Pinn during the spring 2011 semester. The 37-year-old rapper, who first made his name as part of the duo UGK with his late partner, Pimp C, released his third solo album, Trill O.G., in August.
So how did this teaching gig come about?
Dr. Pinn invited me to come in and speak to his class last year, and afterward he asked me if I’d be interested in co-teaching the course with him for a semester and see how it goes. I thought, Why not?
Is teaching something you’d ever thought of doing?
Whenever I was able to push someone in the right direction, I’ve always been about that. I’ve spoken at different events—at high schools, middle schools—and it always seemed like it was going to be geared toward something, but I couldn’t see what. When Dr. Pinn approached me, it all started to make sense, what it would be.
Do you worry that any of your students will try to pass their demo tapes along to you?
That’s not what this course is about. Any demos that anyone brings, I’m not listening to—at least not during the course. If I listen to anything, it will be after everyone’s papers are graded and the class is over, because if their music sucks, I might be forced to give them a failing grade. Just kidding.
You’re teaching a course on religion; were you raised in a religious household?
I was raised very religious, and my entire family is very religious, especially on my father’s side. We went to church every Sunday on the north side of Houston. I went to Bible study, I went to Sunday school, and I was an usher at my church, so we were very involved. But after my parents divorced and we moved to Port Arthur, we went to church sporadically. And as I got older and started traveling more as an entertainer, I didn’t really have the opportunity to go to church as often as I probably should have. In the past couple of years, though, now that I have a [family of my own], I’m trying to be a true leader in the house. We’ve been incorporating faith into our life more and more and trying to make sure that the children are raised with a strong respect for God.
On your records and your videos, you’re this high-rolling player kind of guy. But at home you’re a husband and a stepfather; you recently became a grandfather; and you’re also a religious man. How do those two sides of you fit together?
As young cats in the street we understand that you make the hard choices and you’re not proud of them, and you worry about how these things are going to affect what happens to you in the afterlife: Is God really going to allow you to go to heaven? We try to let the boys know that you still have to pray. You don’t pray for when you do negative things, but you pray for God to forgive you if you do negative things. You can’t ask God to watch over you while you rob somebody. That’s not right. If you’re going to do that, then you ask God for forgiveness.
People often turn to religion to deal with terrible loss. I know that when Pimp C passed away, in 2007, it hit you hard. Did losing him deepen your religious feeling?
When Pimp C went to jail [in 2002], I found myself in a very difficult place. The only thing that helped me was reconnecting with God, getting back into a daily practice of my religious views. Reaffirming my faith in God helped me get through his passing. You don’t ever get over it, but having a strong religious base helps you deal with something like that.