King: Bun B
Crowning Achievement: Bun's 2004 "Free Pimp C" guest verse run.
Royal Court: Trae, Slim Thug, Z-Ro, Kirko Bangz
This couldn’t be an easier argument to make. In fact, this is hardly even an argument at all. It’s more a declaration of fact, a law of nature, a fire-sledgehammer of truth delivered right to the gut: Bernard “Bun B” Freeman, one-half of the legendary UGK, is the King of Houston.
There are other contenders, to be sure. Slim Thug has retained his near-demigod status in Houston for two decades. The crown would look perfectly natural on his charismatic head. Z-Ro, who never attained the mainstream recognition he’s long deserved, remains an underground king. The multitudes would surely praise his arrival to the castle. Trae tha Truth has managed to overcome a nationwide ban from the biggest radio programming company in the country, and has only ever championed the city with superheroic energy. He was the first rapper in the city’s history to be awarded an official holiday from the city. Even young Kirko Bangz, the most recent rapper to drive out I-10 towards stardom with his Billboard hip-hop topper “Drank In My Cop” and a flurry of guest spots, had an outside shot. But none could chase down Bun.
He has at least one paradigm-shifting album: 1996’s Ridin’ Dirty, a record that managed to squeeze humanity from crack rock and crafted a sonic template that remains the blueprint for country rap nearly two decades later. He has an unquestionable reputation as a hometown stalwart; when UGK was inducted into Port Arthur’s Music Hall of Fame, Bun wouldn’t have looked more enthusiastic if “Diamonds and Wood” had been declared the world’s anthem. And he has the admiration and respect of an industry that is stingy with both (I watched Jay Z call Bun B out onto stage during a mega-concert in Houston, and it wasn’t clear who was more excited to see who). He’d always intimated that he just might be the King of Houston. And after he went bonkers on guest rap verses for three full years during Pimp C’s incarceration (2002-2005), crafting sculptures from nouns and verbs with his tightly wound lyricism, there was no longer room for doubt.
There might’ve been a time when someone else was the head of the city (Scarface’s unreal talent makes him the most obvious choice). And there might be a time in the future when someone usurps him. But as it were, as it is, and as it will be, Houston belongs to Bun B. —Shea Serrano