At this year’s rodeo, Bun B (one half of the supremely influential duo UGK, alongside the late Chad “Pimp C” Butler) made all of our dreams come true. The historic performance was a herculean effort that united five decades of Houston hip-hop and R&B icons, from J. Prince to That Girl Lay Lay.
At sound check, one by one, they all arrived: Big Pokey, Lil’ Keke, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, Frankie J, Baby Bash, ESG, Lil’ Flip, Slim Thug, LeToya Luckett, Devin the Dude, Z-Ro, Willie D, and more recent stars like Lay Lay, Tobe and Fat Nwigwe, and the surviving members of R&B group H-Town, as well as Ronnie Spencer for a good dose of ’90s nostalgia. Hard as it may be to believe, this group had never assembled in one place before. The closest some of the performers got was the April 2006 Source Magazine cover, but Paul Wall, an iconic rap figure in Houston, was not present so the energy backstage at this year's Rodeo was like a massive family reunion: smiling, hugging and snapping pictures.
This moment was the realization of a vision that Pimp C, the pioneer in Houston’s hip hop culture, and dear friend to Bun B, had 15 years ago.
From 2003-2006, you couldn’t turn on your TV without seeing Houston represented in some way. During that era, which began while Pimp C was incarcerated, Beyoncé, Baby Bash, Frankie J, Mike Jones, Lil’ Flip, Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Chamillionaire all broke out as solo artists, but there was always one common denominator: Bun B. He united the city’s hottest artist on “Draped Up” H-Town All-Starz remix, and showed up on many albums with a battle cry for his brother: “Free Pimp C!”
When Pimp C finally came home just a few days shy of 2006, he was dismayed to see that Houston’s rap stars, his disciples, while having their moment in the spotlight, were also embroiled in various beefs over who knows what; so he tried in earnest to get them to put their egos aside with the single and video for “Knockin’ Doorz Down.” Then, in 2007, UGK released arguably the greatest song of that era, “International Players Anthem,” which fueled sales of the Underground Kingz album and earned them their long-overdue first Billboard No. 1 album.
Just six months later, Pimp C passed away. He never got to see the unity he envisioned, and we as a city never got to see them all together on the same stage. So the city’s moment faded, and the national spotlight moved on to other places. Everyone trudged on independently — because if there’s one thing Houstonians know how to do, it’s grind hard — and while there were occasional galvanizing moments (such as like Trae’s “I’m From Texas” and Paul Wall’s “Swangin’ in the Rain” remix) and several years of shared festival stages, many of us still longed to see all of our favorites in one place.
We finally got that moment at the rodeo this weekend.
One by one, our Houston heroes performed their classics in front of a crowd of more than 73,250 that stayed on their feet for an hour straight. At the end of the show, Bun B invited everyone up and there it was, the moment that Pimp C dreamed of way back when: Houston greats sharing the state’s biggest stage and basking in the glow of those bright lights.
“Thank y’all so much for coming to support me,” Bun B said after the show, surrounded on all sides by raised glasses. “If you’re in this room, you are special, you are family. I love you.”